The Nature of Pope Francis

His mission of caring for the earth, protecting the poor and re-examining the world’s economic systems defines him as the Jesuit leader of a morally challenged world.

It also highlights how Xavier’s commitment to Jesuit education is being lived out through its pledge toward sustainability and environmental justice in the classroom, across campus and by its alumni worldwide.

[divider] THE POPE  [/divider]

Students in Kathleen Smythe’s History of Agriculture class spend part of the semester working at local farms so they can experience what they’re studying. At one four-hour session last year, students planted more than 100 tomato plants.

“They later talked about the satisfaction of looking back and seeing the clear sign of their accomplishment, going from a set of empty rows to rows now filled with plants producing food (for others),” Smythe says.

There is a connection, she says. It has to do with the impact our actions have on others. Getting dirt under their fingernails helps students reconnect with America’s agrarian roots so they can appreciate the environmental impact involved in bringing mass-grown food products to the table versus growing it locally.

Addressing ethical issues of environmental sustainability on a global scale, while modeling it on a local scale, is just one example of how Xavier is incorporating a new way of living and thinking into the classroom. It’s the hallmark of a Jesuit education, one that has been made more visible since the election of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope. And, in his first two years, Francis has made it clear what his top priorities are: the poor and climate change. They have become, it seems, nearly interchangeable.

“This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.” —Pope Francis

Titled “Laudato Si’,” which means “Praise Be,” the pope’s encyclical on climate change brought renewed attention to the deteriorating conditions of the earth and its impact on the desperate needs of poor and marginalized populations of the world. As The New York Times explained when the encyclical was released in June: “The hardest-hit…will be the poorest citizens of the poorest countries, those least able to adapt to the rising seas and devastating droughts and floods that are likely to occur even in this century without swift remedial action.”

For Jesuit schools in particular, Francis’ universal call for a renewed focus on economic and environmental sustainability creates a heightened sense of purpose and reinforcement of what it means to be Jesuit—a clear lens through which universities and their students can view and experience the Jesuit way of life. It’s a tradition that from its founding in 1540 has been grounded in the value of education. Jesuit priests distinguished themselves from other orders by choosing to live among the people rather than isolating themselves in cloistered monasteries. They traveled the world seeking knowledge and God and became known as scientists and explorers.

Today’s Jesuits are still considered leaders in education, and their students are encouraged to go out and experience the world. At Xavier, Jesuit pedagogy is being lived out through the University’s commitment to sustainability both in the classroom and across campus. Five years before Pope Francis issued his call for a cleaner climate, Xavier was well on its way to creating a cleaner and more sustainable campus and educating students about how to carry that into their personal and professional lives. The pope’s visit to the U.S. highlights not only Xavier’s commitment to Jesuit education but to sustainability as well, an area where the University has emerged as a leader among Jesuit schools.

The University zeroed in on the environment when it held its second annual celebration of Francis’ election as pope last March and invited Xavier alumnus Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, as the keynote speaker. His message, says Xavier’s Chief Mission Officer Debra Mooney, echoed that of Francis: “It’s not only important to protect the earth because we are a part of it and we’re interrelated, but the degradation inadequately impacts the poor.” President Michael J. Graham, S.J., encapsulated the University’s commitment in 2011 when he said, “Our mission as a Jesuit, Catholic university cannot be fulfilled as such without an ongoing and ever-greater appropriation of sustainability across the entire horizon of University activities.”

 

[divider]SUSTAINABLE [/divider]Pope-Francis-Dove

Sustainability director Ann Dougherty was in the student cafeteria in 2013 the day that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, was elected pope. She was watching the TV screen when he also announced he had taken the name of Francis, patron saint of animals and the earth.

“As a lifelong ecologist and steward of the environment, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “This was going to be a different kind of pope. Taking the name Francis meant there was going to be a stewardship of the environment and a redefinition of what dominion means, and the Catholic Church would be part of healing the world.”

At the time, Dougherty had been at Xavier for two years working to help the entire
campus become more sustainable by adopting practices to reduce energy consumption and waste, and grow its own food.

“At Xavier, we think sustainability is part of the mission. Period,” she says.

For her, Pope Francis symbolized the work she’d dedicated her life to do—she’s now working in sustainability for a private company—and his “Laudato Si’,” which means “Praise Be,” affirmed that commitment.

“The Jesuits are the guys who study philosophy, theology, history, science and government, and put it all together,” she says. “As a people holding the world in their hearts looking beyond to what is real, they become sustainable individuals. If there is anyone who can lead the world to greater sustainability, it’s the Jesuit charism and the Ignatian process of reflection—of looking beyond what is apparent to what is real.”

As Dougherty was working on improving the physical environment at Xavier, professors Smythe, in history, and Nancy Bertaux, of economics, were focusing on the academic. They were part of a team that developed four undergraduate degrees in sustainability and environmental science plus a master’s in sustainability, led by former city planner Liz Blume, director of Xavier’s Community Building Institute.

Bertaux was nearly giddy when the encyclical was released, not just for what it says, but because it affirms how well Xavier has performed. Plus it reinforces the connection between ecological and moral issues with up-to-date science, economics and theology.

“He’s the world’s leading environmentalist at the moment, and what the encyclical says is we’re on the right track here with our programs and curriculum,” she says. “Taking ecology and economics core courses related to theology, history, English, statistics and economic theory are tools students need, but also the vision of the connectedness of everything—to see that the economy has to exist within society and society within nature overall, that we are a part of nature and what we do to nature we do to ourselves.”

It also reinforces what Xavier started working on five years ago.

“I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” —Pope Francis

“We are absolutely the leader among Jesuit schools in terms of curriculum,” she says. “I don’t know anyone with the kind of interdisciplinary programs that we have.”

Bertaux also worked with Dougherty to create sustainability projects on campus that involve students enrolled in sustainability or environmental science courses. That includes students working on the Urban Farm, creating a water bottle reduction project, and conducting energy studies that have resulted in a nearly 7-percent reduction of energy use across campus.

“We have pioneered looking at sustainability across all the divisions and silos of the University and getting on one page,” Bertaux says. “We have put together a whole suite of interdisciplinary sustainability programs that are absolutely cutting edge.”

Sustainability practices have also contributed to a 30-percent reduction in waste. One of the most visible improvements is in the cafeteria, which was paying for food waste and cardboard to be hauled to the landfill when Dougherty arrived in 2011. Now there is almost zero waste to the landfill, the University collects cash for the recycled cardboard, and two food waste dehydrators dry all food scraps from the kitchen, producing a granular waste that is returned to the farm as compost. In return, fresh vegetables and produce are delivered to the cafeteria.

“The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” —Pope Francis

The process exemplifies an important concept in the encyclical, Smythe says. “Part of the encyclical is reconnecting people to the environment and recognizing we are not separate from it. He makes it clear we are stewards and caretakers of the earth, but we don’t have dominion over it…and as we are harming it, we are harming ourselves.”

 

[divider]JESUIT [/divider]

world-iStock_000001975805_LargeStudents at Xavier are introduced to the Jesuit side of their education from the day they first set foot on campus. Beginning with their orientation, they hear about “The Jesuit Way,” which increasingly includes elements of sustainability, the environment and the earth.

Faculty mentors work with new and veteran faculty to guide them in incorporating Ignatian pedagogy into their coursework. As a result, students learn about the ethical issues of the subjects they’re studying—like Smythe’s African history students, who discussed the ethics of sending cast-off American-made T-shirts to the African continent as waste. But the emphasis is also to learn through hands-on experience. For example, Smythe also had them make recommendations to the Congolese government about how to allow oil exploration in Birunga National Park and defend it to their people.

As director of the Center for Faith and Justice, Greg Carpinello works with students daily. His office serves about 1,200 students during the year by offering retreats, worship services, faith-sharing and prayer groups. He focuses on helping students discover their spirituality and the benefits of a Jesuit viewpoint.

“A Xavier education orients students toward something bigger than themselves, the realization they’re part of a world that’s internally connected and really crying out for their service and sense of vocation,” Carpinello says.

Which, like the encyclical, reflects on the early Jesuits “who were not the ones who stayed cloistered but were out with the people experiencing the gritty realities of the world and putting to the forefront the issues of humanity.”

That’s why Xavier encourages students to ask the big questions here so that when they leave, they’re inspired to lead lives that are not focused only on themselves.

“It’s no surprise Francis chose to write his encyclical on the environment, because the world is facing critical questions about the environment,” Carpinello says. “To be Jesuit is being on the frontier of what happens in the world.”

[Editor’s note: The original version of this story has been updated to include corrected references to reductions in energy use and waste produced on campus.]

READ MORE:

Altered Hall: Classroom Central Gets a 21st-Century Makeover

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the new Alter Hall is that it looks like it’s always been here. The graceful lines, harmonic masonry and signature turrets perch gracefully on campus. In comparison, the original Alter, christened “Xavier’s first million-dollar building” and dedicated in 1960, bristled with such space age confidence it could have sported tail fins. Instead, a pair of “McDonald’s” arches provided the finishing touch.

So what does $18,000,000 buy these days? Quite a bit, actually, and it also saves a lot—in terms of energy consumption. The interior is definitely not old-school either, with three floors of innovative classrooms and learning spaces for traditional classes, small work groups and collaborative group projects, while also supporting the Honors Program and housing the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Truly a class act.

READ FATHER GRAHAM’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE RENOVATION OF ALTER HALL.

 

A nostalgic Look back of Alter Hall

Alter Hall Grand Opening

Ebola’s Front Line

Kevin Fleming’s mission to serve prepared him for his greatest challenge—rebuilding Liberia, a nation devastated by disease

 

[divider] LIBERIA [/divider]

By the time he enters the Ebola treatment clinic in early October last year, Kevin Fleming has already gotten a feel for what’s happening to this West African nation and its capital, Monrovia. The rainy season is ending. The air is steamy and damp. At the airport, they took his temperature and made him wash his hands in bleach water. Driving up and down the dusty streets of the big city, he noticed the buckets of bleach water waiting outside the doorways of homes and offices. No one shakes hands. No one hugs. People keep their distance. The Ebola epidemic raging across the country has taken hold.

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Ebola clinic in Bong County, Liberia

[lightbox link=”#”][/lightbox]In the days to follow, he would meet with the president of Liberia and her minister of health and with officials from the United Nations, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Agency for International Development. He would penetrate the rain forest on the back of a motorcycle and get dropped into a remote village by U.N. helicopter. But for the moment, as the interim director for the non-profit Last Mile Health, Fleming needs to see how the Ebola clinics are operating, how the patients are treated, how the health care workers do their jobs.

His tour of the Ebola Treatment Unit, opened by Doctors Without Borders in August when the Ebola crisis was escalating, begins in the area where new arrivals come in to be tested. They’re the ones showing active symptoms of the disease. They have fever. They’re weak and nauseous. They’ve been around people who’ve been sick with Ebola. They’re placed in a white tent used as a holding area for those suspected of being infected. Those who test positive are taken into the bowels of the clinic for treatment, an area known as the hot zone. A few survive and come back out. More than half do not.

In the midst of the activity, Fleming hears a young girl crying, “No, no.” He turns and sees a health care worker and a doctor, both in bulky yellow hazmat suits, their faces hidden by white head gear, reach for the girl. She’s around 12 years old. She cries as they pull her away from her family. There are three of them, crying and huddling together. They’re trying to say goodbye, but they don’t know how without wrapping their arms around her.

“It was hard to see a family left behind and sad, because they know the outcome is not good if you test positive for Ebola, and they can’t console each other, and I can’t go hug them and console them,” Fleming says. “It was like time stood still.”

They walk past the family and the doctors and the girl. “God bless,” says a person leading his group.

Fleming would never see the girl again. He doesn’t know what happened to her or if she even survived. But she becomes, for him, the face of Ebola, an image that seals for him the reason he is here, in Liberia, helping Last Mile Health combat the escalating Ebola epidemic. It’s also symbolic of why he’s embarked on this lifelong journey to improve other people’s lives through education and knowledge. He knows his work with Last Mile Health will be purposeful, but it will end in four months, and the next phase of his life will begin as he starts a new job as a Peace Corps Country Director. He hopes it’s in Liberia.

His impact on the ability of Last Mile Health to respond to the epidemic does not go unnoticed by Dr. Raj Pinjabi, its founder and CEO.

“One thing about Kevin is his courage,” Pinjabi says. “Being on the front lines of the world’s worst epidemic in the last century, and doing it with the good humor, charm and leadership he brings, and that courage he displays, is huge. His connection with Liberia has helped this country through this crisis, and it’s an invaluable perspective to bring to the Peace Corps.”

Being a Country Director is a long-held dream for Fleming. Now it’s coming true and all he can think about is how fortunate he is. It’s a feeling that began when he was a student at Xavier and discovered that helping others was an actual student activity and even a profession for some. Growing up on a farm in central Ohio, he knew about hogs and business and hard work and pitching in for his community, but this idea of intentional service work to benefit whole communities was entirely new. He was drawn to it like a magnet, and after graduating in 1994 with a degree in psychology, he went through a series of life-changing experiences with non-profit organizations from California to New York and eventually around the world.

Now, witnessing the stomach-churning separation of a child from her family, who no doubt wonder if they’ll ever see her again, if she’ll survive the virus, or if they’ll get sick, too, Fleming comes face to face with the reason he’s here, in this clinic in Monrovia so far from his Ohio home. He realizes it’s where he was always meant to be, that it’s his mission to bring knowledge to people wherever they are so they can make more informed decisions about their lives that in turn will help them to live—and live well.

He’s been preparing for it all his life.

 

[divider] CINCINNATI [/divider]

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Fleming, left, doing service work in Cincinnati.

[lightbox link=”#”][/lightbox]On a Sunday night during his early years at Xavier, Fleming sat in a pew in Bellarmine Chapel listening to a sermon by Michael Graham, SJ, who was then a member of the faculty. He was talking about a moment when he’d made one of the most important decisions of his life—how he weighed his love for God and the Church against his desire for marriage and family and how in the end he chose the priesthood. The sermon made a huge impact on Fleming because of the gravity of the decision Graham had to make.

“What I remember was him making a huge leap of faith based on something he believed in, and he believed this was the path he needed to follow,” Fleming recalls. “It made an impression on me because of the way he verbalized the decision-making process in his life.”

Graham’s words resonated with Fleming because he was trying to make a decision about what to do with his own life. He’d planned to join the family business back in Baltimore, Ohio, and was studying psychology and business in preparation. Growing up on the farm was great training. It was fun but it was also hard work, and when the recession hit in the 1980s, it didn’t pay so well. But Fleming and his two sisters didn’t know how tough it had become. They were too busy helping with the hogs, cows, corn, beans and hay, pitching in from the time they could walk. He also was in 4-H, raising pigs named Moe and Dave to show at the fair. But when everyone else started losing their farms, Fleming’s parents converted from farming to landscaping. Fleming switched from caring for animals to riding lawn tractors in the summer and selling Christmas trees in the winter. It was an important lesson about resilience and entrepreneurship.

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Fleming raised hogs Moe and Dave for 4-H Club.

[lightbox link=”#”][/lightbox]“One of my first memories is bringing all the money home at night and breaking it up into notes and then putting it in the bank the next day, and figuring out how much it cost for each semi-truck load of trees and how much to spend,” he says. “I remember counting money on the floor every night of the Christmas season to see if we broke even or not.”

But when he came to Xavier, he discovered the Dorothy Day House and its mission of service. It was a whole new world for him where people did amazing things for other people both within Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods and in rural areas considered “off the grid.” He signed up for one of their trips and the next year was sleeping in the attic of a farmhouse in rural Appalachia, where he and other students worked over a weekend to help teach and learn about sustainable agricultural practices.

