Xavier Magazine

Edgecliff Reunion

Long before the national alumni association, Joan Brennan Kennedy simply placed calls to her Edgecliff classmates inviting them to her house for what became a yearly reunion. The 1951 graduate has since organized 53 reunions, a record that remains unchallenged by any other class. For Kennedy, a retired school teacher who splits her time between Northern Kentucky and Washington state, the reunions are the only contact she has with former classmates.

“We don’t want to lose touch with those we love so much,” she says. “We always had the feeling that we were one big happy family.” Kennedy’s class has also contributed the most money to the Edgecliff fund, which provides scholarships for relatives of Edgecliff alumni, and each year donates a gift—usually a diamond necklace—to be raffled off during Reunion Weekend.

Although they no longer meet at each other’s houses, Kennedy is proud her class has sustained the tradition. “It’s a tribute to the experience we found at Edgecliff.”

Xavier Magazine

Chapter Spotlight: Louisville

While many people experience mild regret after Halloween—whether from too much candy or thinking that green hair dye would actually wash out by Monday—the Louisville chapter of the national alumni association had something to smile about. For the second consecutive year it celebrated Halloween by serving the community. The chapter partnered with the Society of St. Vincent DePaul to host a party for women and children living in society-sponsored apartments who are making the transition into independent living.

In addition to donating supplies and working at different booths, alumni enjoyed games, decorated treat bags and mini pumpkins, had their faces painted and participated in a costume contest. “The party is for the moms and kids, but it’s a way for alumni to connect with their families,” says Hollie Rich, the event’s coordinator and a 1998 graduate.

Xavier Magazine

Broken Places

In an act of protest and civil disobedience, Mike O’Grady, S.J., a graduate theology student and Jesuit brother, climbed a chain link fence a year ago and dropped onto the grounds of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation—formerly the School of the Americas (SOA)—where the U.S. military trains foreign soldiers. It’s believed the school’s graduates participated in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador. O’Grady was charged with trespassing and sentenced to three months in jail. While in prison, he wrote letters to his Jesuit brothers at the Claver Community in Cincinnati. The following are excerpts from his letters.

DAY 17
Dec. 9, 2003 | Conditions are very bad here. I still have not adjusted to the changes that I must accept to do this time well. My paperwork for jail visits and to receive a Bible keep getting lost/misplaced. I think the guards don’t want us here.

DAY 18
Dec. 10, 2003 | The diet here is beyond bad. My vegetarian disposition is not adaptable to the food, so I eat some of the meat to survive. I am in a cell block 24 hours a day without any opportunity for outside exercise. The lack of healthy food and exercise weigh on me and is affecting my moods.

There is a television going full blast 21 hours a day. Inmates fight for control of programs and so we get jumbled snippets of violent movies, violent videos, violent cartoons, violent sports. We’re kept in a constant state of agitation. The whole environment is fluorescent lit 24 hours a day. Lights go a little dimmer from 11 p.m.-2:30 a.m. but the environment is numbingly lit. With no clocks or watches it is difficult to tell time. The cell block is always cold and drafty. We wear plastic sandals, canvas pants and short sleeve pullover shirts. We’re given a blanket to keep us warm. The absolute lack of privacy is very difficult to adjust to, and television noise is impossible to avoid, making reading, writing and praying a challenge. This stuff would be overwhelming if I, God forbid, got angry or resentful.

Some of the guards here seem to enjoy acting vicious and mean. I hold my tongue—these guards are excellent teachers about how to not treat people. Most of the fellows in here are black guys waiting to be moved to state prison. What is coming clear as these days progress is that this SOA witness action is also giving me a deep, grace-filled perspective on our culture’s outsiders. I feel like I am in privileged space, sharing in a small way the same burdens our brothers carry. The word comes to mind—solidarity.

DAY 26
Dec. 18, 2003 | Each week we receive a towel/washcloth and bedding to cover our foam mattresses. Yesterday the guards gave me bedding that was shredded from top to bottom. I asked for a replacement and was told “You get what you get.” It took a little while of being angry at this and then I realized I should be grateful for whatever I get. Later one of the same guards came by and I said to him, “Sorry I got on you for these bedding things.” The fellow was genuinely shocked. An opportunity to gather anger and turn it into resentment turned into an opportunity to connect with a fellow human being.

There’s a large group in my cell block who see their time in here as a time to play the tough guy and glorify their past exploits while waiting to get back out there. There’s a much smaller cohort who are desirous of changing their behavior. One of the guys last night was saying, “I finally get it. I can’t do this stuff anymore. I get caught.” I say this only to reflect that people change only when they’re ready to change.

DAY 31
Dec. 24, 2003 | There are guys who are carrying the stresses of the confinement so heavily that they are depressed and “shut down.” I see fellows who are clearly mentally ill. I’m really being changed by this experience. I think God invites us into the broken places of our world, and if we persevere, he invites us into the broken places of our hearts. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m here.

Xavier Magazine

Banker’s New Career a Rarity

In the back of Chris Sontag’s business near the Ohio River, Maria Smith feeds pre-cut paper into an ancient binding machine while her feet work the pedals. The National Book Sewing Machine—model number 469—was built in 1905. Today, 100 years later, it’s still going, punching nylon thread through hundreds of pages of a collector’s book on currency. The machine is one of several Sontag acquired when he purchased a failed bookbinding business last year. Now, the machines are scattered throughout his company, the John Galt Bindery, in Dayton, Ky., along with old gluing machines and paper cutters.

