Xavier Magazine

Buried Treasures

Xavier, like most universities, has its fair share of fine art.

Statuary graces spaces and places indoors and out. Paintings large, small, old and new adorn the walls of most buildings and halls. But buried behind and below the common grounds are a gold mine of archives and artifacts—letters filed away, books tucked onto shelves and mysterious technological devices squirreled away in forgotten corners—that tell another story about the University.

Xavier magazine went looking for those items and that story. We looked in the library, searched the storerooms and even uncovered a few treasures hidden in plain sight. In some cases, we helped the University discover valuables it didn’t realize it had.

Then we contacted Wes Cowen, owner of Cowen Auctions in Cincinnati and featured appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” to take a look at our findings. He sent over Graydon Sikes, head of the auction house’s paintings and prints department.

Here’s what we found—and how it appraised.

[lightbox link=””]archivedivevideo1[/lightbox]


The Paper Trail

Before texts there was telegrams. And before email, letters. Now imagine the flow of correspondence to a University president. From Elet to Graham, everyone from papal representatives to commanders-in-chief sought the attention of Xavier’s highest office. Some of the more notable include (below) John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and John Phillip Sousa.



Of course the University has books. Lots of them, in fact. But not all books at the University are created equal. Some are aged to extremes. Some have a signature attraction. None of them can be read on your Kindle. And all are worth more than the cover price.

In the collection are: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (circa 1936); Tales Told of Shem and Shaun by James Joyce (circa 1929); The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (circa 1928); 20 Hours 40 minutes by Amelia Earhart (circa 1928); The Nuremberg Chronicle (circa 1500); and An Antiphonary (circa 1300).


Medals of Honor

Today, graduating students receive honors cords and different colored sashes to designate their area of study. Back in the day, after students learned their Latin verbs and polished their philosophy, they were given medals at commencement to honor their achievement. The medals, below were awarded to Albert Poetker, upon commencement in 1909 for among other disciplines, poetry, philosophy and “The Creation and its Purpose.” Poetker’s purpose was indeed lofty as he went on to become a Jesuit, was President of the University of Detroit and later taught physics at Xavier. His sister donated the metals in 1980, in conjunction with Xavier’s sesquicentennial celebration.


A Furnished History

Who knew you could experience a stately moment of Edgecliff’s past just by taking a seat?Originally located in Emery Hall, these magnificent pieces now elevate the A.B. Cohen Center administrative office to museum status. A 1976 brochure detailing Emery Hall describes the Louis XVI-style desk, end tables and as “some of the estate’s most valuable and authentic pieces of furniture.”



The Flotsam of Science

Research is often not a tidy process—it leaves a trail. Not just in new knowledge, but a procession of devices and instruments that have outlived their usefulness and are often discarded or hidden away in store rooms and closets.

Psychology left to its own devices

This is a test.  What does the term “Experimental psychology” conjure up in your mind? If your answer has anything to do with a person (or “volunteer”) strapped to a device, you are correct, both from Hollywood’s and academia’s historical perspective. These days at Xavier, a professional career path in psychology usually leads students more toward clinical psychology, which involves the assessment and therapy of patients. But back in the early 1960’s, with the rise of Alter Hall and “modern” education, there was a bit of mania for device-driven experimental psychology. Which usually meant someone strapped into something. What kind of things? Here are a few:

[lightbox link=””]memorydrum1[/lightbox]• The Memory Drum: The Memory Drum was used to teach students the basics of scientific research. A series of meaningful words, nonsense syllables or grouped letters were shown to the subjects, with the number of items and amount of time allotted to view the information varied. The results recorded. Just to make things more interesting, another task or some sort of distraction could be thrown in to see if it created any kind of interference with short-term recall.

[lightbox link=””]_automaticmirrortrace[/lightbox]• Automatic Mirror Trace: The Mirror Trace was a way of studying perceptual motor behaviors—the coordination between what one sees and how one reacts to it (seeing a star shape, for instance, and then tracing the star shape). What added to the difficulty was having the object reflected in a mirror, which required a much higher level of hand-eye coordination.

