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Archive Dive

By Skip Tate

The phone rang not too long ago, and on the other end was Thomas Kennealy, one of the longtime Jesuits here on campus. By all accounts, Kennealy’s now been at Xavier 39 years, placing him second on the S.J. tenure list behind Frank Oppenheim, who first came to campus in 1961.

Almost all of Kennealy’s time at Xavier—27 years, to be exact—has been spent as associate dean for both the College of Social Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. Being the No. 2 person in charge of two colleges is a daunting task. He was calling, though, to tell me of a change. He was moving out of that position and had accepted a new position and new challenge: he was now the University’s archivist.

With the declining number of Jesuits in our midst, I couldn’t help but note upon hearing the news the cruel irony that one of them was now moving from the University’s academic forefront to the archives. The move, though, was voluntary, he assured me with a laugh, and not any kind of commentary on the state of the order.

Kennealy is the ideal candidate for the archivist position—caring, thoughtful, versed on the University’s history—although he has his work cut out for him. Another Jesuit, Lee Benish, started the archives back in 1974, but since his retirement 20-plus years ago it has only been overseen on a part-time basis, and it needed the care, thought and thoroughness a Jesuit could offer.

The archive also includes a collection of Xavier magazines, and the main reason for Kennealy’s call was to try to fill in some holes in the collection. A few issues, for whatever reason, were missing, so he wanted to know if we had extra copies. He also said he put together a sheet outlining the University’s history of publishing magazines. According to his records, three versions of a University magazine were published before the one that exists now—Xavier from 1970-1972, Xavier Today from 1983-1990 and Xavier University Magazine from 1990-1993.

I was reminded of Kennealy’s call when we were assembling the most recent issue of Xavier magazine. One of the hundreds of tiny details that go into creating each issue is the updating of the volume and issue numbers, which are located above the masthead on page 2. This particular issue is volume 15, issue 1. Most people don’t even notice the numbers, fewer people know what they mean and even fewer, I’m sure, really care. What these particular numbers mean is that this is the 15th year Xavier magazine has been published—or at least this version of Xavier magazine.

Realizing this, I looked back and dug out that first issue. Quite a bit has changed since then. The design has gone through three alterations. The magazines back then were “themed,” with the stories in each issue focusing on a specific topic. They also included more news about what happened at the University. Quarterly publications, it seems to me, are never a good means of transmitting news—assuming that information in a publication that comes out only once every three months can still be considered timely enough to be news. Xavier now has more and faster ways of communicating with its alumni and friends—this web site being one of them.

Some things, though, haven’t changed that much. “Xavier magazine begins a conversation about the ideas that shape the university’s character,” editor Bill Noblitt wrote in that first issue. “In this manner, the magazine will attempt to relate to you the Xavier story—the issues facing the university—in a compelling and honest way.”

That still holds true after 15 years. If I could change one thing about that statement, though, it would be to add “people” to the mix. It’s not just ideas that shape a university’s character, it’s the people as well.

We could easily tell readers what makes the University so great. But in our business we have a saying: Show, don’t tell. And “showing through the story”—especially a story about people—is the best way to explain what Xavier is all about.

A good example is Sarah Hohl’s first-person story about her life in Africa in this issue. She came to Xavier, was exposed to the service learning program, and it changed her life. Rather than going into the corporate world as she imagined, she moved to Africa after graduating to serve others. Now, after surviving a horrible accident there, she’s returning to the United States—not because she’s had a change of heart, but to further her education so she can return and help more people.

Stories like that, to me, tell more about the University’s character than anything else could. Xavier impacted her, and she’s now impacting the world. And that’s a story worth keeping in the archive.

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