The experience triggered in him a desire to do more, and it dogged him, even after graduating and returning home to work in the family business as the operations and human resources manager for Keller Farms. But the seed for wanting to help others had been planted and there was no turning back. “I was inching into this,” he says. “Xavier gave me a playground to dip my toe into and try different things and it had its impact on me, but I didn’t know how to turn it into a full-time job, and I was afraid to because I didn’t know people who did it.”

Thinking back on Graham’s difficult life-changing decision, Fleming mustered up his own courage and applied to Teach for America, and got in. “I wanted to be part of a movement, to be around people who wanted to make a statement and change in the world,” he says.

In August 1996, Fleming left for Compton, Cal., and never looked back.

 

[divider] LOS ANGELES [/divider]

Usually, after school got out for the day, the kids would hang around outside and kick soccer balls to each other. Fleming would be in his classroom cleaning up and getting lesson plans ready for the next day, and he’d hear the soccer ball—thunk, thunk, thunk—against the side of the building. It was almost as if the kids were letting him know they were still there, still safe, which in this part of South Central Los Angeles, was a constant worry. Gangs of young Latinos and blacks roamed the neighborhoods, and gang shootings were not uncommon.

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With Teach for America in southern California.

[lightbox link=”#”][/lightbox]Fleming was totally and culturally out of place, a white college-educated farm boy from the Midwest, plopped down in the middle of Compton, a working-class community known for hip-hop, rap groups and gang activity. He had nothing in common with his middle school-age students, half of whom spoke Spanish or broken English. He had 36 very-needy kids and few textbooks. The situation was challenging, but he took night classes, learning Spanish and how to be a better teacher. “I was not the most effective teacher, but my kids challenged me to be better, and they actually learned,” he says.

The day the soccer ball stopped thunking against the wall, however, was a different kind of lesson for Fleming. He heard a gunshot and ran outside. The janitor told him to stay back as a group of students carried an injured boy away. It was a gang shooting. The boy didn’t die, but it dawned on Fleming that it was after school “and these kids are shooting each other.” He had to do something, so he and some other teachers created an after-school program of sports and theater to give them something constructive to do.

It helped, but the shootings didn’t stop. In Fleming’s second year, a third-grade boy from his school was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting while waiting at his bus stop. The boy died. Fleming was traumatized, but he didn’t realize just how much until after they planted a tree in the boy’s memory and he stood up in front of his class to teach them something—anything—about what had happened. He remembers standing there, unable to speak, thinking about how fast these kids had to grow up, and the tears began to flow. A little girl named Blanca, a third-grader, walked up to him and put her arms around him.

“She hugs me in front of the class, and she said, ‘We all know someone who’s been shot in our lives.’ And each child in the classroom said who they knew who’d been shot. I realized they were consoling me.”

He also realized that as a teacher, it was his job to be counselor, doctor, nurse and pediatrician for his students, that he was responsible for their mental well-being as well. Fleming’s philosophy for his life’s work was starting to take shape, but he knew to accomplish it, he had to focus on changing the system, which meant leaving the classroom. At the end of the school year, he moved to Boston to work for an organization that focuses on creating after-school programs.

“My mantra became wherever I work, the job has to be providing access to information to people so they can make informed decisions about their lives,” Fleming says.

Fleming honed his philosophy over the next two years while working for Citizen Schools as a senior campus director, developing and managing after-school programs but also gaining experience managing paid and volunteer staff, budgets and fundraising. But as much as he was learning, something was still missing. So when he was offered a ticket to Harvard’s graduation ceremony, he knew he had to go. Nelson Mandela was speaking, and he thought he might learn something important from the man who had stopped apartheid. Fleming stood on the concrete steps 50 yards away, and it was as if Mandela was speaking to him. His personal mission began to come into focus.

“Mandela said, ‘We live in this world and you have this country with lots of power, and so be involved, act,’ and I thought, am I doing enough?” Fleming says. “I’m thinking I could go overseas and expand my perspective on the world, and then I hear him speak and I think, hell yes, I’m going. It confirmed in me I can live this mission-driven life and do something to help humanity. I left the speech wanting to go overseas.”

A year later, he applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted for a two-year term.

 

[divider] LESOTHO [/divider]

One afternoon in Lesotho, a land-locked country within the Republic of South Africa, the village chief told Fleming to follow him. They were going for a walk up the mountain.

“Thabang,” he said, using the African name they gave Fleming when he got to Haratema. “Come with me.”

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Lesotho villagers sitting on new water delivery system.

[lightbox link=”#”][/lightbox]Since Fleming had arrived in 2002 as the Peace Corps’ community health and permaculture manager, he’d focused on helping the rural area build agricultural trading centers. The village chief, however, had told him they wanted pipes. Fleming ignored him. He knew better, he thought, because he was trained and had done his homework. “He said, ‘We want the pipes,’ but I didn’t understand. I told him we’re not doing pipes, we’re doing agriculture, and we don’t need pipes for sustainable agriculture.”

But the villagers had been living through a drought, and finally it rained. Fleming and the chief marched up the mountainside, and when they were about halfway up, Fleming looked out over the countryside and noted how beautiful it was.

“Look down,” the chief said. Fleming looked and saw water bubbling up around his feet. It was a natural spring, and the water was flowing up out of the ground in an area where the earth was flat. The chief told him it only shows up when it rains.

“My heart sank,” Fleming says, “because they’d been telling me all along they wanted pipes to take water from the spring to the village. They’d been getting water from the river, which was contaminated. But it wasn’t him, it was me. I wasn’t listening.”

A true leader takes time to analyze all the needs of the village, he says, and learn from the people who’ve lived there for centuries. It was one of the most difficult lessons Fleming learned in his experiences in mission-driven work. He was humbled, but he realized his mistake and changed the project. They would build a gravity flow water system to bring the water by pipe from the spring to the village. He read books on gravity flow water systems and arranged for an engineer to train the villagers and also for a year’s worth of food so they could come out of the fields to work on the project. It was finished in 2004. The chief and the villagers were overjoyed.

“They all worked on it every day for one year and when it was done, I was happy. And I had learned something,” Fleming says. “I’m not an engineer, but it’s one of my proudest achievements.”

 

[divider] LIBERIA [/divider]

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Fleming returned to Liberia in March.

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Fleming was sitting on a beach in Costa Rica last September, enjoying the warmth, the sand, the rain forest scenery contrasted against crystal blue water. He was finally taking a break. Since his Peace Corps stint in Lesotho, he’d had several more jobs, including co-founding a non-profit organization that helped create a shelter for children who’d lost families in the Indian tsunami, helping build the Teach South Africa organization, and being senior vice president for Operation Hope, setting up financial literacy programs in Haiti to help earthquake victims get back on their feet.

But while he was in Lesotho, he’d been told that he had the leadership qualities to be a Peace Corps Country Director. The idea had stuck with him, and in 2013, he applied for a position. When he got the call—and eventually the job—he decided to take a break because soon enough, he’d be entrenched in the management of Peace Corps’ operations in a country that had yet to be determined.

His cell phone dinged. The sound of the waves, the warmth of the breeze, the smell of the salt air quickly receded as he pulled up his email and saw a message from a close friend in the world of non-profits. His friend was on the board of a healthcare training organization in Liberia that needed someone with skills in organizational management to lead its efforts to scale up operations in response to the Ebola crisis. And do it fast. That organization was Last Mile Health. Fleming said yes, and a week later was in New York meeting with Pinjabi, the CEO, and by early October, he was on the ground in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia and the poorest city in the world.

His job: Grow Last Mile Health to respond to the disease. His first stop is the Doctors Without Borders Ebola clinic.

Fleming’s tour group moves on to a part of the clinic where he sees another side of the Ebola crisis that catches him off guard. Already reeling from his reaction to the little girl being taken from her family, he watches spellbound as a hazmat-clad doctor goes through the nerve-wracking process of undressing without also infecting himself. The tedious process takes 20 minutes and involves 32 steps. Another worker talks him through each one: undo the glove on your left hand, dip it three times in bleach water, throw it away, undo the glove on your right hand, one by one, step by step.

“I was so taken aback by the focus and dedication the doctors had to show under such extreme circumstances, and this was just as emotional as seeing the young girl taken away,” he says.

Next, Fleming needs to meet his staff on the front lines of the epidemic—those tasked with educating people in the hope they’ll never have to see the inside of an Ebola clinic. But they’re not easy to reach, since so many live in remote areas of the country’s rain forests. Last Mile Health, founded in 2007, sends people into villages to train workers how to recognize signs of disease. Before Ebola, they focused on diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. When Ebola started re-emergeing beginning in spring 2014, the training shifted to teaching workers how to identify the signs of Ebola and, most important, how to handle suspected cases. Village culture had to change—wash hands in bleach water, no shaking hands, no hugging, no touching those who die.

Knowing that Liberia is experiencing 500 new cases of Ebola per week, Fleming recognizes the urgency and importance of his agency’s contribution to the country’s response to the disease. He hops aboard a 1960s-era UN helicopter ferrying his team and others, including a UN peacekeeping force, into remote regions of the rain forest and is dropped off in the town of Zwedru, otherwise a 10-hour drive by Land Rover. He spends five days there, getting to know his team members and how they do their jobs. He learns how they not only train health care workers in Zwedru, a town of orange dirt roads and traditional grass-roofed huts. They also go out to even more remote settlements to teach residents about the disease. In one village of about 50 people, he finds they have made their own version of chlorinated water and a sign: “All strangers you are welcome and please wash your hands.” He’s encouraged by how seriously they are taking the situation.

“I felt a sense of pride that Last Mile Health village health workers were training people who would know what to do so the disease wouldn’t spread to other people,” he says. “That is amazing. We’ve given people access to information to improve their lives at a fundamental level in a village, and it was working.”

In his four months as executive managing director of Last Mile Health, the agency’s annual budget triples and its staff doubles to 250. Fleming ensures that safety and security procedures are in place, as well as an emergency evacuation plan should any worker get sick, and he hires more staff to support the health care workers in the field. By the end of December, the agency is functioning at a new, heightened level, and the Ebola crisis, which has killed over 4,000 Liberians, is beginning to ebb.

On Dec. 31, Fleming leaves Last Mile Health to begin training with the Peace Corps, which, he finally learns, has assigned him to Liberia. He’s ecstatic, even though it’s hard to say goodbye. But he knows that what he learned at Last Mile Health will help him in his next job, part of which is training volunteer teachers to spot the signs of infectious disease. Pinjabi thinks he’s ready.

“I remember writing Kevin when he was leaving us to articulate in words what he has meant to us,” Pinjabi says. “I said he’s the kind of leader that makes leaders out of other people, and having someone who can live up to their own potential is one thing, but someone who can help others live up to their potential is another level of leadership.”

Fleming returned to Monrovia in early March. As Country Director for Liberia, he’s now focused on rebuilding a nation that’s been ravaged by the Ebola epidemic. Working in partnership with agencies still operating in the country, including Last Mile Health, he’ll be doing the same kind of work—managing staff and volunteers—only on a national scale. He’s amazed that he is here, but with the little girl’s face etched in his memory, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. He hopes he can help other little girls like her to live better lives, a goal that really began in college. “My time at Xavier is what put me on that path,” he says.

READ MORE about the Ebola epidemic in the BBC’s “Ebola: Mapping the outbreak” and “We’re going to win very soon,” from the World Health Organization, and in the New York Times and on NPR.

Did You Hear the One About the Rabbi and the Priest?

A priest and a rabbi walk onto a college campus and discover the same thing. They’re in love—with the students, with mankind, with God.

Al Bischoff, SJ, known affectionately at Xavier as “Father B,” and Rabbi Abie Ingber began an uncanny friendship after Ingber was invited to be the founder of the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier in 2008. They call each other “Al and Abie.”

Now, when “Al and Abie” walk across campus together, they’re like magnets, drawing in students whom they’ve touched—and there are many—for greetings and hugs.
Ingber: “If I walk this campus every day, I still am unable to touch everyone. But to be in the presence of Father Al, to know if I can’t be in every corner of campus, Al is there. Between the two of us, we’ve got this campus covered.”

When Bischoff, Xavier’s longtime campus minister and residence hall adviser, met Ingber, they discovered they shared a lot of things, the most important of which was love. They began to have regular conversations where they talk about love, God and Xavier students.

Bischoff: “I came to Abie and said, ‘I want to meet with you and talk about God.’ It’s like when I walk across campus, I’m not out to convert anybody. That’s God’s work. I’m out to love and be with people and learn from them and be a help or a support to them.”

Now these two unlikely best friends get together often, usually in Ingber’s office in the Gallagher Student Center. Bischoff sits in the chair, Ingber on the sofa, and they talk.

Ingber: “We’re in a continuous conversation.”

It may seem incongruous that a Jesuit priest and a Jewish rabbi would become such fast friends and have so much to share. But it’s that incongruity that makes their love for each other and their work so powerful.

Bischoff: “I never had a real relationship with a rabbi.”

But when he was a boy, he did have a friend who was Jewish.

Bischoff: “Because he was Jewish and I didn’t know any better and I lived in a Catholic ghetto, I used to pray he wouldn’t go to hell.”

Formerly director of the Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center, Ingber believed he’d be more effective at Xavier as a conduit to bring people of different faiths together in celebration rather than mere tolerance. Even people like Al Bischoff.

Ingber: “Him praying for his friend not to go to hell is so radical from Catholic teaching, which said that no less than being Catholic would prevent the friend from going to hell. Back then, Catholic teaching was to convert the Jews. Yet he was praying for him not to go to hell. That was his loving way, his loving heart.”PriestRabbi

That’s the way it goes with these two. They share their love from the viewpoints of a Catholic and a Jew, and they find that love is their common ground. They also know their love is no joke, but it is a lot of fun, and they wish more people would talk about love more often, because the world could certainly use more love these days. And humor.

Ingber often invokes John Lennon, whom he reveres and even met once.

“John Lennon said, ‘If you dream by yourself, it’s just a dream, but if two share it, it’s a reality.’ We make Al’s dream of giving sainthood to everyone, and mine of giving love to everyone, a reality. We see it on campus.”

Bischoff greets everyone, especially students, with “Hello, saint.” He explains that he just can’t remember everyone’s name, and that if he treats people as if they’re saints, they may actually come to believe it. He believes his friend Abie is a saint.

Bischoff: “Being Catholic in the best sense means worldwide and universal. This is a faith-filled Jewish Rabbi from whom I can learn. It’s life-giving. Jesus was Jewish and said, ‘I’ve come that you may have life and live more abundantly,’ and I believe our encounters are life-giving.”

Ingber: “We see people competing to do evil, but I see Father Al leaving a trail of love and he lets me stand in his shadow. We do walk across the campus together and people come up to us. There’s beauty in being a junior member of a great tag team on campus. I am honored to toil in Al’s vineyard.”

To capture the magic of their relationship, Bischoff and Ingber agreed to a video of a conversation last fall. This one took place in the Conaton Board Room. As expected, the subject was love. Welcome to the conversation.

Getting a Big Break

Students gain more than they give on Alternative Breaks trips

To the “Where the Boys Are” generation, the words Anheuser Busch might first come to mind when associating spring break with the letters A and B. But since 2001, Alternative Breaks (or AB) has offered Xavier students a get-away that gives back and leaves a greater impression than just a nice tan.

A and B are also the initials of Amanda Burns, current chair of Xavier’s Alternative Breaks executive board. One of the more memorable benefits of her four-year association with AB has been the opportunity to make new acquaintances—even furry ones. In one case—bison. “There were bison in our camp site that chased us.”

The camp—Catalina Island, about 50 miles offshore from Los Angeles—is perhaps better known as an upscale vacation destination from the golden age of Hollywood. But it’s also the home of a 42,000-acre wilderness preserve. The official mission of this specific alternative break: conservation of eco-systems, trail maintenance and beach clean-up. In other words, a lot of hard work.