[lightbox link=””]biotelemetry[/lightbox]• Biotelemetry Receiver: A child of the 1970s, biofeedback entered the academic mainstream when equipment allowed for the measurement of brainwaves, heart function, skin temperature and more. These responses were measured while the psychological study took place.

[lightbox link=””]constantcurrentshocker[/lightbox]• Constant Current Shocker: In 1961, Stanley Milgram, professor of psychology at Yale University began a series of experiments to measure the willingness of participants to follow instructions that may conflict with their own conscience. The tricky bit was that participants, who were asked to administer the “shocks” to other people, had no knowledge that there were actually no shocks being delivered. Rather, the subjects who were supposed to be receiving the shocks were actually trained actors skilled at howling in pain. What researches found was that participants who were administering the shocks experienced tremendous guilt and remorse—but gave the shocks anyway. These experiments were replicated all over the world, including quite probably at Xavier, until the experiment was deemed unethical by the American Psychological Association. Even today, with books like Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments published in 2013, the world of experimental psychology is still attempting to measure the effects of those experiments.


Xavier Magazine

The Uncivil Fight for Rights

By the time Ken Blackwell returned from Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in Atlanta in early April 1968, the worst of the riots in Cincinnati were over.

Two people died during the melee on April 8, and the National Guard was called in to restore order. Still, anger hung in the air like a combustible fog and it would only take a small spark to reignite the whole thing. 

Blackwell was a sophomore at Xavier at the time, as well as a volunteer for a local community agency. Realizing the delicacy of the situation, he chose to skip class and go into the streets to keep an eye on both protesters and police. As he was standing at his post, a nationally broadcast speech by activist Stokely Carmichael provided that spark and a surge of protesters washed down Rockdale Avenue toward Blackwell. Before he could react, he was swept along by the crowd and taken to jail with the mob.

Watch: 1995 Urban League conversation with Civil Rights leaders

[lightbox link=””]civilrightsvideo[/lightbox] As he was being released from the holding pen, Blackwell marveled at the irony of the moment, of how just two days earlier he was marching peacefully behind the casket of the assassinated leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Xavier administrators had sent him and three other black students to the funeral as a delegation from Xavier. It was a significant and meaningful gesture by the University that it was recognizing race relations. The Civil Rights Movement had been underway for a decade, mostly fought in the hot cities of the South, but had found its way even onto the mostly white Xavier campus. Though hardly a hotbed of radicalism, Xavier had its share of activist students who wanted to shake things up—even in the early days of the movement. They formed student groups, held protests, joined community boycotts, wrote editorials. They stuck their necks out, took risks, challenged authority. Some even went to jail.

The legacy left at Xavier by the Civil Rights movement Civil Rights at Xavier today

Most of these students finished their degrees. Some did not. But in the end, their actions on and off campus succeeded in making Xavier a better, more open place for the students who came after them. Today, as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, their legacy still reverberates. Here are a few of their stories.

[divider] • • • [/divider]


On a hot Friday in July 1961, young Bill Hansen boards a Greyhound bus with seven other riders and settles in for the three-hour trip to Jackson, Miss. They sit in the back—whites and blacks together.

Hansen, a white Xavier student whose civil rights activism in Cincinnati has drawn the attention of the national leaders of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, is scared to death. The group has brought him to Montgomery, Ala., to join the throngs of Freedom Riders who are riding buses across the South to converge on Jackson, where they are routinely rounded up and jailed in their efforts to integrate the stations.Map 02 08/11

Images of a burning bus and riders being beaten keep playing in his head as they get closer to Jackson. There are a few others on the bus. Hansen learns later they’re undercover police assigned to protect them. And for good reason. As they pull into Meridian, Miss., he sees a mob of people packed into the town square. He stays in his seat, studying the angry faces through the window. 

