In an event steeped in tradition and history, Santa Clara University inaugurated its 29th President on Friday, Oct. 11. Faculty, staff, students and alumni were all present to officially welcome Father Kevin O’Brien to the post.
The newest president of the university waved and returned the applause of the crowd as he walked up the dais for the inauguration. There were a number of speakers to welcome him to his new role, including the leaders of the university’s faculty and staff senates.
“We’re grateful for your generous acceptance of this very challenging role as our president,” said Andrew Chai, President of the Staff Senate. “We still have so much to look forward to in the years to come and I believe the future looks bright with you at the helm.”
“We have high hopes that we’ll get to help each other as people and continue to share your humanity,” said Jane Curry, Political Science Professor and President of the Faculty Senate. “This does not mean that we will always agree or will be easy to lead and direct, but then we wouldn’t be academics if we were.”
Leaders from multiple religious communities also offered their congratulations, including Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose, Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, President of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and the leaders of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, which once lived on the land that Santa Clara University is now built.
Andrew Galvan, a member of the tribe, led the attendees in blessing Father O’Brien in his new role. Galvan and members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Council presented Father O’Brien with a blanket that represented the four directions: east, south, west and north.
Community leaders also welcomed Father O’Brien to the area, including Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who presented him with a proclamation from the City.
Father O’Brien joined Santa Clara University in 2016 as the Dean of the University’s Jesuit School of Theology. Before that, he spent eight years at Georgetown University. University President Jon DeGioia was at the inauguration to congratulate Father O’Brien on his new role.
“His commitment to the glory of God, to the common good,” said DeGioia. “The work of Santa Clara university could not be in better hands than in those of Kevin O’Brien.”
As part of the ceremony, Father O’Brien’s brother and sister were there to help him put on the robes of late chancellor Father Paul Locatelli. It’s a distinctive gown that’s given only to the president or chancellor of Santa Clara University.
After receiving the gown, Father O’Brien outlined what he hopes to bring to the university.
“As the 29th president of this great Jesuit institution in the state of California, I wish to safeguard and promote this university as a space of encounter,” said Father O’Brien. “We are at our best when we make room for encounters that both enlighten and challenge. And for conversations that enkindle the mind, spirit the heart and prod feet and hands into action.
“Our tradition here also gives us permission to talk about something that other universities may consider too soft or unacademic. Here we can speak about love,” Father O’Brien continued.
Father O’Brien takes over the role of president from Father Michael Engh, who served as the University’s president for the past decade.