“There are bison on the island because they were brought in for a movie set and just left there,” she says. It happened in 1924, as these were props from a silent film, now left as a reminder of the impact careless actions can have on an ecosystem. “Bison can’t swim, they just roam the island.”  She does remember the adventure had a happy ending; “It just walked away”.

What shows no sign of going away any time soon is Xavier’s Alternative Breaks program. Now in its 14th year, AB has grown from about 30 students setting out on three impromptu-organized trips to 21 trips involving over 260 students.AltBreaks2

While the mission is lofty—“to empower and challenge all involved understanding the relationship with the global community through direct service, education, and reflection, while encouraging personal growth, social awareness, and active citizenship”—the reality is quite simple: Get out of your comfort zone and appreciate the experience.

Those experiences over the years are as varied as humanity and often not as pleasant as communing with nature—gang prevention, immigration and poverty—in locations from Cincinnati to the Ukraine. AB has also been a robustly independent organization, entirely student-run. In 2007, staff and faculty members joined the trips to comply with Xavier’s risk management and insurance. These non-students are officially considered “trip participants,” while the team is led by two trained students.

“We take a lot of pride in being entirely student-run,” Burns says. Bringing professors along for spring break seemed a bit counter-intuitive in the beginning, but it has slowly evolved into an additional resource and may even lead to the addition of an academic component some day.

“We’re still trying to figure out how that dynamic would fit into coursework and academic credit,” Burns says.

So while the challenges an alternative breaker faces can be daunting, they are probably statistically safer than the traditional Daytona Beach bacchanal.

“We have had some unfortunate encounters between hammers and thumbs while working,” she recalls.

But bumps, bruises and bison aside, this alternative version of spring break may not be all about a week at the beach, but students do return changed in ways they least expected. It’s also not all about “doing good” but learning to appreciate that life is lived at many levels. And what surprised Burns the most in her four years of Alternative Breaks was helping herself along the way.

“It’s not necessarily that I’m going to go help you, but I needed to change the way I was,” she says.

Visit Xavier’s Alternative Breaks page to view more photos and learn more about the program.

For the Greater Good: Honoring 10 Years of Philosophy, Politics and the Public

The Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program is for students who exhibit passion as well as academic achievement. Handpicked for the program, they have a purpose that sometimes they don’t even know about. But the faculty know how to spot leaders, and they’re the ones for whom the program brings out the best.

“Our kids’ SAT scores are good, but I’m more interested in the kid who is going to benefit from the program,” says Paul Colella, the philosophy professor who was tapped by Michael Graham, SJ, to start the program 10 years ago. “I have sympathy for the kids who want to be here and who want this education—kids with passion. There are so many. I’m so proud of all of them.”

Since its founding 10 years ago, the honors program is accomplishing its goal of helping students rediscover the heart of politics by preparing them “to do policy and operate where private and public interests intersect,” Colella says.

Now the faculty is focused on building the curriculum for the new master’s program—Private Interests and Public Good. Like the undergraduate program, it’s anchored in the philosophical tradition of the Jesuits.

The curriculum for undergraduates is not for the faint of heart: sequenced courses in ethical theory, history, economics, philosophy and political science with a focus on the political process, democratic institutions and the public sphere. A senior-year capstone course and research thesis wrap up the undergraduate program.

But it’s also loaded with extras: study abroad in Paris and Brussels, a DC trip to study current legislative issues with stakeholders on Capitol Hill, well-placed internships and a network of politically connected professionals and alumni.

As the program launches into its second decade, Xavier magazine connected with some of the program’s alumni to learn how the PPP experience changed their lives and how they, in turn, are changing the lives of others. Here are their stories.

 

[divider] Michael Kulas ’09 [/divider]

Graduate student, Georgetown University / Deloitte Consulting, Washington, DCMike Kulas-XAVIER CK0U1649 copy

Mike Kulas graduated from Xavier in May 2009 with degrees in history and Philosophy, Politics and the Public. Since then, he’s served his country’s government in two sometimes opposing fields: tracking the Taliban and drug shipments as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, and studying potential unfunded mandates as a Congressional Budget Office intern.

He credits his PPP professors for giving him a framework for critical thinking that taught him how to evaluate public policy from a more human perspective and to approach issues from many viewpoints.

Rather than looking merely at black-and-white cost-benefit analyses, he prefers an analytical approach: “Let’s really analyze this. Who’s benefitting, how are they benefitting, what are the costs, and why?”

As an Army ROTC graduate, Kulas was assigned to work with Army Rangers and the Afghan army in Helmand Province from September 2012 to February 2013. In a region that produces abundant opium and was partly ruled by a Taliban “shadow government,” he helped the Rangers locate persons of interest so investigators could determine their ties to enemy forces.

Before the soldiers started their searches, Kulas and others would tell them how many IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had detonated in recent years on roads they might travel or the likely presence of snipers.

“I feel confident saying that my time there had an impact on disrupting counterproductive activity,” he says. “I think we disrupted some potential insurgent activity, some potential Taliban activity, and some potential movement of illegal contraband.”

In the fall of 2013, he began a Master’s in Public Policy at Georgetown University and interned in the Congressional Budget Office, where he evaluated whether proposed bills would place unfunded mandates on state or local governments. He says his PPP experience already has opened doors: Last summer, he interned with Deloitte Consulting, which offered him full-time employment after he graduates in May. “When you put that on a resumé, it makes you stand out.”

 

[divider] Erin McDermott ’07 [/divider]

Consultant, Deloitte Consulting, Washington, DC

Erin McDermott_sam copy

Some students come to Xavier knowing they want to study politics and philosophy in a way that emphasizes public policy. Erin McDermott’s path was more circuitous.

As a member of the University Scholars program her freshman year, she shared housing with PPP students in the honors block, though she had no clear idea what she wanted to study. Program founder Paul Colella saw her potential and worked to convince her to join PPP. He and the program’s “addictive” appeal finally swayed her.

It was a good move. Her sophomore year coincided with President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, and an internship with the Hamilton County Republican Party led to work supporting presidential appearances. She also met elected officials such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The next summer she interned with Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Xavier alumnus who had just become House Majority Leader.

“I experienced a lot of policy and people and politics at its highest level. It was just a great summer,” McDermott says.

Before she graduated, McDermott landed a job in the Department of Education, where she worked on the No Child Left Behind Act and education policy. After Bush left office, she pursued a joint MBA/MA in government from Johns Hopkins University.

Now a management consultant for Deloitte, McDermott works with federal agencies and non-profits. She credits her PPP professors with teaching her how to think critically, write clearly, work well with others and network.

“The PPP program set me up to come work in Washington,” she says. “I can understand a lot of different perspectives and I don’t take things personally. It’s such a critical thing to be able to set up challenging meetings and integrate different ideas.”

Eight years, two graduate degrees and a few jobs later, McDermott still leans on PPP faculty for advice, friendship and perspective.

“I view them as friends, mentors and teachers,” she says. “This is an incredibly unique program, and I didn’t realize how valuable it was until I left.”

 

[divider] Chuma Nnawulezi ’15 [/divider]

Senior, Philosophy, Politics and the PublicXUXU0112

Chuma Nnawulezi’s experiences as a black American descended from the Igbo people of Nigeria made him curious about how to resolve conflict in his own and the wider world. Teased in high school for being African, by African Americans students, he sought out a Jesuit college with the kind of program that would meet his desire to understand why. At a Xavier scholarship event with philosophy Professor Paul Colella, he learned about the PPP program and knew right away it was for him.

“He put on the first slide and said, ‘PPP is for students who are engaged in society and want to know how foundations were created and how to affect it,’” Nnawulezi says. “I said, that’s me…This program is the best thing about this University because it’s so relevant to how we shape our society. There’s nothing else like it in the US.”

Nnawulezi meets with prospective students who are interested in coming to Xavier. He’s made it his personal goal to increase the number of black, Hispanic and other minority students who not only enroll at Xavier, but also apply to PPP. “I talk to students about pursuing this program if they’re interested in the world and society and changing it.”

While still a junior, however, Nnawulezi became anxious to learn more about the part of the world known as the Global South–Africa, Asia and Latin America. But because Xavier’s academic study abroad programs don’t include those regions, he did his own search and found a semester-long study program in three major cities—Ahmedabad in India, Dakar in Senegal, and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Only problem was, he had to pay for it himself. But with guidance from PPP co-founder Gene Beaupre, Nnawulezi put together a letter-writing campaign seeking financial support from educational organizations, the Jesuit priest of his church back home in Omaha, and finally from the Kroger Co., whose donation put him over the top of his $25,000 goal.

The trip during spring semester of his junior year was a success. He completed four courses and learned how different—and how similar—people can be in different cultures. His favorite location was Senegal—not too metro but not too backwards, either, a good mix of bucket showers and gelato.

“I’m interested in the clashing of cultures in cities and how we can do better,” he says. “I feel obligated toward black Americans to use my talents to improve their situation. I also feel some obligation toward Africa and the Global South. I needed to have experience to see if these ideas translate internationally.”

His experience overseas just added to the mix of experiences gleaned from PPP. As a sophomore, he worked supporting the campaigns of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and President Obama in 2012, and he was a research assistant for Professor John Fairfield, analyzing the history of the historically black Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale.

Thinking beyond his graduation in May, he expects these experiences will help him get into grad school, where he wants to study public administration and urban development. He’s set his sights high, applying to Princeton, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.

In April, Nnawulezi learned he was selected to receive a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship, which will support a master’s degree and work experience in international affairs and prepare him for a career as a US Foreign Service Officer representing the United States overseas.

“My career goal is to work for an international NGO and serve historically marginalized populations in the Global South,” Nnawulezi says. “My ideal organization would be UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). They use historical precedent and the need for innovation to increase the quality of life for cities in this part of the world.”

 

[divider] Rahiel Michael ’13 [/divider]

Constituent Services, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, CincinnatiOpener

Before starting her first year at Xavier, Rahiel Michael attended a scholarship event to learn more about her options. What she learned changed her life. Already interested in politics, she was drawn to Professor Paul Colella’s presentation about the PPP program, but she doubted she could get in.

Her mother encouraged her to talk to him, but Michael was too shy. “I hesitated the entire night, and finally I went over and let him know I was interested, and I applied and got in,” Michael says. “Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I sucked it up and that’s the end of that story.”

Tapping into her newly discovered courage, Michael thrived in the PPP program’s close, family feel and group support. For her sophomore internship, she joined the office of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown handling phone calls and special projects. Her work and self-confidence paid off. Just before she graduated in 2013, Brown’s office offered her a full-time job.

“I graduated on Saturday, and I was in the office on Monday,” she says.

Her new job: Constituent services, working with Ohio veterans and active duty military who have issues with the VA or the federal government.

Between her work in the senator’s office and her PPP experience, Michael developed a talent for sizing up a room and knowing just what to say and how. She’s even planning on graduate school.

“This program broke me out of my shell and made me more confident and smart. It taught me how to write properly and how to advocate for myself,” she says. “I learned so much academically as well as personally.”

 

[divider] Kevin Hoggatt ’08 [/divider]

Political director, Rob Portman for Senate campaign, Columbus, OhioHoggatt Portman Romney Photo

For 2008 graduate Kevin Hoggatt, Philosophy, Politics and the Public wasn’t just a major. It was a calling. “It’s the reason I came to Xavier. I was really attracted to the idea of combining philosophy with the practical aspects of enacting public policy. For example, what role do ‘the people’ have in developing public policy?”

For Hoggatt, the program not only expanded his world view but also opened doors. “My junior year, I worked for Rob Portman’s office at the White House when he was the head of the Office of Management and Budget.”

That internship turned into a full-time job and, it appears, a career. Now in his eighth year on staff, Hoggatt’s been named political director of the Portman for Senate re-election campaign.

Success in the PPP program demands focus, dedication and desire—three qualities that aptly describe Hoggatt’s personal philosophy. “Only 15 or 16 students are admitted every year to keep the class sizes small,” he says. “The idea is you’re learning with the same group of students pretty much all the way through your classes.”

And for those who seek the best in themselves and others, the doors of opportunity just continue to open wider and wider. “The PPP program teaches you how to learn and question more in a search for the truth—what is good and what is right. That questioning fits in with the Jesuit ideal and is good for creating an informed citizenry.”

While politics and philosophy can make for a volatile mix, often engendering more cynicism than success, Hoggatt remains true to the original ideals that first brought him to Xavier.

“People like to complain about the state of our government or community, but it’s another thing to work to try to change our world,” he says. “I think most people engaged in public service want to improve their communities and make the world we live and work in a better place.”

 

[divider] Christopher Hale ’11 [/divider]

Executive director, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Washington, DCChris Hale - cnn.atlanta.new.studio flat

Christopher Hale identifies himself as Roman Catholic, not Democrat or Republican. That’s why he can do an internship for President Obama the year after graduating, and then become the voice of Catholicism for young Catholics. His political views skew liberal—and conservative.

“I applied for (the internship) because I wanted to be in DC, and I’m intensely interested in legislative politics, and I got the chance to do that at the White House. It’s the heart of where things happen,” Hale says. “They knew I was interested in the role of faith and public life.”

After the White House internship, Hale stayed on to work for the Obama re-election campaign with a focus on rallying Catholic voters. That experience led to his hiring by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a public policy forum based on Catholic principles. As executive director, he manages daily blog posts and writes regular columns for the Alliance and other online journals including Time magazine, CNN.com and America: The National Catholic Review. He also co-founded Millenial, an online journal for young writers with a Catholic point of view.

He’s become, in short, a voice for Catholic youth today.

“I saw it as an opportunity that despite my young age, I was able to commit to because I had a good sense of the Catholic community and their issues and how to move forward in the current political climate,” he says. “The Catholic perspective in DC is based on moral authority, not the fiscal resources it can offer politicians.”

Topics they address range from caring for the poor to right-to-life issues to health care and immigration.

Hale knows he might not have had this opportunity if not for the PPP program. It taught him how to think but also gave him an avenue for melding his faith with his career goals.

“I was attracted to PPP because it really calls for growth of public intellectualism, to go out in life dedicated to a life of social consequences,” he says. “As a Catholic, PPP was the best way for me to integrate my faith in public life. ”

The most life-changing moments for him were a trip to Rome in the summer of 2010, where they saw Pope Benedict, and a trip to Washington to work on a legislative issue with Ohio members of Congress. “That trip gave me a sense of where I’m called to be and that I want to participate in political life in the US,” he says.

“My hope is to use this great Catholic faith tradition to encourage politicians to focus first on people to make their lives better and less on the horse race issues,” he says. “It’s re-centering politics on what matters.”

READ about another PPP alumna, Betsy Hoover, and WATCH a video about the program.

A Life (in Pictures)

Ben Nunery made a promise. 

His wife, Ali, was slowly dying of sarcomatoid carcinoma, a rare form of lung cancer. 

portrait_bwPromise me,” she said, “that you will never let Olivia forget me.”

He promised.

In the two years after he made the promise, a lot changed. The cancer drained the life from Ali, a 2002 Xavier graduate. Olivia, their daughter, grew into an energetic 3-year-old. And the home they bought together, fixed up and started their family in, was now sold and about to become a memory.

Now, as Ben sits in his car in the driveway for the last time, he finally begins to feel at peace. He knows how he will keep his promise.

Ali’s younger sister, Melanie Pace, joins him. A professional photographer, Pace used the house as a backdrop for their wedding photos four years earlier. She wanted the photos to have a personal touch, so she staged the couple in various places throughout the home—on the stairs, behind the pocket doors, in front of the living room window. The gleaming yellow wood of the floors, the freshly painted cream-colored walls, the lone chandelier were perfect backdrops for her camera lens.

Ben’s idea: recreate some of the original photos. “I knew I wanted to do something in the house to serve as bookends of me and Ali living there,” he says.