At 6:00 p.m., the bus pulls into Jackson. This time, there are no crowds. The driver lets the Freedom Riders off first. They file quietly into the whites-only waiting area. Twice, police tell them to move. When they refuse, they’re arrested and jailed. At trial, they’re convicted in minutes. When they refuse to pay their fines, they’re taken by paddy wagon to the state prison at Parchman Farm. Hansen’s sentence is six months.

Hansen was no stranger to jail. The first time he was arrested was when he and his roommate, a Xavier student from the Bahamas, went to look at a place in an upscale neighborhood of white homeowners near campus. When the landlord saw the two students standing there—one white, one black—he quickly tried to shut the door. But Hansen was ready. He stuck his foot in the door and refused to budge. The landlord called the police and the students were arrested. Two hours later, they were out.hansenjail

They didn’t get the apartment, but the experience made its mark on Hansen. “It was the beginning of a long career,” he says. 

Hansen’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement began when he came to Xavier in 1957 and met two people who would change his life—William Mason, a fellow student who was black, and David F. McCarthy, S.J., a progressively minded theology professor. 

Because of them, Hansen began to ask questions. “My social focus began to change, and I began to think about race,” he says, including the racist views of his family’s all-white community. McCarthy helped them start the Xavier Interracial Council—the first race-oriented group on campus. The most important thing it accomplished was to convince the dean of students to post a list of approved landlords who would rent to blacks.

Hansen soon became involved with the local NAACP and CORE. They picketed Woolworth’s and boycotted Coca Cola. In May 1961, they took on Coney Island amusement park, where the pool remained whites-only. Hansen and Mason joined the protest group that refused to leave when the blacks were refused admission. Three times, they were arrested, and within a few weeks, the park opened the pool to blacks. They had won, but by then, Hansen had become a Freedom Rider and was soon heading to Parchman Farm, one of the most notoriously brutal prisons in the South.

At Parchman, blacks and whites are segregated in separate cells. When Hansen complains, he’s placed in isolation with no bed. For four days, he sleeps on the concrete floor. When he’s let out, he complains again and lands in isolation for three more weeks. Finally, after 43 days, he’s freed.

Hansen was one of more than 300 Freedom Riders to serve time at Parchman. But by then he was broke, so he withdrew from Xavier and went to work as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was beaten several times, including by a jail guard in Albany, Ga., suffering a broken jaw, broken ribs and broken teeth. But he kept working for the cause, bill_hansen_todayspending most of the next 10 years in Little Rock, Ark., where his marriage to a black woman caused a stir and threats of arrest. Eventually Hansen—and the movement—ran out of steam. He left for Europe, earned a master’s at the University of Maryland and studied toward a doctorate at Boston University. He’s been teaching at the American University of Nigeria since 2005.

Looking back, Hansen feels indebted to Xavier. It’s where he met the first black people he’d ever known and was awakened to the injustice that stirred his activism. He believes he made a difference. “I wish I had finished at Xavier, but at the same time, I don’t regret doing what I did,” Hansen says. “It was something that needed to be done.”

[divider] • • • [/divider]


Shortly after his last exam, Joe Meissner hops on a Greyhound bus and heads for Birmingham, Ala. It’s May 1963, and the city is the hot spot for lunch counter sit-ins and demonstrations.

He’s been debating the events with other students at Marion Hall, Xavier’s off-campus residence for its brightest honors students. Sheriff Bull Connor has been unleashing dogs and fire hoses on black people who want to order burgers and milkshakes with the rest of Birmingham’s residents, and Meissner wants to see it firsthand. meissnerrotcHe takes a room at the local YMCA and stays a week, interviewing people and writing about what he learns. He goes to meetings at the headquarters of the movement’s new leader, Martin Luther King Jr., takes pictures, attends church rallies. When King delivers a speech urging the people not to take to the streets again, Meissner is there, in the back row of the church, the lone white face in the crowd. [lightbox link=””][/lightbox] “Dr. King was saying we would not break our pledges, and I was thinking, boy he’s got a hard speech to give. It’s not what people were expecting. They wanted to go back out and he was saying, no, we would get [city officials] to honor their agreements,” Meissner says.

