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October 2019

President Kevin O'Brien greets the crowd at his Inauguration

President Kevin O'Brien greets the crowd at his Inauguration

A Call to Beauty and Goodness

Santa Clara University Inaugurates Kevin O’Brien, S.J., its 29th President

Santa Clara University inaugurates Kevin O’Brien, S.J., its 29th President.


SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 11, 2019—Calling upon the campus to be “a place of generous encounter,” Kevin O’Brien, S.J., was installed as Santa Clara University’s 29th president at a celebratory inauguration event on Friday, Oct. 11.

“I stand before you as a Jesuit who wants to serve,” said O’Brien at the start of an inauguration address in which he encouraged the assembled 2,000 guests to pursue gentleness, good will, beauty, and truth. 

The two-hour inauguration of O'Brien—who took office July 1—featured moments of high ceremony. It began with a colorful procession of dozens of faculty from Santa Clara University and dozens of colleges and universities across the country. Participants were garbed in academic robes and colored hoods reflecting the disciplines of their degrees and their alma maters.

Students bearing flags from every Jesuit college and university in the United States also took part in the procession, and a presidential contingent was led by electrical engineering professor Tim Healy, Santa Clara University’s longest-serving faculty member, who carried the University mace.

In another symbolic and ceremonial moment before his investiture, O’Brien changed from his own robe to that of the late former SCU President and Chancellor Paul Locatelli, S.J., with help from O’Brien’s sister Catherine O’Hollearn and brother Andrew O’Brien.

Jesuits United States West Provincial Superior Scott Santarosa, S.J. ’88 “missioned” O’Brien to his new role within the Jesuit Order. In his comments, Santarosa noted that, as a Jesuit institution in Silicon Valley, Santa Clara is uniquely positioned “to make Gospel values relevant and credible in our changing world.”

Santa Clara University Board of Trustees Chair John M. Sobrato ’83 officially invested O’Brien with the office of president, by laying upon his shoulders the chain bearing the University seal.

In his own address, O’Brien harkened to Pope Francis in his papal environmental teaching, Laudato Si’ when he said wisdom is the fruit of self-reflection, dialogue, and generous encounter between persons. “Generous encounter between persons happens when conversations are just not idle talk but open to depth, not just a venting of opinion but mutual learning and actually listening to one another,” O’Brien noted.

The ceremony also featured moments of personal reflection. O’Brien talked about a moment of awe he experienced while watching students and immigrants share a meal at the Nogales border between Arizona and Mexico. “We were far from our classroom, yet the comedor that day became a place of encounter, the seat not only of knowledge, but of wisdom about what matters most in life.”

Several leaders from Catholic community, higher education, government, business, as well as representatives of SCU faculty, staff, and students also provided words of welcome to O’Brien. Among them: Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Georgetown President John J. De Gioia, Foundation for Hispanic Education President Ed Alvarez ’60, J.D. ’65, and Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino.

In his welcome, San Jose Bishop Oscar Cantú urged O’Brien to “continue to lift up Christ in his gospel of hope and joy.” He also spoke of the “scandalous” homelessness and housing crisis affecting the poor in wealthy Silicon Valley. The church “raises a voice on behalf of humanity, of the good of society, of the dignity of the human person, with special concern for the least among us,” he said.

On Thursday, O'Brien led the campus in an inauguration Mass in the Mission Santa Clara de Asis. Principal concelebrants were Prof. Michael Zampelli, S.J., and Santa Clara Jesuit Community Rector Arthur Liebscher, S.J. They were joined at the altar by Bishop Cantú, Santarosa, emeritus Presidents Michael Engh, S.J. and William Rewak, S.J. , and dozens of fellow Jesuits and diocesean clergy.

In his homily, Zampelli referenced the Gospel readings to speak of what Santa Clara is—a university that tops U.S. News & World Report rankings while striving to be more connected and a light to those in darkness—and what it might be— a model of education that is “transformative and salvific”— elevating its ranking with God.

“We are founded on the principle that what we do—or don’t do—matters to God,” Zampelli said. “We believe that our work as individuals and as a community of shared labor has a cosmic significance that will never be exhausted by the materiality of our circumstances.”

O'Brien, born in Montreal, Quebec, and raised in southern Florida, previously served as dean of Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology. Before that he spent eight years at Georgetown University, the last five as vice president for mission and ministry. He has served on the boards of four Jesuit universities—Fordham University, Seattle University, Marquette University; and Boston College—and on the faculty of the Jesuit Leadership Seminar, which helps form Jesuit university leaders from around the country.

O’Brien practiced corporate law for two years, leaving law to teach and then, in 1996, to join the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order. He was ordained in 2006.


About Santa Clara University

Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University sits in the heart of Silicon Valley—the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial region. The University’s stunningly landscaped 106-acre campus is home to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Ranked among the top 15 percent of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, SCU has among the best four-year graduation rates in the nation and is rated by PayScale in the top 1 percent of universities with the highest-paid graduates. SCU has produced elite levels of Fulbright Scholars as well as four Rhodes Scholars. With undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, and graduate programs in six disciplines, the curriculum blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in the tradition of Jesuit, Catholic education. For more information see

Media Contact
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Communications | | 408-554-5121


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