Pace places Ben and Olivia in some of the same spots as the wedding photos. Olivia is in a pink-flowered dress, white tights and pink patent leather shoes. Ali would approve.

The two play on the stairs, stand by the pocket doors and pose in front of the window, just like he and Ali. Olivia grabs her mother’s curling iron and pretends to curl her hair with it. Then she finds the angel, a glass statuette she calls “Mommy.” She and her dad talk to Mommy every day, as a way to help Olivia remember. Pace catches a couple shots of Olivia clutching the statue, gazing at it.

It’s all innocent, just intended to be a family memory and fulfill a promise. But it turns out to be a whole lot more.

On Dec. 9, Pace posts the photos on her business website, loft3photography.com. She pulls up one of the original wedding photos to compare and immediately sees how powerful they are. She pulls up more and posts them side-by-side. When Nunery sees them, he is blown away.

“It took my breath away,” he says. “I knew it would get a lot of attention because so many people were following our story.”

Not only does it get a lot of attention, it goes viral. Pace’s blog ends up getting 12 million hits in one day, crashing 600 other sites located on her hosting company’s server. It’s the “Today Show’s” “most social story of the year,” with 5 million page views and more than 300,000 likes. Thousands of other sites around the world pick up the photos. A German company sends a crew to do an interview. Even the Weather Channel is on board.

See Pace’s original blog post (with a reflection by Ben)
View a timeline on how the story went viral
See Pace’s blog showing a compilation of the websites that picked up the story.

See new photos of Ben and Olivia

The story has clearly pulled a heartstring. Pace says it’s because people yearn to see how others can “keep living gracefully after a devastating loss.”

“I thought I understood that Ali served her purpose in her 31 years,” Pace says. “But now I see that this is her purpose, reaching out to the entire world and giving out as much from the heart, and that surely there is new hope.”

Nunery received messages on his own blog from hundreds of widows and widowers who were inspired by the photos and found hope in them.

“It’s a very lonely thing to be widowed,” he says. “But now a lot of people have asked for advice from me. All I have is my story and that’s the value—the sharing of my story.”

And a promise fulfilled.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

xavier signTHE X FACTOR

Ali Nunery became best friends with a group of women from Brockman  Hall her freshman year. They were always together at Xavier—get one of us and you get all of us, they liked to say—and stayed best friends after graduating, even getting together for monthly “Thirsty Thursday” gatherings. Read how the friends struggled through Ali’s illness and dealt with her death.

 

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Hola Cuba

For decades it has been the forbidden island.

Just 90 miles off the shores of Key West, Florida, the outcast and ostracized country has been so close and yet so far away.

For the first half of the 20th century, Havana was an American playground. It was Las Vegas before Las Vegas. Entertainers packed the clubs. Gambling and drinking filled the hot, steamy Cuba nights. Rum flowed and music played.

When the Cold War got hot and the efforts to control the country sank into the Bay of Pigs, everything changed. Fidel Castro took over, Cuba went communist and relations—both diplomatic and economic—ground to a halt. A wall was built—not the physical kind that separated East and West Berlin, but an economic one. The U.S. placed an embargo on both visiting the country and doing business there. Nothing in, nothing out, no exceptions. As the second half of the 20th century grew near a close, the world began to change. The Soviet Union, which had long supported the Cuban economy, collapsed and suddenly Cuba was both literally and figuratively an island alone. Castro, who long thumbed his nose at the American authority, grew old and weary. And then…

In 2000, Congress passed reforms to that embargo allowing U.S.-based companies to export approved products to Cuba—albeit under strict guidelines. According to one estimate, U.S. exports to Cuba peaked in 2008 at $711 million, making the U.S. Cuba’s 4th- or 5th-largest trading partner. But that could soon change. The transition the country makes after Castro’s death will be the deciding factor. Will another general take his place and maintain the status quo? Or will the country move to a more democratic and free-market economy?

Staying on the leading edge of business trends is a key component to business—and business education. The most dominant trend in business over the past decade or more has been the emerging global economy, which is why the Williams College of Business has, for years, mandated international business trips for its MBA students. The best way to understand the differences and nuances of international business is to experience them firsthand. So when the opportunity came up to take students to what could potentially be the next emerging international market—Cuba—the College jumped at the chance.

For nine days in March, students toured the island country, immersing themselves in the complex, social, political and economic reality that is Cuba today. They explored the country’s changing and emerging business models and contrasting economic systems and views. They became familiar with the nation’s economic and business development, tourism, legal and banking systems, methods and sources of foreign investments, trading partners and relationship with the U.S. government.

In the end, they were put in a position to better understand what could very well be one of this country’s biggest new business markets, which gives them an advantage over graduates of other business schools. Now with news of the United States normalizing relations with Cuba, more such opportunities will be available for future generations of students.

 

Brian Grant

The four boys are spread out along the end of an otherwise empty football field, running around and sweating in the heat of a summer Portland sun.

“Cut and change direction,” Matt James yells at them. “Good. Slide, slide, don’t run. We’ll run in a second. This is exactly what you need for lateral movement and changing directions. Give me five seconds, all you’ve got. Set. Go. Good, good. See, you’re better, and we’re going to keep working on that.”

James is a master trainer for Nike and putting the boys, who range in age from 14 to 17, through an endless barrage of agility and conditioning drills. James is more used to putting professional athletes through their paces but has been hired by the boys’ father, who sits on a grassy hill off to the side.

“This is how our workouts went down, as I recall,” he says to the father.

Brian Grant laughs. For 12 years, Grant ran the courts of the National Basketball Association, enduring the ruthless pounding and punishment of games thanks in part to the same relentless conditioning drills that James is now putting his sons through.

But things are different now. It’s a new era.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener1.jpg”]opener1[/lightbox]James turns back to the boys. “Here’s another drill for you. I’ve got lots of them.” They strap parachutes around their waists and run sprints, the drag of the chutes providing resistance.

“You going to do this one, daddy?” says Anaya, Grant’s 10-year-old daughter, who’s passing the time by riding her bike and doing cartwheels over on the side.

“No, baby, my knee won’t let me.”

He pushes himself up off the grass with a slight groan.

“But I’ve got to get in shape,” he says. “My knee’s been acting up and I haven’t worked out in a month. I used to weigh 268, now I’m 300 ponds. I hold it well, but I’m 300 pounds right now. I’ve never been that heavy.”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener2.jpg”]opener2[/lightbox]He looks down at his knees, which are decorated with the scars of seven surgeries. The disintegration of cartilage in his right knee eventually left bone painfully scraping against bone and forced him to retire. As he gets up to encourage his sons, though, the most noticeable physical difference isn’t his weight or his knees. It’s his left arm. It shakes. Endlessly.

Five years ago Grant was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder whose symptoms include the uncontrollable tremors that now dominate his left arm. The man who made a life out of his remarkable physical abilities and motor control is slowly being robbed of that gift.

But the disease has also given him something else in return—something more: A new direction, a new focus, a new life. While many athletes struggle to reinvent themselves and find a new calling after their playing days end, Grant has found his: helping others. What he couldn’t find when he was told he had Parkinson’s was basic information about the disease. What does this mean? Am I going to die? What will my future look like? What can I do to help myself? If he had those questions, he says, then others must have them as well. So he started a non-profit organization to raise money and educate the 60,000 people who are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Using his fame and personality, he has led the organization in raising more than $1 million and put it in a position to become a prominent player in the Parkinson’s world alongside the foundations created by the disease’s most identifiable victims, Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener3.jpg”]opener3[/lightbox]For the moment, though, all that is secondary to what his sons are going through on the field. James has one last drill for them, a 300-yard shuttle run—down the field, back and down again in less than 60 seconds.

“This is exactly what they need,” Grant says.

They line up for their 300-yard dash.

“This ain’t no walk,” Grant shouts at them. “You’ve got to go all out on these.”

James looks over at Grant. “This is some Pat Riley stuff.”

Grant smiles and nods.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener4.jpg”]opener4[/lightbox]“When I was with the Miami Heat,” he says, “we had this drill that we had to do at training camp. We had to go baseline to baseline 10 times in 65 seconds. We had to do three of them. You got a two-minute rest in between and you could bank time, so if you did the first one in 59 seconds, you had six seconds in the bank, because by the time you got to that third one you were shot. You had to do it every morning until you made it. I got mine done the first day. We had this one cat who did it four days straight. He was messed up.”

The boys begin to get weary.

“Stride it out. Last one. Stride it out.”

They finish in a youthful 48 seconds.

“I know this is hard work, fellas, but I’m telling you right now, you do this twice a week and with all the other stuff you’re doing, you’re going to see a big improvement in your quickness, lateral speed, everything.”

As the boys gasp for air and James encourages them to control their breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth—Grant begins to pack up. He lifts Anaya’s bike into the back of his red “rasta rig” pickup truck. Anaya jumps in the passenger side.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener5.jpg”]opener5[/lightbox]“Help coach Matt pick up the gear,” he says. “Then you’ve got the rest of the day. You can chill or whatever.”

The boys decide they’re headed for a post-workout fast food feast. He nods. They’re old enough now to head out on their own. It’s a new era. So he reverses the truck out of the parking spot, shifts it into drive and turns toward home.

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[divider] • • • [/divider]

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XavCX5k_igU&feature=youtu.be” target=”_blank” rel=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XavCX5k_igU&feature=youtu.be”]Grant-video[/lightbox]

[divider] • • • [/divider]

The home has five garages—three attached to the main house and two detached off to the side. His beloved boat, which has carried him through countless hours of fishing on Portland’s many waterways, rests in between.

The garages are filled with the kind of supercharged fun one might expect from the wealthy and athletic—jet skis, four-wheeled ATVs, testosterone toys that he tows to his cabin at the foot of Mount St. Helens about an hour to the north.

It’s a transition house, one in between his old house along the edge of the Willamette River, which stayed with his former wife, and the new one he’s moving into on Lake Oswego this fall when he remarries and becomes a father for the seventh time.

Like the boys undergoing the training, this, too, is the start of a new era for Grant. Life is finally back on the upswing after a year and a half of what he describes as pure hell that started in 2008 when he retired from the NBA, got divorced, suffered a deep depression and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

For any professional athlete, being told you’re past your prime at an age when most people are just getting into theirs is a severe shock. Although the NBA offers seminars on life after basketball, Grant says, there’s really no way to adequately prepare someone for exiting what he calls the “vacuum of non-reality” that is professional sports.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-layup.jpg”]grant-layup[/lightbox]“The life that you live, once you’re in the NBA, it’s just not real,” he says. “Normal people don’t live their lives the way we do. I don’t mean that in a bad or good way, it’s just the fact. The fact that you have so much money that you can do what you want to do. You go places and get in. And when you retire, it’s like smacking into a brick wall. ‘Oh, this is what’s real. This is what the majority of the world goes through.’ You were just in that small class of non-reality. You begin to think about retirement, but nothing can prepare you for the actual retirement.”

[View a slideshow of Grant’s NBA career.]

The reality throws many athletes into a depression, and it did so for Grant. He would stay in bed, unmotivated to do anything. And the trouble making the transition was multiplied not only by marital problems, which eventually led to a divorce from Gina, his wife of 14 years, but also unknowingly because of the Parkinson’s.

“Once I hit retirement, instead of sliding into depression, it was like jumping off a cliff and not being able to find my way back up until I went and got professional help,” he says. “I went into a deep depression for eight months. But part of it was also because of Parkinson’s. My brain had depleted so much dopamine that once you don’t have that amount of dopamine, you’re always teetering on being depressed.”

Although Parkinson’s manifests itself through tremors in the arms and legs, it’s actually a neurological disease. The brain stops producing dopamine, the chemical the body uses to coordinate movement. For most Parkinson’s patients, the symptoms begin to show in their late 50s. For others, like Grant, Fox and Ben Petrick, who played four years of Major League Baseball with Parkinson’s, symptoms start showing as early as their 20s or 30s. Grant was 36 when he was officially diagnosed in 2008, but he noticed changes a few years earlier.

“My last year in the NBA, I noticed that I couldn’t jump off my left leg,” he says. “I was a little uncoordinated. I’m like, Wow that’s my good leg. I just thought it was what happens when you’re going into your 12th season and the body starts breaking down. There was an excuse for it. I also had this little skin twitch in my wrist. I asked about it, and they said it’s normal.”

[View Grant’s career NBA stats.]

He wasn’t fully diagnosed until moving back to Portland at which point he began trying to research what life was like with Parkinson’s. His research turned up nothing. Fox’s foundation deals with raising money for research. Ali has a foundation that helps those with advanced stages of Parkinson’s. No one touches on information for new patients—what does it mean, what to expect, how to manage your health. So he filled the need.

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYbFFevRW_Q” target=”_blank”]grant-and-fox-video[/lightbox]“I didn’t want to start dipping into the same pot that was already being filled,” he says. “I said to myself if I could have something available to me when I was first diagnosed what would it be? And it was a website that could give me direction on nutrition and exercise or could help me find a psychologist who could help me talk to my kids, things like that. I wanted to answer how to maneuver through life with the disease, because your problems are not going away.”

His work, in many ways, fills the gap between Fox’s research and Ali’s eldercare, putting him in a prominent place within the Parkinson’s community—a place, perhaps, equal to the others and one that, ultimately, may leave him even better known than for his basketball skills.

“If that happens, great. If it doesn’t, that’s OK, too,” he says. “I’m not really concerned about how I’m remembered. I’m concerned about reaching people and it being a useful tool for Parkinson’s patients, especially newly diagnosed patients. I just want to help people.”

Helping others, though, is nothing new for Grant. In 1999, the NBA gave Grant its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in recognition of his outstanding community service and charitable work.

[Read more about Grant’s charitable work.]

“I think helping underprivileged kids comes from being underprivileged myself,” he says. “And I think sick children just appeal to me. When I was in second grade I had double pneumonia and was in the hospital for two months. One day the Ruth Lyons Fund came by and gave out presents. I got one of those little Tonka trucks. I always remember that. So when I would go visit a little kid. I would always tell myself, ‘Remember how you remembered that moment. These kids are going to remember that moment, too.’ Whatever I have on me, not necessarily monetarily, but who am and the way I speak to them or their parents is going to stick with them the rest of their lives. I think that’s where that comes from.”

.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

Grant walks into the house and eases into a chair in the living room. Three framed movie posters adorn the walls behind him—Bruce Lee, Shaft and Super Fly. They are, he admits, man-house decorations and have a limited life-span outside of the basement or garage once he gets married. For the time being, though, they dominate the room.

He pulls out his phone and calls up an app that allows him to control the room’s built-in sound system and begins scrolling through his music collection.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/shaft.jpg”]shaft[/lightbox]“When I was at Xavier, we lived in the Manor House,” he says, “and I was in the same building as Erik Edwards and DeWaun Rose. It was the battle of who had the biggest tower speakers. They were constantly blowing things up.”

He scrolls down until he gets to Bob Marley on the list and hits play. Reggae fills the room.

Hey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights/Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.

Grant subtly sways with the song, which he knows intimately. When he was with Sacramento, he and Gina went on vacation to Jamaica and ducked into a little hole-in-the-wall bar one evening. Marley began playing on the jukebox, and the music and lyrics immediately caught his attention.

“Who is this?” he asked the owner.

“Dis is Bob Marley, mon. You know Bob Marley, right?”

“Umm. I think I might have his ‘Legends’ album.”

“You don’t know Bob Marley? Hey, get this mon a 12-pack of Red Stripe. We need to educate him.”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-marley.jpg”]Grant13a[/lightbox]The education ended at 5:30 a.m. but the lessons have lasted a lifetime. When Grant got back home, he got a tattoo of Marley and the word “prophet” inked on his right shoulder. He also began growing the dreadlocks that made him one of the most identifiable if not iconic players in the NBA. When Marley’s kids were touring the U.S., they invited Grant onto their tour bus.