A week later, he returns to campus in time to give the valedictorian speech, in which he talks about witnessing King’s theory of passive resistance. “I included what I saw going on in Birmingham,” he says. “I came back and told people about it.”

meissneryoungMeissner reveled in the political and philosophical debates in Marion Hall. They stoked his interest in the social issues of the day—Korea, Communism, civil rights—but the issues of segregation and poverty left him deeply troubled. As president of the student body, he pushed for change. By the time he’s ready to graduate in May 1963 with an Honors Bachelor of Arts, he is primed to do battle, or at least to do good.

He returns to Alabama the next summer after a year at Harvard Law School. This time, he’s in Mobile with a group of law students working on voter registration and desegregation issues. The work is performed against a backdrop of violent resistance to change throughout the South. The Freedom Riders of 1961 ended their campaign to desegregate the bus system, and now during Freedom Summer of 1964, the Civil Rights Movement is focused on helping blacks exercise their right to vote.

[lightbox link=””][/lightbox]One of the most violent events of the movement—the murders of three young civil rights workers—takes place that June in Mississippi, one state over. On July 2, 1964, shortly after their disappearance, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law.

Page-4-Joe-and-Cong.-LewisDespite the tensions, young people like Meissner throw themselves into the tedious work of going door to door, to homes and shops, churches and offices, to register voters and monitor desegregation efforts in both Alabama and Mississippi. He is assigned the job of testing public places to see if they’re following integration laws. 

Meissner finds himself on a golf course one day with three black men. They play a round without incident. But he can’t stop wondering what has happened to the three civil rights workers who are still missing. In August, he learns their bodies are discovered buried in an earthen dam. 

Meissner is so affected by the experience that he devotes his life to working for the poor as a Legal Aid attorney in Cleveland. “I wanted to be a lawyer because I had ideas of making the world better,” he says. 

[divider] • • • [/divider]


Just before Christmas in 1963, Rudolph Hasl and a handful of Xavier students climb into his car and head south toward Jackson, Miss. They’re going to get an education about the South and the state of race relations at Tougaloo Southern Christian College.

The city is at the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, and the historically black college is the movement’s focal point in Jackson.

[lightbox link=””]HASL_young[/lightbox]Hasl is a senior Honors Bachelor of Arts student. He’s also president of the Student Council and is focused on waking up the student body to the social and racial issues fracturing the South. At the end of the 700-mile drive through Kentucky and Tennessee—before the days of interstate highways—is a college brimming with activity and civil rights leaders.

Tougaloo students, including English major Jerry Ward, open their dorm rooms to the Xavier students. Hasl and his colleagues spend a week interviewing students and community activists about the Civil Rights Movement. Hasl pulls out his tape recorder and records all the interviews—including one he gets with Ross Barnett, the Mississippi governor renowned for his racist rants and defense of segregation.

[lightbox link=”×150.jpg”]newswire2[/lightbox]“It was a highly volatile time in Jackson,” Hasl says. “It was right before the three Civil Rights workers were killed. He’s the same governor who sent the Freedom Riders to Parchman Farm.”

Then Hasl invites Barnett to speak at Xavier. Barnett accepts. “I thought, What better way to reveal the attitude that was reflected in his policies than to bring him to Xavier and let him reveal what was motivating him?”

But Xavier administrators don’t quite see it that way. By the time school starts back up in January 1964, Dean Patrick Ratterman, S.J., notifies Hasl that Barnett won’t be allowed to address the student body because, as he tells The Xavier News, his position on segregation is un-American, anti-Christian and “basically immoral.”

[lightbox link=””]jerry-ward-at-levee[/lightbox]The campus erupts when word gets out. The Xavier News reports that about 200 students carrying signs march down University Drive and give speeches decrying the decision. A red swastika is painted on the guard shack and an explosive device is tossed on Ratterman’s lawn. 

