Four years ago, the start of the College’s academic year was marked by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As last year’s valedictorian, Mary Beth Ryan, noted in her Commencement address, the tragedy of that day brought the campus and the Holy Cross community together in a profound manner.
As I write these words, a new academic term has just arrived. And it, too, coincides with a national tragedy. The scale of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina appears unprecedented. The scope of the loss and suffering of the people of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi is staggering. And though we are almost 1,500 miles from the ruined landscape, Holy Cross grieves and comes together, once again, to offer prayer, solace and aid.
As soon as the enormity of the storm—and the flooding and chaos that arrived in its wake—became known, the campus community mobilized, reaching out to current students, as well as hundreds of alumni, from the afflicted regions. At the same time, our thoughts turned to our sister school, Loyola University New Orleans.
Fr. Charlie Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), immediately coordinated with Loyola’s 27 sister institutions to receive displaced students. During the weekend of Sept. 3, the first seven Loyola students arrived on Mount St. James, welcomed by a student body, faculty and administration determined to provide assistance and comfort in this confusing and sorrowful time.
Simultaneously, the Holy Cross Chaplains’ Office, working in conjunction with the AJCU, mounted the relief effort, “Stand By You.” Special collections were taken up at all weekend campus liturgies, as well as at the Homecoming Weekend football game. Campuswide donation sites were established, and a T-shirt sales drive was organized. SPUD and the Purple Key Society gathered volunteers to work with the various service programs of the Red Cross. In-home housing opportunities for refugees were solicited from faculty and staff. And spring break rebuilding projects have been planned for next semester.
From Sept. 6 through Sept. 8, a 72-hour prayer vigil was conducted in the Mary Chapel, with students and staff volunteering to lead 20-minute prayer periods around the clock, in remembrance of the deceased, the injured, the homeless and the frightened.
All of these efforts point up the solidarity at the heart of the Holy Cross community. They also underscore the continued relevance and vitality of the Jesuit tradition, which locates God in the world and, yes, pointedly sometimes, in the darkness of tragedy. Our response to Katrina’s destruction—and to the horrors of last year’s tsunami and to the terror of 9/11—is a recommitment to the gospel ideals of compassion, mercy and empathy. Here on the Hill, we speak regularly about a mission that strives to transform the world by transforming the individual. The efforts we make to assist those who have suffered catastrophic loss are redemptive in every sense. It’s about trying to bring people to higher ground—metaphorically and even, sometimes, literally.