“The way you play,” Ziggy Marley told him, “you represent Daddy good.”

It was the ultimate compliment. Marley changed—and in many ways defined—Grant’s life. Specifically, he says, it was his song “War,” the one he heard on the Jamaican juke box.

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior/Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned/Everywhere is war/Me say war. 

Until there is no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation/Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes/Me say war.

The lyrics resonated strongly within his soul, taking him back to his childhood in Georgetown, Ohio, and the racial wars he repeatedly had to fight.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/young_withkids.png”]young_withkids[/lightbox]The irony of Georgetown is that it is the home of Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general whose military mastery helped win the Civil War for the North and abolish slavery in the South. And yet despite the freedom created by its best-known son, the small, southwestern Ohio town still hadn’t lost its grip on racism 100 years later when Grant was growing up.

He was always getting into fights as a youth, defending himself against the racial taunts and insults that were hurled in his direction. It was just one of the many challenges of growing up in rural Ohio, where money was scarce and life was hard. Instead of playing away the summers, Grant spent his picking and stripping tobacco on the local farms, digging potatoes and baling hay.

The physical labor made him strong, though, both physically and mentally. And it gave him a sense of what was important and a perspective on life that many never develop. It’s what pushed him to strive for something more, something better, and what prompted him to tell his mom after hearing a commercial for a college on the radio that he was going to go to college and get out of the country. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know where. But he was going to get there. He promised.

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[divider] • • • [/divider]

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/youngbball.jpg”]youngbball[/lightbox]The first time Dino Gaudio came to Georgetown High School to watch a basketball practice, he sat in the stands and was filled with uncertainty. Someone had anonymously been calling Xavier about Grant, and the Musketeers’ assistant basketball coach was there to make sure that the calls weren’t just some sort of prank. Practices, after all, often reveal more than games.

When the practice was over, Gaudio walked into the office of the team’s coach, Tim Chadwell, a former Xavier player himself who graduated in 1980.

“Who knows about this Grant kid?” asked Gaudio.

“No one,” said Chadwell.

“Let’s keep it that way.”

Until that time, Grant was considering an offer from an NAIA school—the smallest of colleges. It wouldn’t be stardom, but at least it would be college and Grant would be able to fulfill the promise he made to his mom.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-xavier.jpg”]grant-xavier[/lightbox]Based on Gaudio’s recommendation, Xavier’s head coach Pete Gillen went to see this unknown kid from the country for himself. Xavier only had one scholarship left. Gillen offered it to Grant. It was a gamble.

[View slideshow of Grant at Xavier.]

Grant didn’t disappoint, though, earning a starting spot as a freshman and going on to become a two-time Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year and honorable mention Associated Press All-American. He was inducted into the Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and became one of only four players to have his jersey retired by the University. His selection as the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft is still the highest Xavier draft pick ever.

In his 12 years in the NBA he played for five teams—Sacramento, Portland, Miami, Los Angeles and Phoenix—scoring just shy of 8,000 points and earning a reputation for his lockdown defense, earth-shattering picks and willingness to play against guys much bigger than him, guys like Shaquille O’Neil and Karl Malone. It was his willingness to stand up to the Hall-of-Fame center Malone, in fact, that made the basketball community stand up and notice Grant. In Game Five of the Western Conference semifinals in 1999, Malone sent Grant flying with a powerful elbow above his right eye. Grant bounced up, bloodied, and held a nose-to-nose, profanity-laced discussion with Malone in the middle of the court, informing him that he wasn’t intimidated.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-malone.jpg”]grant-malone[/lightbox]In the next game, Grant walked out onto the court, a Band-Aid over his eye, to what he calls the most deafening crowd he’s ever played in front of, many of whom were wearing Band-Aids over their eyes in a show of solidarity.

Grant held Malone to just eight points in 44 minutes, and the Trail Blazers advanced to the conference finals. Grant endeared himself to an entire city that night. Everyone was happy.

Except Malone. “I don’t like him,” he said of Grant, “and he don’t like me.”

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[divider] • • • [/divider]

Karl Malone called.

“Heard you were sick,” he said. “How can I help?”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/alaska-fishing-3.jpg”]alaska fishing 3[/lightbox]When Grant set up his first fundraiser, Malone suggested they auction off a hunting and fishing trip with the two of them to Alaska. Four people paid $100,000 to join the former NBA players on the excursion.

Michael J. Fox called.

Grant’s neurologist is on Fox’s board of directors and told the actor about his newest patient, who was just diagnosed with Parkinson’s and trying to figure things out. Fox knew of Grant from his days playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I’m a movie buff, so I was kind of star stuck,” Grant says. “His words were uplifting. He’s got a really great outlook on life. He’s been dealing with it for a long time. What he told me, though, was that I had to lose my vanity. He said, ‘That’s going to be hard for you because you’re an athlete. It’s hard for me because I’m an actor, but until you lose that vanity, you’ll struggle with things.’ I’m slowly starting to lose it. I’m a lot better now than I was before. I used to go into a room at an event and just leave because I would get so much anxiety thinking that people were looking at me or thinking, ‘Oh my God poor him’ or something.”

Mark Starkey called.

Who? Starkey is a former basketball player at Wright State University in Ohio who was creating a TEDx event in Portland and wanted Grant to speak about Parkinson’s and his life. The theme of all the talks was all of the “What if…” moments in life. Even though he was a communications major at Xavier and spoke to the media countless times, public speaking was new—and terrifying—to Grant. As he began to recount all of the “what if” events in his life, though, it became less daunting because he began to realize how all of the moments in his life fell into place—like dominoes, one tumbling into another. What if one of his high school teachers hadn’t given him a second chance on a test so he could remain eligible for basketball? What if someone hadn’t anonymously called Xavier? And what if he hadn’t gotten Parkinson’s and been told to lose the vanity?

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az4huvs71d8&feature=player_embedded” target=”_blank”]grant video graphic[/lightbox]It helped bring it all into perspective: The foundation never would have been formed. He would still be depressed. And there would be people out there today who would still be struggling about what to do and where to turn for information about their Parkinson’s.

“There’s been major results” he says.

This year he expanded the foundation’s mission to include an exercise program with the Portland-area YMCAs specifically for people with Parkinson’s.

“Exercise has been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Right now we’re just local, but we’re expanding to Seattle and Tacoma, and if that’s successful in a year we’ll have our meeting about going to a national program.

“But what I would love to do is build a wellness center here in Portland, where we have an on-staff neurologist, physical trainer, yoga, psychologist, where it’s a one-stop shop. So when you’re diagnosed, you can take a three-day trip to Portland and have everything available to you right there in one place.[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-speech.jpg”]grant-speech[/lightbox]

“My second goal is to go on the road and hit three cities a year where we’re doing a symposium that highlights all of these areas, and partner with groups in those cities to let people know you have this place that is doing a wonderful exercise program, or you have one of the top neurologists in this area. Those are my goals.”

The doorbell rings. The house that was momentarily quiet once again becomes a flurry of activity. Grant unfolds his 6-foot-9 body from the chair and excuses himself to take care of some personal matters. About 60 percent of his time these days, he says, is spent on personal issues—taking his kids to personal training sessions, getting his daughters to dance—with the remainder spent in conjunction with the foundation.

If he doesn’t go into the downtown Portland office on any given day, he’s on the phone making decisions or handling details. It may be the most demanding job he’s had. But it’s worth the effort. His fight with Parkinson’s, after all, has not only given him a new venue to help others, it’s given him something more: A new life.

[divider] More videos of Grant [/divider]

Climbing Mount St. Helen                     Interview on Live Wire radio

mtsthelensvideo livewire-video

Eyes on the Sky

In the waning daylight of a Friday in June 1961, a red and white Ford station wagon rambles down the hilly twists and turns of Zion Road, pushing out beyond the western edges of Cincinnati. The breeze blows through the open windows of the bulky 1957 wagon, brushing along the sleek painted sides and whipping past the pointy tail fins.

To the two young men sitting on the roomy front bench seat, their elbows propped out the open windows, the warm wind across their arms and faces feels like freedom.

Dennis Smith pulls the car into the driveway of an old farmhouse. The gravel crunches under the tires as he maneuvers the wagon into an open field and parks it by three small sheds. He and his sidekick, Thomas Van Flandern, hop out carrying sacks stuffed with Frisch’s Big Boy burgers, onion rings, strawberry pie and sodas. They drop the sacks on a bench in the grass and duck inside each of the small buildings.

Working together, going from shed to shed, they push back the roofs, which are on rollers, exposing to the elements the most advanced astronomical tools of the 20th century—three large telescopes. Two are white, one is silver. Each is slightly larger than the next, measuring 8-inches, 14-inches and 16-inches in diameter.

They point each scope toward the clear evening sky. The two Xavier students have received a request from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to observe the Transit 4-A satellite, its carrier rocket and two other satellites that are being launched from Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast.

It is the middle of the Cold War and the leading edge of the Space Race. Three years earlier, Russia launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, and the U.S. has been trying to catch up and pass the Soviet efforts ever since, filling the skies with more and more artificial stars. The three new satellites being launched tonight are a big part of that effort, and they should appear over Cincinnati about 90 minutes after launch.

The two have time, so they grab their burgers, sit in the grass and talk about what this new world of unmanned satellites circling overhead truly means.

[divider] ••• [/divider]

Smith was in the car with his parents parked at a Frisch’s drive-in for lunch when the news came over the radio that the Soviet Union had just put a satellite into orbit. It was Oct. 4, 1957.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/sputnik.jpg”]sputnik[/lightbox]The news shocked most Americans, but the idea of satellites orbiting Earth so fascinated Smith that his parents took him to the Cincinnati Astronomical Society, a 140-acre site west of Cincinnati near Cleves, Ohio, where amateur astronomers had been observing the stars since the early 1900s. He remembers the president of the group pointing out Sputnik passing overhead on the night they visited.

“It just turned me on to see that up there,” Smith says.

While others were looking at moons and planets and galaxies, Smith was captured by the artificial objects. He began helping out with the Astronomical Society’s Operation Moonwatch team, one of 153 amateur satellite spotting teams around the country that were organized in preparation for America’s first satellite launch. With the surprise launch of Sputnik, however, the teams scrambled to begin observing the beeping beacon in orbit overhead and report their findings to the Smithsonian Observatory.

Before the launch of Sputnik, there was nothing manmade beyond Earth’s atmosphere. But Sputnik broke the silence, followed by Sputnik II, III and IV, while the United States launched Explorer I into orbit in January 1958 followed by Vanguard I and Explorer 3. As the number of satellites in orbit continued to grow, volunteer satellite spotters with the Moonwatch teams stepped up their observations.

Among the most prolific of the early Moonwatch teams in the U.S. was the Cincinnati group led by Smith’s friend, Van Flandern. As a child, Van Flandern loved watching the moon out of the car window and reading the children’s book, The Stars, by H.A. Rey. A subscription to Sky & Telescope magazine furthered his interest, and he used summer job money to buy his first telescope. He fought battles with his mother, who raised him and his siblings alone, to let him go out before sunrise to observe the constellations.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Scan-1-300×218.jpg”]Scan-1[/lightbox]

By the time he got to Xavier, he was doing advanced calculations of astronomical phenomena such as occultations and orbits of comets. Shortly after introducing himself to the Cincinnati Astronomical Society and their Moonwatch team, they recognized his genius and handed leadership of the team to him. He and Smith became fast friends, logging many hours together tracking satellites at the society’s observatory. Smith enrolled at Xavier two years later and helped Van Flandern track satellites from an observatory Van Flandern and his physics professors installed on the roof of Logan Hall. From there he operated a substation for the Cincinnati Moonwatch program with the help of Xavier student volunteers.

By 1961, their work tracking satellites was beginning to get noticed by the astrophysicists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the precursor to NASA. Their notoriety began when the SAO asked them to watch for the new satellites on that Friday night in June.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

As the sun goes down and the sky goes dark at the observatory, Van Flandern and Smith get the telescopes ready. They fix the crosshairs on Polaris, the North Star, and from there they figure the azimuth and altitude.

Then using Van Flandern’s calculations from a computer program he designed using an early IBM computer donated by General Electric—where he had a summer job—they calculate the orbit and time that each object should pass overhead and adjust the scopes so the satellites will fly into their fields of view.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., they’re looking through the 14-inch scope, waiting for the first satellite to appear. As Van Flandern predicted, they see an object enter the 1.25-degree view circle. He notes the time. Another comes through. Then another, then a pair and then three more. Within 15 minutes, five more objects have been picked up by the scope—way more than expected. By 10:10 p.m., they have spotted a total of 14 satellites. They’re stunned.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/eyes-2.jpg”]eyes-2[/lightbox]Van Flandern sits cross-legged on the bench, pulls out his slide rule and begins scribbling figures madly on a notepad. He looks up at Smith.

“It blew up,” he says.

“You’re crazy,” Smith tells him.

But Van Flandern calculates the time and the rocket’s location by its coordinates and runs into the farmhouse, the society’s headquarters, to send a telegram to the Smithsonian Observatory.

“Rocket blew up,” the telegram reads.

A half hour later, the phone rings in the farmhouse. Gustav Bakos, a leading astronomer at the Smithsonian Observatory, is on the line questioning Van Flandern about his report that the rocket had exploded near the end of its first revolution around the Earth. Van Flandern, it turns out, is correct.

Two days later, Bakos travels from Massachusetts to Xavier to meet Van Flandern. As he tours the rooftop observatory on campus, he asks Van Flandern how he made his calculations so quickly the night of the explosion. Bakos wants his formulas, but Van Flandern refuses to share them. Later, Smith asks him why.

“I need these formulas for later on in my career,” he says.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

Van Flandern graduated in 1962, three months before President Kennedy’s “Moon” speech, and went on to earn a PhD in astronomy from Yale University. The tracking work he did at Xavier with the Moonwatch program helped prepare him for the advanced science he would do throughout his career, including as chief of celestial mechanics at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Later he founded his own group, Meta Research, where he conducted astronomical research that sometimes bordered on the controversial and caused some to question his genius. Whatever their conclusions, what’s unquestionable is that he left a legacy of curiosity about space and astronomical science at Xavier that continues today. Ray Miller, former chair of the Department of Physics, graduated when Van Flandern was a sophomore, and by the time he returned to Xavier in 1966 to teach, Van Flandern and Smith were gone. The rooftop observatory they created was replaced by a permanent observatory in 1981. But Miller says the stories about Van Flandern and Moonwatch circulated for years, and the work he did laid the groundwork for Xavier’s exploration into astronomy.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/eyes-1.jpg”]eyes-1[/lightbox]“What he did was the first astronomy at Xavier,” Miller says.

After Van Flandern left, Smith kept the Moonwatch program going at both Xavier and the Zion Road location for two more years until he graduated in 1964. But it just wasn’t the same.

“He made me team leader when he left,” Smith said. “But we lost our heart and soul without him. He was the brains behind it all.”

They kept in touch on and off through the years. Smith followed his friend’s career even as he advanced in his own, running the family’s Paper Products Co. in Cincinnati. About five years ago, he rejoined the Cincinnati Astronomical Society after thinking about Moonwatch and what they contributed to the growing knowledge about space.

“We felt we were doing something important, even though I was just having a lot of fun at the time,” Smith says. “I don’t think until I was older and more reflective did I realize this was really important, what we did out here, and it made a major contribution to science.”

[divider] • • • [/divider]

The Cincinnati Moonwatch team set several records for satellite tracking, including making the most observations of satellites for three consecutive months, according to a booklet the society published in 1985.