“They were unwilling to have the University exposed to the attitudes expressed by Ross Barnett,” Hasl says. “He was a very controversial figure and was very much a focal point for anti-integration efforts.”[lightbox link=”×200.jpg”]hasltoday[/lightbox]

A month later, Tougaloo sends Ward and three other Tougaloo students to Xavier. Ward, who became an English professor at Tougaloo, finds most Xavier students are apathetic to the racial issues of the day. But Hasl and his group of council members are the exception. They were curious enough and courageous enough to go into the volatile South, where black students had to think twice before leaving campus. 

“You knew these were people making tremendous sacrifices so you could have the rights you were being denied,” Ward says.

[divider] • • • [/divider]


The eviction notice arrived about three weeks after Alvin Gay moved into the Cleneay Avenue house with roommate and running mate Gene Beaupre. He’s disappointed but not surprised.

Together, the two of them succeeded in being the first mixed-race ticket to ever win election as president and vice president of Xavier’s student body. After three years of working personally for racial equality on Xavier’s campus, Gay thought they would be beyond this kind of racism.

Gay arrived at Xavier in 1965 from Dayton, Ohio, one of a handful of blacks on campus. He stepped immediately into leadership positions, getting elected president of his freshman and sophomore classes, organizing forums to discuss issues of race and joining groups like the Organization for Interracial Awareness. He helped found the Afro American Student Association and worked as a summer intern in Washington, D.C., for Congressman John Gilligan. He put himself out there to try to change things and felt a level of success when he and Beaupre were elected.

GAY_YBBut he also suffered for it, drawing attention from some people who just weren’t ready for the kind of change he was advocating. One white student in particular became his nemesis, blurting racist expletives at him at every turn, threatening him on the intramural football field, goading him to fight. When King was killed in April 1968, the student, a member of the football team, confronted Gay in the elevator. “I’m glad they killed that n—er,” he said, leaning into Gay’s face.

As usual, Gay ignored the taunt and walked away. So when their landlord wanted them out because he learned that Gay was black, Gay paid little attention. He was used to such treatment, though he thought that Cincinnati—and Xavier—should be past all that. Beaupre was not. He picked up the phone and dialed the landlord. 

“You don’t really want to do that,” said Beaupre, now Xavier’s director for government relations. 

“Why not?” 

“Because he’s the vice president of the student body, and if you do, you’ll have 50 students protesting on your front lawn.”

The issue never came up again. But the racism that dogged Gay all his life was never far off. Then, in the spring of his senior year at Xavier, something unusual happened. Gay went to Dana’s with friends and saw across the bar the student who so mindlessly harassed him since he set foot on campus. The student got up and headed his way. Gay told his friends there was no way he could avoid the confrontation, not this time. He expected the worst and steeled himself for a fight.

The student came up to the bar and, instead of taking a punch at Gay, said, “You know, we tried to hurt you on the football field and you hurt us instead. I admire that. But I still hate n–gers.” He then walked away.

Gay was incredulous. For that young man, so full of hate, to come up and show respect to him, albeit while still clinging to his racist identity, took a lot of courage. For Gay, it was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Gay often felt caught between two worlds at Xavier, finding it difficult to be an effective black leader of a nearly all-white student body. “I was between a rock and a hard place, not being black enough and being too black for whites,” he says. “I was in no-man’s land.”

AlvinGay-copyGay went to Santa Clara University that winter for a student government conference and fell in love with everything—the weather, the people, the progressive environment, the absence of racism. He transferred in the spring, grew an afro and a beard and became a spokesman for race issues at Santa Clara. He graduated in 1970. 

But he holds no bitterness for Xavier, where he counted many students and faculty as friends. “If I made a difference at Xavier, it would have been with the people I knew or with that racist in an odd kind of way. For him to do that in the bar was amazing. Maybe I helped people understand we put our shoes on the same way, and there are cultural differences, but we’re smart people and we’re dumb people just like you.” 