Sontag, a 1985 business school and 1991 M.B.A. graduate, was at the top of a banking career when he decided he had enough. So he walked away from a six-figure income and found a new challenge in the dying bookbinding industry. He and a partner figured they could succeed by focusing on small specialty orders.

“We opened in January 2004 and we’re ahead of where we projected,” Sontag says. Most clients, who find John Galt on the Internet, have special requests—leather bindings, copper nameplates, boxes with clamshell lids. Sontag restores family Bibles and makes diploma covers, but he doesn’t do vinyl or anything that’s mass-produced.

One of the more exotic orders was from Tiffany & Co. for 3,000 designer boxes that hold a loose-leaf catalog of diamond jewelry for an exclusive Japanese market. They’ve also made 500 calendar books for the Hyatt Regency’s new resort in Aspen, Colo., featuring copper faceplates and stitched suede covers. And they’ve made black slip cases for a Stephen King special edition collection.

Sontag is grateful for the antique machines. Despite being obsolete, he says, they’re more useful now than ever.

Xavier Magazine

A Force for Growth

Michael J. Conaton is a tough act to follow. In September, Conaton stepped down after 18 years as chairman of the University’s board of trustees, ending an era in which he helped guide the University to unprecedented growth.

He is succeeded by Joseph A. Pichler, retired chairman and chief executive officer of The Kroger Co. Conaton, the retired president and vice chairman of The Midland Co., came to the University in 1951 on a football scholarship. He graduated in 1955 and went directly into the United States’ Marine Corps, where he served as a lieutenant. In 1972, he began the first of two tours of duty on the University’s board, serving until 1978, and again from 1985 to this year. One year later, he began his tenure as the longest-sitting board chair in University history.

Conaton’s service to the University is legendary: He is an executive in residence in Xavier’s Williams College of Business, has served on athletic board and has held a variety of offices, including president of the national alumni association and a nine-month term as interim University president.

He also chaired or co-chaired major University development efforts during the Cornerstone and Century campaigns, and established the Michael Conaton Family Scholarship Fund to ensure that future generations benefit from a Xavier education.

Conaton’s reputation for being faithful, upright and fair, a man of balanced judgment, compassionate heart and eagerness to serve, continues to make him much sought after by those who would see their causes succeed. He will remain an active force at the University, focusing his expertise and experience to future development efforts.

Xavier Magazine

Xaver 2015: A Look into the Future

Alumni returning today after a 10- or 20-year hiatus from Xavier’s campus are awed by the radically altered landscape created by the construction of recent years —the Gallagher Student Center, the Cintas Center, the Commons apartment building, the eye-pleasing green spaces. Gone are the houses that once dotted campus and served as University offices. Gone is the old University Center. Gone are the streets that cut through campus.

Well, get ready. In 10 years, another round of physical changes will once again significantly change the face of Xavier. Not unlike the 1920s (see related story), new buildings during the early 2000s will dramatically change the look of campus. The campus of 2015 will have more student housing, more open walking space, more topnotch buildings and an architecturally significant entryway where Ledgewood Drive and Dana Avenue now meet.

The developments are part of the new long-term strategic plan that was unveiled in October and will guide the University for the next decade. Most of the plan focuses on enhancing the academic learning environment, which remains the core of the vision University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., has for the University. His goal is to better prepare Xavier students for the world beyond campus and life after graduation.

Part of building the University academically, though, includes constructing new facilities where the growth can take place. At the center of the new facilities is an area known as the Academic Quadrangle. This series of state-of-the-art buildings features the latest technological and educational tools needed for learning. It will draw students and visitors together in a central area and be a starting point from which the rest of campus radiates.

The developments won’t take place overnight, but will span the next decade and continue the steady growth that is still taking place today. For example, Bellarmine Chapel, which will fittingly become the center of campus under the new plan, is now being expanded to meet the needs of its congregation.

In 10 years student tour guides will take prospective students out Schott Hall—which was updated in 2003 into a new admission office and gathering area for prospective students and their families—and left up Dana Avenue to the top of the hill where they will point out the newer developments, including:

• The Learning Commons. The heart of the Academic Quad, the Learning Commons will be an extension of, and integrated with, the McDonald Library. It will be filled with the latest learning technology and information systems that students and professors can use in their research. The building will be wired for students’ laptop computers, and it’s expected students will be able to download textbooks or hook up to a satellite and take classes at other Jesuit schools like Boston College or Georgetown University.

• The new Williams College of Business building and new academic center, both of which will be part of the Quad.

• A renovated Alter Hall, the University’s 45-year-old main classroom building.

• The wireless environment, which will allow students to be online anywhere at all times.

• The new green space and dorms. Visitors leaving the Quad will walk down a new campus green space that replaces Ledgewood Drive and past a new residence hall built to accommodate the expected increase in enrollment that will put about 850 new students on campus each year, up from approximately 800 today.

“It’s about our finding new ways to embody better the ideals we hold close to our hearts,” says Graham, “and it certainly has an impact on our students.”