It says Van Flandern reached his goal of being the best Moonwatch team in the country because of his ability to round up so many volunteer spotters. And it lists Van Flandern’s reporting of the rocket explosion as the team’s greatest triumph, describing it as an “unprecedented prediction” that prompted the Smithsonian to visit.

In their best month they racked up 465 sightings, and in May 1961, the team made 288 observations—the most of any team in the country. On one night alone they saw 22 satellites make 40 transits. Cincinnati always competed against the Moonwatch program in Sacramento, trading the lead back and forth for most sightings.

“Sacramento was the one to beat,” Smith says. “They were better only because they had better weather. But Tom was fiercely competitive. He was always saying, ‘You gotta beat them, you gotta beat them.’ ”

The observations at the Zion Road location were the highlight of Smith’s and Van Flandern’s time at Xavier. It was especially exhilarating for the budding young astronomer.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/eyes-3.jpg”]eyes-3[/lightbox]“It was so exciting to catch a satellite in those days,” Van Flandern told the American Institute of Physics in 2005. “The idea that man had put something in space so captured the imagination of the public. It was almost inconceivable. It’s something no human being had ever done before. And everyone was interested in satellites. And when we would catch one it was a very exciting affair. Especially since they weren’t well predicted at all, and we would just have a vague general idea when we might hope to see one, and sometimes they would show up and sometimes not.”

[Read Van Flandern’s interview with the Institute.]

Smith acted as Van Flandern’s deputy, helping set up the equipment and record each sighting. They would send telegrams to the Smithsonian reporting the name of the satellite, their Cincinnati station number, the time and the coordinates—altitude and azimus—for each sighting. Van Flandern would know how many satellites were expected in a night, and they would watch for them from dusk to dawn.

“Sometimes we had to look at two different satellites at the same time. And some satellites came three to four times a night,” Smith says. “We would set them up and run from scope to scope. We’d sleep in between sightings and goof off, too, throw blackberries at each other. Those were some of the best days of my life.”

[divider] • • • [/divider]

Over the years, Smith often wondered if Van Flandern ever thought about the importance of what they accomplished with Moonwatch. He was so busy doing such high-level science that perhaps spotting satellites as young college students had lost its allure.

Smith never asked—and then lost the opportunity. Van Flandern died in 2009 at age 68 of cancer.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/sign.jpg”]sign[/lightbox]Smith wanted to commemorate the work of the Moonwatch program, though, and he told the society about his idea to erect an historical marker. He began working with the Ohio Historical Society, and on Oct. 4, 2012—the 55th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik—a marker was dedicated at the old site on Zion Road, where the old telescopes still sit in covered sheds in the open field. There’s now a fourth telescope on the site, and the old 8-inch scope is now protected by a small round dome. A real observatory.

The marker was erected. Words were spoken. Tears shed. Van Flandern’s son, Michael, and widow, Barbara, attended.

“We had the feeling that we were doing something productive for society as well as learning lives and careers for ourselves,” Van Flandern told the Insitute in 2005. “For that reason alone, Operation Moonwatch was a wonderful thing to happen.”

After the Storm

True to the forecast, 70 miles north of Joplin, Mo., it begins raining. It is cool, cloudy and blustery, feeling more like fall than spring. The combination creates an almost ominous feeling, a harkening back to what it must have felt like two years earlier, on May 22, 2011, when a similar cluster of clouds and rain spawned an EF-5 tornado that ripped a hole through the heart of the small, southwestern Missouri city.

The National Weather Service, however, also dutifully promises the return of sunshine and a break from showers and thunderstorms, which is a good thing because a celebration is planned. It’s a party in the park marking the two-year anniversary of the tornado, which killed 161 people, injured more than 1,100 and inflicted $2.8 billion in damage. It’s a citywide festival of perseverance and progress—proof with barbecue and frozen yogurt that the human soul can overcome even the greatest of tragedies. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is going to be there, as are Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, the CEO of the American Red Cross, a healthy collection of local officials, plus journalists representing the complete spectrum of news media.

A grim coincidence already has Napolitano in the region, about 200 miles west in Moore, Ok., where the day before a mile-wide tornado, packing winds of more than 200 miles an hour, removed a significant amount of the city from the earth’s surface. Now the national media is looking to Moore for the story and Joplin for the backstory.

Joplin has garnered a reputation as the standard bearer for disaster management and response—a reputation built by Joplin city manager and Xavier grad Mark Rohr. Two years ago, as bodies were being pulled from the rubble, the responsibility of rescue and rebuilding the city fell on Rohr. rohr

With square-shoulders, military-style haircut and mustache, Rohr looks more like someone you’d expect to see stepping out of a cruiser after being pulled over by the state patrol. But he’s not a uniform kind of guy, wearing a soft blue zip-up shirt, blue jeans, white khaki belt and surprisingly fashion-forward white Tom’s slip-ons. Even though his current wardrobe is more J. Crew than dress blues, Rohr emanates a sense of calmness that belies the events that forever changed the city of Joplin—and him.

 

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The Joplin city manager’s office is located on the second floor of City Hall, which is now housed in a renovated five-story department store, constructed in 1910. It was the first building in Joplin to have electric lights, and it features a Thomas Hart Benton mural above the first floor elevators valued at around $8 million.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/IMG_0046.jpg”]IMG_0046[/lightbox]Though it’s not often an interview topic, Rohr’s tenure as city manager has also seen the refurbishing of building facades, sidewalks cityscaped with vintage-style lampposts, flower baskets and benches, plus a gasoline powered citywide trolley system. Not bad for a town that until two years ago was probably best known as being a stop along Route 66, a temporary hideout for Bonnie and Clyde, zinc mining and the location of some unidentifiable bouncing orb known as the spooklight.

In the past two years, though, Rohr’s responsibilities have transcended the relative simplicities of trollies and lampposts. He’s become the international media’s go-to guy for disaster response.

“I was on CNBC this morning,” he says. “I didn’t really anticipate what the questions would be, but they asked me what recommendations I would make to the citizens of Moore.  I thought, ‘Wow.’ I came up with something. I said, ‘Just don’t give up hope. Persevere.’ ”

The on-deck lineup cuts across a wide demographic: interviews with Real News from TheBlaze TV at 5:00 p.m., MSNBC at 5:30 p.m. and CNN’s Piers Morgan at 8:00 p.m. It’s not that Rohr has a mania for public attention. He’s just using media to get out the message of Joplin’s recovery.

In nearly every interview, Rohr recounts the storm and the recovery. Even today, as Rohr details the circumstances in an easy monotone from the officious but cozy confines of Joplin’s City Council chambers, it’s spine-tingling to imagine how everyday events and life-changing catastrophes can occur.

“The tornado formed right on the edge of the city,” he says. “Hurricanes you can see coming ahead of time, and if you have any sense you get out of the way.  Tornados, especially this one, not a whole lot of advance notice at all.”

The tornado sirens sounded twice—24 minutes before and then four minutes before.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/copter.jpg”]copter[/lightbox]An hour before it hit, more than 400 graduates of Joplin High were walking across the stage at the Leggett and Platt Athletic Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus, about five and a half miles from the tornado’s epicenter. When the storm struck, they were on their way to Wal-Mart for graduation cakes or gathering in backyards.

The tornado ran west to east, bisecting the city just south of the center. Winds peaked at 250 mph. It was between a half-mile to three-quarters of a mile wide and stayed on the ground for 12 miles. Everything in its path was gone.

Rohr had no idea. On the edges of town, it was just another storm.

“It was Sunday night and I was getting ready to watch the Cubs play the Red Sox,” he says, “The phone rang, and I didn’t get to it in time because I was busy doing chores so I could get caught up and enjoy the game. It was our fire chief, Mitch Randles. He left a message. He said, ‘We’ve had a bad storm. You need to get into town.’ ”

 

[divider] ••• [/divider]

The only way to feel the full impact of the storm and fully appreciate the rebuilding efforts is to see it firsthand. So Rohr stands up, walks out of the council chambers and heads to the parking lot where he slides into the passenger seat of a car and becomes a de-facto tour guide to the storm’s path through the city.

To an out-of-towner unaware of the history, it could appear Joplin is just a city in the midst of an urban renewal. But it’s not.

“We had 7,500 homes that were impacted—3,500 destroyed and 4,000 damaged,” Rohr says, reciting the numbers well-etched into his memory. “We had 540 businesses either destroyed or damaged. Today, 85 percent of the homes and 90 percent of the businesses have been rebuilt or had the permits pulled to do so.”

Turning onto Main Street, Rohr narrates the path he followed that night[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWLvve8KN20″ target=”_blank”]videoimage[/lightbox]

“I knew where the fire chief was because he had described it to me over the phone,” he says. “But because of all the downed trees and power lines, I had to run two or three blocks from where I parked the car to where he was. The first thing I saw was a green minivan with the windows blown out. There were two deceased citizens right there, five feet away from me. I realized then, this was a pretty serious thing. I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts and decided what needed to be done next, because it was my responsibility to deal with it.”

Continuing on Main Street, Rohr calmly points out various landmarks—where the Mexican restaurant used to be, where the green minivan was. “That green van sat in this parking lot for months afterward.”

As the car approaches 20th Street, a major thoroughfare through the city, Rohr instructs the driver to turn right.

“We looked ahead and saw the vocational school was completely flattened. And the high school, which was nearby, was half gone. And it just got worse the further we went.

“We went over the railroad tracks, just passing the high school, and a lady flagged us down and told us a church had collapsed, there were people trapped and they needed our help. So we went out there and saw a little bit of everything.

“We tried to help pull people out of the debris and do whatever we could. There was one lady who had lost her leg. I pulled another lady out with a broken leg, then another lady that I was told didn’t make it. I sat her down in the grass and went about helping some other people. There was an interesting story that developed about that later on.”

 

[divider] ••• [/divider]

It doesn’t take long to discover one aspect of Rohr’s personality—he’s a compartmentalizer, with an ability to feel and think deeply. Events can be horrifying, incomprehensible. Yet, to him, still interesting and worthy of study.

It’s that interest, and the thinking, that has enabled him to create a path for a city and its citizens out of devastation, and stay on a path that’s become a model for the rest of the country.

When the nation turned its attention and television cameras to Joplin, Rohr intentionally stood in front of a twisted tower of trucks and cars smashed together by the force of the winds. The site was Cunningham Park. At the time, the spot demonstrated the extent of the destructive power the storm had delivered. Today, it stands as the symbolic city center for both progress and remembrance.

“Cunningham Park is the oldest park in the city,” he says. “It’s right there that the storm went from an EF-4 to an EF-5. It was literally wiped out.”

Probably what was most striking about that interview was not what he said, but what the reporter said in closing: “I know it’s a busy day for you sir, and best of luck.”[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZDGqAA5j9s” target=”_blank”]rorhimage[/lightbox]

Rohr remembers it more from a personal perspective. “Yeah, I was wearing a torn hat that I had on when I left my house and was still wearing the next day.”

It would be nearly 30 hours before Rohr would be back in bed. And for the next 28 days, he worked an average of 16 hours a day.

 

[divider] ••• [/divider]

Larger cities tend to have mayors who become the face of a major event—most famously New York’s Rudy Giuliani during the Twin Towers attack and New Orleans’s Ron Nagy during Hurricane Katrina. No one knows who the city manager of New York was at the time, because they didn’t have one.

A city manager is the full-time professional who works with elected officials, most of whom are part-time. In Joplin, there are nine council members and they pick their own mayor every two years, from amongst themselves. With this structure, the bulk of the burden to actually run the city and do the work rests with the city manager. It can be a daunting task, and Rohr’s skills at it haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year Governing magazine named Rohr manager of the year, calling him “The Builder.” In reality, though, Rohr is more of a planner. Or as he puts, “My sisters said I could plan the fun out of anything.”

He laughs.

“I may not be the funnest guy to be around all the time, but planning sure came in handy.”

You rarely hear someone say, “I want to be a city manager when I grow up.” Rohr certainly didn’t say it. He was raised on the border of Blue Ash and Evendale, two northern Cincinnati suburbs. “I went to Moeller High School and grew up right across the street from Blue Ash and saw it transform itself.”[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/walmart.jpg”]walmart[/lightbox]

Through planning, Blue Ash rebuilt itself from a small village into the area’s major northern business hub. It doubles its population during the day as a result of the number of offices and medical facilities, and then spends the taxes it collects on its residents, increasing property values by maintaining the streets and building luxury items such as free pools and parks.

The concept wasn’t lost on Rohr.

“I didn’t realize it until I got my master’s in public administration,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to land an internship in Blue Ash, and got to see how it all worked. I saw what the city manager did and said to myself, I think I can do that. That pointed me in the direction of trying to be a city manager. My first job as a city manager was at the ripe old age of 27.

“Lucky for me I had 24 years of experience as a city manager by the time the tornado hit. If I had been a neophyte, I would have been overwhelmed. Before the storm, there was a manual. In theory, it’s an operating guide in case of a natural disaster. But there’s nothing that says, ‘You have an EF-5 tornado and a third of your town is gone, flip to page 23.’ ”

 

[divider] ••• [/divider]

As Rohr continues his tour through the town, he points out different pieces of history and tragedy. One thing, though, becomes apparent: The story of Joplin is just as much about what you don’t see as what you do: empty sign frames, concrete slabs and neatly mowed fields with flowers blooming in random places—bits of landscaping leftover from now vanished houses.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/IMG_0108.jpg”]IMG_0108[/lightbox]He points to an open field. “The old hospital, Mercy Hospital, was right over there, about where that dirt patch is. It was nine stories tall and moved four inches off its axis.”

Then a concrete slab. “That’s where the church was. Where we pulled the people out.”

There’s a 30-foot tall iron cross at one end of a parking lot. “See the cross? That was the Catholic Church. It was destroyed. The priest was found in his bathtub under rubble. He was OK. The church was gone. The school was gone. But the cross was unscathed.”

At Cunningham Park, the car comes to a stop and Rohr gets out. It is blustery. Thick, dark clouds roll in from the west.

“These trees were stark white, because everything got scoured. The wind was 200 miles an hour, and they were debarked. The experts were telling us they’re dead. The leaves sprouting are the stored up energy, but we’ve left them. We didn’t want to go around taking trees down. Why not wait a couple of years after the newer trees have developed?”

There’s also a plaque next to the fountain with the names of the tornado’s victims. Rohr points to a name and recounts a story of bad luck, tragic twists of fate or boundless bravery.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/tree.jpg”]tree[/lightbox]Will Norton. “He had just graduated high school an hour before. He was going to attend film school. He was on his way home with his dad. His mother and sister made it into the garage. He gets sucked out through the sun roof, his dad is injured trying to hold him and they can’t find him for three days. Finally, they found him in a nearby pond.”

Christopher Lucas. “He was the Pizza Hut manager and strapped himself to the freezer door to protect the people inside. He’s like 27, and makes a split-second decision that saves 15 people’s lives and forfeits his own in the process. His mother will be laying a commemorative wreath at the ceremonies tomorrow.”

There’s one name not on the list. “Remember the lady I pulled out of the church that I thought was dead? She ended up living. She lost her sister and her daughter and they’re on here.”

It’s getting late, and Piers awaits. Rohr climbs back in the car and heads back to City Hall.[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/park.jpg”]park[/lightbox]

“What I’ve learned is that a lot of cities just do what I call ‘grass and trash.’ Cut the grass, collect the trash and tomorrow’s another day. Through planning, you can make your city the kind of city you want to make it. Meaning you just don’t have to accept the way things are. You can make a difference.”

Tomorrow, when the sun is out and skies are clear, Napolitano and others will stand here, remember the tornado and praise the town for all it has done. Rohr will be seated on a chair behind the podium, happy for the attention the city is getting. Happy for the people. Happy with what Joplin is becoming after the storm.