[divider] • • • [/divider]


Deep in his heart, Mike Henson knew he was through with marching band. He wanted to become involved in something more important, something that would make life better for people.

He saw the social changes happening all around him—marches, protests, black people being arrested—and it triggered in him a sense of social justice. He wanted to help.

Coming in from the farm fields of Sidney, Ohio, just north of Dayton, Henson was wowed by what was, for him, the big city of Cincinnati. As he drove by the Taft Theater while visiting a friend at Xavier, he recognized the name on the marquee—Bob Dylan—and decided right then that he had to go to Xavier.

“I thought it was pronounced ‘Die-lan’,” he says with a laugh. hansen

But standing at practice on Xavier’s football field early in his freshman year, he realized he wanted to be a writer. So he traded in his trombone for a job as a reporter on the student newspaper, The Xavier News, and over the next four years, worked his way through every writing and editing job available.

“It was very exciting,” he says. “The injustices were so glaring and the heroes so engaging that it was just the place to be.”

Henson made sure the paper promoted the social issues of the day, particularly the civil rights movement. His editorials excoriated white students to get more involved in the issues, and he made sure the paper covered all related events and speakers, beginning in 1966 with the young civil rights activist Julian Bond, then a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Bill Hansen, the former Xavier student and Freedom Rider, accompanied Bond to Xavier and gave Henson a short interview. Henson wrote about Bond’s speech, a lengthy recounting of the movement up to that time.

But he was more inspired by Bill Hansen’s indignation over Xavier’s handling of its appearance at the segregated Sugar Bowl basketball tournament in 1962. It triggered his first editorial in which he said the University must be “aware and respectful of all people.”

“I was so inspired because I wanted to live a heroic life and that’s what heroes were doing at the time—standing up. This was something I wanted to be a part of,” he says.

His big chance came when activists in Cincinnati staged a boycott of Hudepohl, claiming the beer company discriminated against blacks. So Henson pulled an ad the beer company had paid for.

“I just didn’t run it,” he says. “Our faculty advisor was in charge of selling ads, and he was apoplectic.”

After graduating with an English degree in 1969, Henson earned a master’s in English at the University of Chicago and spent a lifetime serving the Appalachian community in Cincinnati as a longtime employee of the Urban Appalachian Council and working as a drug and alcohol counselor. He still finds time to play music and write and has published three novels and four collections of poems.

“I focused on Appalachian migrants living in poverty and being discriminated against in in ways similar to blacks,” he says. “That’s the channel I’ve gone down.” [divider] • • • [/divider]


Jack Goger is asleep in his dorm room when he’s awakened by a knock on the door. The dean of men bursts in. “Mr. Goger,” he says. “You’re going to have tell these people they can’t come.”

“These people” are pop artist and film-maker Andy Warhol and his entourage. Goger knows it’s too late to stop them. He tells the dean they’re already on a plane from New York. But Patrick Nally says, “You can’t have them, not after that film.”

It’s April 1968, and Goger, who’s in charge of the speaker’s bureau for student government, has arranged for Warhol to show two of his underground films and appear in person. Administrators had previewed one of the films, which involved homosexual themes and nudity, and want to cancel the event. Who knows what the other film contains? But Warhol is on his way.

Watch: Video of the Warhol protest on campus

warhol videoThe dean insists on riding with Goger to meet Warhol at the airport and tell him he can’t show the film. The message doesn’t sit too well with Warhol or his assistant, Paul Morrissey, and superstar actress Viva. They aren’t shy about letting the dean know how inconvenienced they are coming all this way for nothing.

By the time they get to Xavier, the situation has gotten worse. News of the cancelation has gotten around campus, and the Students for a Democratic Society are picketing. One of the professors persuades the administration to let the film be shown and he will moderate the discussion afterward.

It turns out to be an anti-war film that takes on the American government. Afterward, students challenge the film as anti-American, but Warhol and Morrissey reply that they only make the films to make money. It isn’t much of a debate.

“It was standing-room only,” Goger says. “Everyone turned out to see the great debate and at the end of the day, it was a great experience for everyone. It was a wonderful night. I’ll never forget it.” goger

Goger, who graduated in 1969, was one of Al Gay’s best friends at Xavier and understood the importance of the movement. Now a judge in Atlanta, Goger tried to shake things up by bringing in activists who weren’t quite as controversial but had more to do with civil rights than Warhol. In 1969, he landed James Farmer, a founding leader of CORE, which had spearheaded the Freedom Riders in 1961, and Dick Gregory, the comedian-turned-activist. Both drew large crowds.

“Farmer was the most articulate guy I’d ever heard,” Goger says. “He had an edge to him.”

But Gregory’s speech “was absolutely electrifying. He was really into the war thing. What did resonate at Xavier was the war more so than civil rights. Those issues sort of blended together. Both involved government and oppressive policies and society issues. It was all there.”

Xavier Magazine

A New Post

When the Pope speaks, people listen. So in June 2013, when meeting with the writers of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica at the Vatican, the Pontiff said, “Your proper place is on the frontiers. This is the place of Jesuits.”

For 2003 grad Eric Sundrup, S.J., those words were music to his ears. He had already helped stake a Jesuit claim in perhaps the most untamed frontier on Earth—the Internet.

It was while studying philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, that Sundrup and fellow Jesuits-in-training Paddy Gilger and Sam Sawyer also pondered a project familiar to many 21st-century hipsters—launching a website. Their topic: Life in the Jesuit world. Content? Not a problem. It was as easy as recruiting other Jesuits in formation to write about their lives, aspirations, observations and challenges.

[lightbox link=””]jespost[/lightbox]Thus were the humble beginnings of The Jesuit Post, or TJP, a digital digest where phrases like cura personalis and “Come at Me, Bro!” mingle. It’s that mix of the sacred and urbane that has made TJP a cyber hit with Jesuits, the spiritually curious and website trolls looking for a good fight. It’s a reasonable question to ask why Sundrup—who serves as editor-in-chief as well as author of posts like “Come at Me, Bro! (Why I Love The Crazies)”—would bother to wander into cyberspace when there’s a real world in need of ministering. Surprisingly, his rationale springs from the very origins of the Jesuits themselves.

“The idea of The Jesuit Post evolved from one of the exercises of St. Ignatius—‘We should speak as one friend speaks to another,’” Sundrup says. “We weren’t seeing young Jesuits speaking to each other like if we had just called them up or posting on Facebook.”

Every Jesuit experiences his own unique calling and takes a different path into the order, and Sundrup’s path was not without its own interesting digressions. Originally enrolled at Xavier in the Honors Bachelor of Arts program, Sundrup’s aim was squarely pre-med. Then he got bit by the Jesuit bug and almost dropped out—not to join the circus, but the Jesuits.

“I wanted to do what a Jesuit did, but I didn’t know why they do what they do.”

He stuck it out, graduated in 2003 and joined the Society of Jesus. In May 2014, Sundrup was fully ordained and assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Michigan. He continued to see the value of social media as a space and a way of talking about all things religion.

[lightbox link=””]sundrup2[/lightbox]“We looked around and said ‘How do we communicate with our friends?’ and for us, that was social media,” he says. “In social media, most stuff spreads through a friend of a friend. We were hoping to tap into the very impressive alumni network of the Jesuit schools.”

And tap they did. As preparation for the “soft launch” of the site, they sent a preview link to Jim Martin, S.J., himself a social media guru, author and “resident chaplain” of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

“He launched us inadvertently,” Sundrup says.

Martin shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and while the founders expected to have perhaps 15 or 20 views at its launch, they had 20,000 visitors in the first two days. Martin still serves as chief cheerleader.