 

 

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[button link=”#” size=”small” target=”self”]Additional Content[/button]
• See a photo gallery of the tornado and the rebuilding efforts from photographer David Eulitt.
• Read a story from Esquire magazine about the tornado.
• Mark Rohr’s 10 Tenets of Disaster Recovery

[divider] • • • [/divider]

Main Musketeer

Greg Christopher was hired as athletic director in March. We asked him about himself and his vision for Xavier sports as the University enters the Big East.

Q: What attracted you to Xavier?
A: Really three things. First and foremost is the institution. It’s a first-rate institution with a values proposition that, quite frankly, our society needs. Secondly, it’s the athletic part. There’s a tradition and a history of winning here, and there are the resources to be successful. Selfishly, as an athletic director, the thing you want the most are those resources. They give you the ability to be successful on a national level. And then, from a family standpoint, my wife and I spent at least six years in this corner of the state, so we knew what a great area Cincinnati is.

Q: How familiar are you with the Jesuit ideals? That a nun has the authority to tell a coach his star player isn’t going to play.
A: That’s different from what you might see at a public school. I think a lot of the private schools have that type of a values proposition. But I don’t care if it’s a nun, the president, the coach, the athletic director—the short version is there’s accountability. If you’re a student-athlete and you come to a Xavier, you adhere to that. That’s part of why you are here, that accountability. Is that going to turn off a few recruits? Perhaps. But if it does then I don’t think they would be great fits for Xavier anyway.

Q: You created the Falcon Leadership Academy for student-athletes at Bowling Green. What is that and can we expect something similar here?
A: I would never be presumptuous enough to take something we did at Bowling Green and bring it here to Xavier, but after I accepted the position Fr. Graham laid out three or four priorities for me and that was one of them—some form of character development/leadership that is specific to student-athletes. Another prong about why I was attracted to Xavier is that in terms of a leadership academy, that already exists here. I think what will probably happen is we’ll take what the coaches are already doing, what’s already being done on campus and incorporate a few new things and develop it into something that is specific to student-athletes.

[button link=”#” size=”small” target=”self”]Watch the interview[/button]
Watch a video of the interview

Q: What were the other priorities you were given?

A: The first was anything and everything related to revenue. As we move to the Big East and all that come with that, the message is clear: Athletics needs to generate more revenue on its own. There will certainly be an institutional commitment, and that’s not wavering, but what are the opportunities we have to generate more revenue? The second was all things Big East. It’s a big moment for the institution, a great opportunity, but it also comes with some challenges. We just need to make sure we are big enough for the stage, that we are an equal partner and not just a tag-along. The character development of our student-athletes. And the fourth was to create a strategic plan. You have a lot of things coming together to make that important right now: The University just finished its strategic planning process. You’ve got a brand new athletic director walking in the door on the heels of an AD who was here 15 years. Take that plus the Big East layer and it’s time to develop a new road map for athletics.

Q: You helped raise $111 million at Purdue and $60 million at Bowling Green. So we can expect you to do a lot of fundraising as well?
A:
It clearly needs to be a priority, but that is true for any Division I institution. And it’s not as simplistic to say going out to people and asking for money. It’s looking at really how are we integrated and cohesive across the board and how we drive revenue or look at revenue within athletics. And even beyond that within the institution. The fact is there’s a business side to what we do. You can’t gouge your customers. That’s not the message I want delivered in any way shape or form. But are we as efficient as we can be in operating from a revenue standpoint?

Q: You mentioned the Big East as a priority. Can we compete?
A:
I’ve been to two Big East meetings so far, and you sit around that table and a couple of things jump out at you. First and foremost, we’re in the right group. Conferences ought to be about ideology and being with like-minded institutions. And I think that’s why the new Big East makes so much sense on a lot of levels. Second, it’s terrific for Xavier in that joining the conference is strategic not just from an athletics standpoint but from an institutional standpoint. Ohio and the Midwest are not tracking the right way from a demographic standpoint to try to grow an institution. So you have to look a little more national. And the Big East is in the right markets for Xavier going forward. And then the third part that readily comes out as we talk is that we are built the right way. Every single school in the Big East, the bandwidth of budgets is really tight. We’re not the top budget in the Big East, but we’re also not the bottom. We probably have some gaps that we’re going to need to address. We’ve also got some places that we’re absolutely built to compete. Are we going to walk in the dominate? No. The bandwidth is too tight. But I think we can be very successful out of the gate.

[button link=”#” size=”small” target=”self”]     Additional Content     [/button]
[The competition: A listing of Big East schools and how Xavier compares.]

Q: How will joining the Big East help grow the institution as whole?
A:
It’s not easily measurable, but you don’t make this kind of a move if you haven’t thought it through from an institutional standpoint. Absolutely it’s about getting Xavier visibility in some key markets that are important to the University. We have to think more nationally from an admission and enrollment standpoint as we look out over the next 10, 20, 30 years. Also it reframes the institution a little bit in that when you look at our peer groups, it’s not just a more external group from the athletic standpoint, but also the academic standpoint. For the institution, to maximize this, let’s make sure we’re visible from an academic standpoint, not necessarily the students in the classroom and their engagement from a research standpoint, and also making sure they are using the platform to get the Xavier message out.

Q: Will Xavier add any new sports?
A:
Each school has its own sports portfolio and that will be something we do take a look at through the strategic plan. Do we have the right sport mix, especially under the ender equity standpoint? The good thing is all of our sports are under the Big East umbrella—we won’t have any orphan sports off in different conferences. I think it’s a good portfolio of sports that we do have, and now it’s our job to make sure they keep getting better.

The Sisters

Xavier is known for its Jesuits, but the order of priests have not been the only religious presence in the history of the University. Nuns have also had a place at Xavier, even though the Jesuits don’t have a corresponding order of women religious. While the nuns were mostly students and instructors in the early years, they have in later years become full-time faculty and members of the University’s administration.

The number of nuns on campus peaked in the early 1980s after Xavier bought Edgecliff College, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. Those who came to Xavier with the merger have all retired. With their departure—paralleled by the overall decline in women entering religious orders—the number of nuns on campus has dwindled. The four who remain hold strategically important positions at Xavier—Nancy Linenkugel, chair of the Department of Health Services Administration; Jo Ann Recker, professor of modern languages; Rose Ann Fleming, special assistant to the president; and Rosie Miller, professor of theology. But they are all advancing in years and may be the last nuns at Xavier.nunsvideo

Xavier magazine sat down with the four nuns at a roundtable discussion and spoke with them about a wide range of topics, from their history to modern issues such as the Church’s investigation of American nuns and how their lead organization must now undergo a five-year reformation for not following the teachings of the Church. (Click on the image to the right to watch a video of the conversation.) Here are their thoughts on a few of those subjects.

 

Q: What has been the role of women religious at Xavier and what special gifts do you bring to the University and its students?

Rose Ann Fleming: “One of the gifts that women bring to the University campus is the gift of love and the gift of sharing and hopefully students in our classrooms have been able to find that gift in reality with us and enjoy their time with us as Xavier students because that gift.”

Jo Ann Recker: “I would add that it brings a balance because as where Pope Paul VI said, ‘Where’s the other half of humanity?’ The other half deserves a presence. And where I have seen women be helpful especially to women students is that sense of balance and advocacy for women’s issues.”

Rosie Miller: “I think another gift as a woman religious is bringing the feminine side of the Church into the classroom. It’s another window of how to read the text as a woman particularly as a woman who stands in the Church committed to church ministry.”

linenNancy Linenkugel: “I recall being a student here in 1971 shortly after women were allowed to take classes here—I had a habit on at the time—I was teaching at a school in Cincinnati and needed a bachelor’s degree. So I came here and there weren’t a lot of others like me around here at that time. There were very few women but hardly any other sisters. I didn’t think too much about it because I had a job to do. But today, now that I am back, I think there’s a powerful presence that women religious provide to this campus, and I would add I think I stand for something of value that our students maybe don’t think about all the time. I start every class with a prayer and when I let students take over and introduce a guest speaker they have to start with a prayer or reflection and only after the semester is over do they say that was really helpful. So I think we can stand for something higher in life for our students.”

 

Q: Do you think the trend toward fewer women entering orders will be reversed or reach a plateau? Or are you the last nuns at Xavier?

Nancy Linenkugel: “With the decline in religious women, I think we’re at new frontier moment. Today there are young women who say to me, ‘I don’t have to become a sister to do what you’re doing. I can teach, I can be nurse, a manager, make money, go off and pray and live how I wish to live in a holy manner. I don’t need to be a sister and give up everything.’ So where I see the next frontier for religious life is in about 25 years, I believe there will be one kind of religious life, and it will match the men’s orders such that women will have a choice of being ordained or being deacons or like the brother Jesuits. I believe this will be the next wave. What does the Church have to offer the rest of society, the women? I don’t think we’ll continue on with the type of religious life we have now. We might be close to the last of the current kind of sisters that everybody knows in society, but I don’t think we’re the last. I think there’s a bright future.”

flemingRose Ann Fleming: “I think our job is to help define what the future of religious life is going to be. A lot of that will come out of talking with women I have met on this campus who are extremely dedicated to the needs of the poor. As religious women, we have seen over time how our order has helped change cultures. The whole Catholic school system changed cultures, and if we can look in the future and harness some of the vision some of these women are coming out with, we’re going to be in very good shape as far as religious numbers are concerned.”

Jo Ann Recker: “That’s good. If you look at Jesus’ model, he formed his apostles and his spirit and then left because they were evangelized. That’s what we’re trying to do with our sponsorship ministries.”

Rosie Miller: “I think we’re beyond reaching a plateau. I think we’re on the other side of the decline in the sense of our numbers. One of the ways I view that is that since Vatican II, we as religious women took very, very seriously reforming the Church and we moved onto that bridge. I always saw most of my ministry as a bridge between the laity, which I am member of as a religious woman, and that of the clerical side of the Church. In my early ministry, it was important to empower and train the laity, and I moved into jobs where I was paid very little, but then eventually parishes or communities who hire people were able to pay appropriate salaries for people who are raising a family. I think we are also still those bridge makers in the sense that for the increased role of the laity, the time is now.”

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[button link=”#” size=”medium” target=”self”]Their stories[/button]

Rose Ann FlemingRosie MillerNancy LinenkugelJo Ann Recker

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Q: How will this increased role of the laity affect Catholic education as a whole and Xavier in particular?

Nancy Linenkugel: “When it comes to Catholic schools and even Jesuit Catholic schools, the key to keeping them going is to pass on the mission to lay persons. Xavier does a wonderful job of that with AFMIX and other programs. It’s no different in Catholic elementary schools in that the lay leaders and the teachers all must understand why they’re there and the important legacy to hand on to the students. I attended a Catholic grade school and even back then lay teachers were extremely key to maintaining the school. That role has only increased. Priests and sisters have done their jobs if lay persons understand the school’s mission and take that forward.”

Rose Ann Fleming: “I think that the future of Catholic and Jesuit education is bright. It may have to be delivered through media with which the population is familiar. The decline of religious women in the schools has largely been offset by the rise of extremely well-educated laity who are willing to dedicate their lives to continuing the tradition of Catholic schools. The teaching of religious doctrine and religious values is worth the expense to date. The schools appear to be prospering.”

reckerJo Ann Recker: “Interestingly, I just came from a three-hour presidentially appointed committee meeting on what it is that makes Xavier a Jesuit Catholic university. We are charged with clearly articulating this. And it behooves most religious congregations to do something similar so as to educate and form the laity who will follow in maintaining our educational heritage and charisms. I think that if the heritage and charism are ‘owned’ and embodied in those who follow, we will be in good shape. Isn’t this what Jesus did when he entrusted his church to his followers?”

Q: Will all of this be impacted by the investigations into religious orders and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious?

Jo Ann Recker: “I do know that an early step taken by Pope Francis was to reaffirm the mandated reform of the LCWR. But as long as men cling to power in the Church, along with total responsibility for serious decision-making, and continue to see women religious [and women, in general] as holding ‘special’ [but not equal] roles, I don’t see this long history changing. The problems of the contemporary Church are many and well-documented, but women religious are not really among them. However, a focus on the LCWR is, from my perspective, but a diversionary tactic. It gets people talking about something other than the problems in the Church and the exodus of many from the Church.”

Rose Ann Fleming: “At this point, Pope Francis has indicated that he will not abandon the investigations into religious orders and into the LCWR. I volunteered as a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to an interview. The sister with whom I met wanted to know about my work at Xavier with the student-athletes. Then she asked about vocations to the Sisters of Notre Dame. I responded that I knew they were plentiful in Africa where we have a large number of sisters, but that there were few in the United States. She asked if this was a concern and directed my attention to data that indicated factors that seem to attract vocations to certain orders and that distinguishing dress was one of these factors. When I asked her what she was suggesting, she simply said to look at the data.

“From what I can discern, the LCWR is anxious to work out with the Church perceived problems that could be cultural since women in the United States have much more freedom than women have in other parts of the world. Because our order is international in scope, the Church’s observations of our order may be misunderstood on a global basis. Such cultural issues are resolvable.”

millerRosie Miller: “It’s too quick to really know what Pope Francis feels and thinks about this. I read his whole speech [to the international group of superiors] and I think he was very astute using traditional Vatican language, but he keeps using the term ‘feel,’ that sisters should feel their way, so I think he was walking a delicate dance. I think as a new pope, you would not normally go in and change things immediately. I’m still hopeful he might review this.”

Nancy Linenkugel: “Pope Francis certainly seems to be a pastoral individual who is interested less in the traditional ‘pomp’ of the Papacy and more in being a servant-leader. There’s no shortage of serious issues with which he must deal—financial problems, human justice, ultra-conservatism movement within the Church, the issue of women being disenfranchised by the male-dominated Church. While I personally don’t feel called to the ordained priesthood, I think there are many women who do. What a wonderful ministry to Catholics that could be. Just think of how many parishes have closed due to the shortage of priests, which only brings heartbreak and further alienation. So if the parish is still viable financially, and a woman priest could step in, wouldn’t that be a win/win, especially for the parishioners?”

Game Changer

The official announcement of the worst-kept secret in college sports happened March 20: Xavier is leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference and joining a newly restructured Big East. Talk of the change was a shadow story throughout much of the past year, and making the announcement official was not only a relief, it formally moved Xavier to the place it has been aiming at for the last 30 years—the national stage.

Xavier’s elevation into one of the most dominant basketball conferences in the country was met with a packed Cintas Center conference room and a great deal of pride among Musketeer alumni and fans. But what was lost in the announcement was the fact that the move into national prominence wasn’t an overnight event. Rather, it was the culmination of a well-planned, concerted effort that was decades in the making, starting back even before Xavier entered the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1979.Team 5 LIP 8-20-12 DC

There were little steps along the way—ditching the “Xavier of Ohio” tag, ignoring the “mid-major” label, teaching people that it’s not pronounced “Ex-avier.” There were big steps as well—moving from Schmidt Fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens, joining the A-10, building the Cintas Center. But like walking up a flight of stairs, each step elevated the University until it has now reached what could arguably be considered the top flight.

The question remains, though: Now what? The new Big East is in some ways an experiment in athletic dynamics. It’s now the nation’s only non-football, basketball-centered power conference. It’s also made up of nine Catholic schools and one private school. What does all that mean in terms of national interest? In terms of television revenue? In terms of quality?

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[button link=”#” size=”medium” target=”self”]     Additional Content     [/button]
• New athletic director Greg Christopher shares his views on Xavier joining the Big East.
The competition: A listing of Big East schools and how Xavier compares.
A video of Xavier sports highlights from the past three decades.

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20121011_BASE_BlueWhite_Richard_5In some ways, the creation of the conference is a relief to the plethora of conference realignments driven by television exposure and revenue that have been taking place over the last five or six years. Its creation wasn’t spawned from a drive for more money and power, but from a protest against that.