The Jesuit Post is one of the best things that U.S. Jesuits have done in the last 10 years,” Martin says. “And what’s most amazing is that it was done by young Jesuits—men still in formation.”

[lightbox link=””]jespostbook[/lightbox]“As a brother, Jim has been phenomenal,” says Sundrup. “I can call him anytime, he can give great advice. He’s always helping out in any way he can.”

Which is a good thing, since TJP is only picking up momentum. It has a new book anthology available at Amazon, and discussions are taking place in providences like Rome and Spain on how to replicate the TJP model.

video coups include coverage of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Pope’s first visit to the Americas since his election and rare access to interview Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus—which is where Sundrup learned that pushing the envelope occasionally leads to the painful paper cut.

“I got a bit of furrowed brow from Father General when I said ‘Join the Jesuits and See the World,’” he says. “But we joked about it later in our video interview.”

[lightbox link=””][/lightbox]Two years after its launch, founders Sundrup, Sawyer and Gilger are passing the Post on to a new editorial staff of Jesuits in formation. They’ll leave behind “a crazy idea from a bunch of Jesuit scholastics” that today attracts more than 100,000 page views per month. Sundrup also leaves behind no regrets.

“We founded The Jesuit Post to talk to our friends who had one foot in institutional religion and one foot out. One of the side effects to that has been it’s helping to train Jesuits to be more effective at talking to young adults in a wide variety of places that allows us to provide content they can share with a person that’s even further on the fringe than we can reach.”

And online, no worries. The fringe will find you.

Xavier Magazine

Civil Rights at Xavier Today

An African-American student recently told history professor Christine Anderson about an incident when a white girl in her residence hall spelled out the “n” word on a Facebook posting asking people to describe Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Though the offending student apologized, the fact it happened illustrates that even though Xavier has come a long way from the early 1960s, it still has a long way to go in the area of race relations and, more generally, human relations.

“The 1960s students showed us it was possible to commit themselves to something, to put ethical Xavier teaching into practice, and to change things,” Anderson says. “But race in America remains the one main political problem.”

Case in point: the protests that exploded in August in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer. It took the efforts of a handful of brave students to make everyone aware of America’s struggle with the principle of equality for all, including at Xavier. Now 50 years later, Xavier continues to make civil rights and equality a priority for its students and everyone touched by the University.


Race relations

• The Black Student Association advocates for the needs of African-American students at Xavier and provides scholarships to high-achieving black students.
• Africana Studies is offered as a minor to students interested in studying the history and culture of the African continent and the African diaspora.
• E Pluribus Unum is a one-credit hour course in cultural diversity that is required of all Xavier undergraduate students.


Women and gender

• Gender and Diversity Studies is a newer major allowing students to concentrate on women and gender issues or on race and ethnicity.
• The Xavier Alliance, the first advocacy group for gay students at Xavier, has been welcoming gay students to campus and educating everyone else about gender issues since 2001.


• The Multicultural, Gender and Women’s Center replaced the Office of Multicultural Affairs as the University’s commitment to equality issues faced by diverse student populations.
• Xavier’s Multicultural scholarships such as Miguel Pro and Francis Weninger help cover tuition for minority students.
• Xavier created the Office of Diversity and Equity in 2005 to advance issues of diversity and inclusion.

Xavier Magazine

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=””]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=””]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=””]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=””]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=””]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.


[divider] • • • [/divider]

[lightbox link=”” target=”_blank” rel=””]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=””]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=”” 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=””]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=””]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=””]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.


[divider] • • • [/divider]

[lightbox link=””]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=””]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=””]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.”


[divider] • • • [/divider]

Karl Malone called.

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

[lightbox link=””]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=”” 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=””]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

Xavier Magazine

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=””]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=”×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=””]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=””]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.”

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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=””]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=””]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.”

Xavier Magazine

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=””]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=””]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.’ ”


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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=”″ 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.”


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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=”” 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.


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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=””]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.’ ”


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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=””]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=””]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=””]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

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Xavier Magazine

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?”