The old Big East was crumbling from the inside out as its football and non-football schools (informally known as the Catholic Seven) engaged in an internal tug-of-war. By rejecting the idea that football comes first and breaking away on their own, the Catholic Seven not only found relief from the stress of financial inequality, but they found freedom as well—freedom to play for reasons other than commercialism.

“In a mercenary college athletics world drunk on dollars and disdainful of both common sense and the common fan,” Yahoo sports columnist Pat Forde wrote, “it’s nice to see one group declare that something else matters more. Identity matters more. Equality matters more.“083112_OleMiss_001

Arguably, so might mission. With all of the schools except Butler being Catholic, it offers the opportunity for subtle preaching of values and service through its on- and off-the-field actions. Before the first game has even been played, the new league can already boast about one record that most other conferences can’t—academic success. All of the new Big East schools have an NCAA graduation rate of at least 90 percent, with the exception of Butler, which is at 83 percent. Xavier’s 97 percent graduation rate is the best.

David Gibson, a writer with the Religious News Service, even posed the question, “Can a Catholic hoops conference save college sports?” By “the conference’s breaking away in protest,” he wrote, “the schools are offering a corrective example to the way big-money programs, especially in football, are driving (some would say warping) amateur sports.”

It’s a lot of added pressure—being able to compete at the highest level while not engaging in the kind of athletic and moral malfeasance that has dominated sports headlines of late. Still, it could set a benchmark other conferences may be challenged to meet.

Whatever ripple effects the league might have externally, joining the conference will certainly have a ripple effect internally for Xavier. Its effects will be felt in the admissions office and classrooms and bookstore as new audiences of potential students, fans and donors become exposed to Xavier and all it has to offer. What will that mean? Time will tell.

Time begins this fall.

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Family Ties

Andy Fleming leans back in his chair inside his Schmidt Fieldhouse office, finally able to catch his breath.

It’s been less than a week since the end of the 2011 spring exhibition season, and the end of his first full season as head coach of the men’s soccer program. The short time since he took over the moribund program has been, to say the least, a whirlwind. The program won just five games in the previous two years, yet Fleming came in and through some magical mixture of talent, luck and hard work managed to convince essentially the same group of players to claw out 10 wins, win an Atlantic 10 Conference title and claim Xavier’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Life’s been good so far.

There is, of course, still a lot more to do. There’s always more to do. Recruiting is never done. There are player evaluations to complete. Summer camps to plan. Still, for the moment at least, there’s time to do it. May is a slow time in the collegiate soccer world. No games, no practices, no life on the road.

So Fleming starts digging into the stack of work that got set aside during the season when his cell phone begins to buzz. It’s Amy, his wife, who’s nine months pregnant with their second child.

“I’m going into labor,” she says. “I called an ambulance. It’s on its way. Get home. Now.”

She isn’t due for another 10 days. They’ve had a baby before, so Fleming knows the routine. Still, the burst of adrenaline, the stress of the situation and the excitement of anticipation all hit at once. Fleming hangs up and makes a beeline to his car. The house is just seven minutes away, but it feels like it’s taking forever to get there.

After a few harried minutes, the two climb into the ambulance and head to the hospital. Coming to a stop just outside the emergency room entrance, the EMTs begin to wheel Amy toward the doors. Noticing that Amy’s not carrying her overnight bag, Andy jumps back into the ambulance to grab it.

By the time he gets the bag in his hands, he hears a baby cry. Before they can get Amy inside and settled into a delivery room, the delivery’s already over. She gave birth in the parking lot.

Fleming is both surprised and ecstatic. It’s a girl. Daddy’s girl.

 

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It takes an hour or so to get Amy treated and settled into a room, so while they wait, Fleming takes out his phone and starts sharing the news on Facebook.

Devin Fleming born in ambulance very quickly at 418pm. Momma and baby are great. Dad is already worried about having a daughter LOL. More info (including middle name) to follow.

As Amy is recovering, Andy sits in a chair alongside the bed. They banter about what toppings to order on their pizza while simultaneously texting their relatives about their newborn daughter.

She’s going to grow up to be a lacrosse player. And get a scholarship to a top-tier school. Notre Dame? Maybe she’ll meet and marry a guy who goes to Harvard.

Fleming pictures himself snapping photos at her graduation and sees himself walking her down the aisle on her wedding day.

Then a nurse opens the door and enters the room. She looks down at Andy.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asks quietly.

Andy and Amy glance at each other, puzzled.

“We see some markers that are consistent with Down syndrome,” she says. “We need to do some more testing, but it looks like…”

Fleming doesn’t even hear the rest of the sentence. Her voice is drowned out by the noise of his world crashing in on him. The hope of taking pictures of her during her college graduation crumbles. The vision of cheering her on at lacrosse practices disappears. The dream of walking her down the aisle shatters. All he can do is hold his head in his hands and cry.

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After a few hours of tears, confusion and trying to process the news, Fleming drives home while Amy continues her recovery in the hospital.

He walks in the door, picks up his 2-year-old son, Brady, and crawls into bed.[lightbox link=″http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p03yYpBJBhE&feature=youtu.be″]fleming2[/lightbox]

My god, I’m 36 years old, and I’m afraid to sleep alone because I feel like the world is ending, Fleming thinks. I’m just going to wrap my arms around this child, and he’s going to give me strength.

“When I woke up the next morning, Brady says, ‘Dad, Dad how is Mommy and the baby?’ That’s when I knew that I had to face this head on. An attitude is something you can choose, and starting that moment, I had to take it on.”

If there is a positive side to any of it, it’s that Fleming’s always been a determined soul. The oldest of three children from the Boston suburb of Braintree—a blend of blue collar urban and upper middle class suburban—Fleming excelled at every sport he tried. But he was a little more driven than most. He loved practices. He rode his bike to the local high schools to watch the older kids practice and study the coaches. He went to games with his dad, picking out the seats closest to the coaches and team.

When he was 15 years old, he chose to leave his local school and enroll in a nearby Catholic school. It was, he says, an effort to improve his own game and put himself in a better position for a college scholarship. He also admits he preferred the dress code and discipline imposed by the nuns—not the mindset of your typical high-school freshman.

Ultimately, it worked. He set school records for goals, was named conference MVP and is still the only player from the school to earn a full soccer scholarship to a Division I school—Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

While he found some success on the field at Marist, he more importantly found his calling. By his senior season, he was not just the team captain, he was going on scouting and recruiting trips with the assistant coaches. The coaching bug had bitten him. It bit him so bad, in fact, that after graduating, he returned to Boston, lived at home and worked for two years as an assistant coach at Boston University—unpaid.

After seeing his acumen for the game, BU finally hired him full time. Nine years later, though, he was recruited away from the Terriers by perennial powerhouse Northwestern University. After three seasons of helping push Northwestern to new heights, he was placed on the soccer world’s potential head coach carrousel. Xavier took notice. Knows how to win, plays clean, students get good grades. He fit the Xavier mold. He was interviewed on a Tuesday and offered the job on Thursday.

 

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Today, three years later, Fleming unzips his blue windbreaker and plops down on the couch in his office, resting his elbows on his knees and massaging his head with his fingers.

He just finished lifting weights with the team and is equal parts sweaty and sleepy. He spent the night in a pastel-colored hospital chair because his 1-month-old daughter, Quinn, is sick. Brady is now 3. Devin is 18 months.[lightbox link=″http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIcyzB9sgtM&feature=youtu.be″]fleming1[/lightbox]

“I slept for three hours in a hospital chair, the doctor was running late and I had to be in the weight room by 10:00 a.m.” he says. “But I made it in time because I want to show my team how to excel as adults. You know, the players might have to deal with something like this someday. Part of my job is to make sure that they grow up to be good husbands, parents and employees.”

To do that, he needs to lead by example and not break his own rules, specifically Rule No. 1.

When Fleming took over the soccer program, it was a mess. The team was best known for underachieving and having its players issued red cards by the officials for bad sportsmanship. In the previous five years, the team lost two thirds of its games, and its road record was an embarrassing 3-36-3. There was no structure, no organization, no discipline. On Fleming’s first day of practice, only two players were on the field on time. The rest came out late and not properly dressed.

Two things became immediately obvious. One, he needed to lay down the law. So he instituted some basic rules. “If you want to play, you have to know and follow these rules,” he says. “If you can agree to those terms, then you’re in.’’

Rule No. 1: Be on time. Which means being in the locker room 30 minutes prior to practice and on the field 15 minutes before practice.

It also became obvious that he had nothing on which to build and needed to start from scratch. “Welcome to the South Pole,” he told the team. “Every destination from here is upward and pointing north.” He brought a picture of a bus into the locker room. “I’m driving the bus,” he said. “Some of you will get on the bus. Others will be pulled onto it. Some will be denied entrance. Some will watch it go right on by.”

He started referring to the “old Xavier” and the “new Xavier.” He hosted a mandatory Super Bowl party so his players would begin to spend time together off the field. They went to basketball games together. When the athletic department held a contest selling raffle tickets, he demanded they win. “Winners win at everything,” he said.

Too much of the “old Xavier,” he discovered, was all about individuals and not enough about team. Players wore Mohawk haircuts and different color cleats so they would stand out. He put a stop to that.

Rule No. 2: All players must wear black cleats. No exceptions.

Rule No. 3: The players aren’t allowed to wear earrings during team functions.[lightbox link=″http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE8b-Sw4pHg&feature=youtu.be″]fleming2[/lightbox]

He also instilled discipline. When the players run “suicides”—a torturous conditioning exercise in which players run in a zig-zag pattern, bending down and touching a designated line before heading off in the other direction—they must actually touch the line. No shortcuts.

Michael Mulcahey, a faculty member of the Department of Sports Studies, saw them practicing and decided to watch for a few minutes. Afterward, he approached Fleming.

“Keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing,” Mulcahey said, “because I’ve never seen all the players run suicides and touch the lines every single time.”

And it’s all paid off.

In his three seasons, the team has won 36 games, been A-10 champions twice, made the NCAA Tournament three times, been ranked in the Top 10 nationally, led the nation in fewest yellow cards and topped it all off with a team average 3.25 grade point average.

“You have to be oblivious to what’s going on in college soccer,” wrote the College Soccer News, “or without a pulse to not know what’s transpired at Xavier University over the past three years.”

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In a mess of blonde hair and giggles, Devin and Brady wrestle each other to the ground. Brady easily lifts himself up and looks around the room for the next best spot to play. He runs toward a dark hallway and inspects it, deciding that it’s worth exploring.

Devin gets back on her feet by using Fleming’s leg for leverage. She takes two steps to the right and loses her balance, falling down on the floor again. She smiles. Fleming does, too. He puts his hands underneath her armpits, lifts her up and straddles her on his knee. He fixes the crooked bow in her hair and tickles her neck with kisses.

The love is obvious. So is his growing understanding of being the father of a daughter with a disability. She struggles, sure, but she’s still Daddy’s girl. If only others could understand. Which brings up Rule No. 4

Rule No. 4: Don’t ever use the word “retard.”

As Devin and Brady run around with the energy adults can only envy, Fleming reflects on how his life has changed.

Two months after Devin entered the world, Fleming was still processing the news about her condition. Not that he wished her any other way—something he is quick to point out—but he was unsure how to move forward. He had been Xavier’s head coach for just 18 months, and he began to wonder how he could use his struggles to set an example for his players.

“I wasn’t thinking ‘Devin, I don’t love you because you have Down syndrome,’ but I was mourning the loss of the child that we were expecting,” Fleming says. “Then I thought, ‘Wow. I’m a coach in a small town, on a small campus and with a bunch of young men who I’m supposed to teach lessons about life to. And what a platform I have, so let’s do something with this, to raise awareness, to tie my family in the team and the community.’ ”

The thought turned into Devin’s Team, a group that raises money and awareness for Down syndrome. Fleming threw himself into the idea with the same zeal as everything else. He wanted to host a soccer game/fundraiser, so in order to boost attendance, he invited the University of Akron, former NCAA champions. The game broke the single-game attendance record and raised $3,000. Akron’s coach, Caleb Porter, personally purchased 100 tickets—a $500 donation.[lightbox link=″http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQnUgan4kUw&feature=youtu.be″]fleming4[/lightbox]

When the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati held a 5K, the entire team showed up and ran as one. At the organization’s annual “Buddy Walk” fundraiser along the riverfront, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams as well as the men’s basketball team showed up to support Fleming and his family. The Xavier athletes wore their uniforms, while other supporters sported Devin’s Team T-shirts, which feature a circular logo with her handprint in the middle. More than 150 people attended in support of Devin, raising more than $20,000.

Fleming puts his elbows back on his knees, resting his jaw on his hands.

“I feel like for that one day, during the Buddy Walk, the players became my support. They took care of me. They made me feel like my life was normal.”

He pauses to consider the moment, his life, his job as coach and father. How much everything has changed. How fortunate he really is.

“The athletes here just blow me away,” he says. “I never thought I would learn so much from a group of young men and a little girl.”

Xavier Joins the Big East Conference

President Michael J. Graham, S.J., announced today that Xavier is joining a 10-team conference with fellow private schools Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. The conference will be officially named the Big East on July 1.

“It’s an endorsement of who we are and how we’ve gotten here, as well as where we can go next,” said Graham.

The Big East provides additional exposure and a big boost for admissions, alumni and fundraising efforts across the nation.

“So it’s not just about athletics, it’s about the whole institution and about the institution at its heart, which is an academic place,” Graham said.

It’s a very exciting time for Xavier’s broad-based 18-sport athletic program, which has sent eight different teams to NCAA postseason championships in recent years: baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s golf, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s tennis and women’s volleyball.

Presidents of the new Big East member schools, including Graham, gathered in New York Wednesday to announce a series of seminal developments that will help shape the basketball-focused conference, including an unprecedented partnership with Fox Sports that will grant the network exclusive broadcast rights.

Fox Sports and its Fox Sports 1 Network is acquiring television rights to all Big East game action as part of a 12-year contract. Under the broadcast partnership, Fox Sports will own television rights to a wide range of marquee Big East basketball games, including the annual Big East conference tournament.

The Big East Conference officially commences operations on July 1. Each of the inaugural members are full conference participants starting in the 2013-2014 academic year. Each school is competing in all of the sports it offers today. The Big East Tournament continues to call Madison Square Garden its home, and the new conference assumes an existing lease agreement that extends to 2026.

The Big East was formed in 1979 to celebrate the student-athlete and showcase some of the nation’s greatest collegiate basketball programs at schools with rich academic traditions. The new conference marks a return to the Big East’s roots as a basketball-centric conference working in the best interests of student-athletes.

Xavier’s men’s basketball program has made two NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances (2004 and 2008) in addition to three NCAA Sweet 16 appearances (2009, 2010 and 2012) in the last 10 years. XU has been to seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments and 11 of the last 13. The women’s basketball program has made two NCAA Elite Eight appearances as well (2001 and 2010) and has made five of the last seven NCAA Tournaments. Men’s soccer advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament this past fall.

Xavier, which is ranked 11th in the nation in the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate report at 97 percent, is excited to align itself with private schools that share a like commitment to academics and athletics. Xavier had 14 programs at 100 percent in the latest NCAA GSR report. In men’s basketball, XU has graduated each of the last 88 players that have played as seniors, a streak which dates back to 1986.

Xavier has been a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference for 18 years, beginning with the 1995-96 school year. Previously, Xavier was a member of the MCC (now known as the Horizon League) from 1979-80 through 1994-95. For a brief three-year period, 1983-86, Xavier’s women’s sports competed in the North Star Conference.

New York-based senior executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associate is conducting the search for the new Big East’s first commissioner, seeking an aggressive and innovative commissioner to shepherd the conference to continued success and enhance its history of excellence in a wide variety of collegiate team sports.