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Cover Story

“God’s grace is surely at work here.”
Welcoming Father Pilarz to Marquette

Photography by Dan Dry

The inauguration of Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., as Marquette’s 23rd president included a student retreat; a Green Fest dedicating a new campus park; and the inauguration Mass and ceremony, both events richly leavened with prayer, poetry, song, gratitude and praise for God’s hand at work in the world and at Marquette.

Those in attendance and all who celebrated with the university from afar were asked to help enlarge Marquette’s footprint for good in the world. Borrowing inspiration from poet Mary Oliver’s words, “Be ignited, or be gone,” everyone — visiting guest, Marquette student and alumni — was asked to make a renewed pledge of service to their communities.

“God’s grace is surely at work here, giving us the energy and enthusiasm to go and ‘set the world on fire,’” Father Pilarz told hundreds, including members of the university and Milwaukee communities, church leaders, and 140 delegates representing colleges and universities across the country. Speakers ranging from Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki to poet Carolyn Forché to Rev. Dean Brackley, S.J., whose message was delivered in absentia, asked those gathered to use this moment as a starting point for a renewed commitment to excellence, to becoming voices for the voiceless and to living in solidarity with the poor. “The work ahead may occasionally be arduous,” Father Pilarz said, “but as St. Ignatius reminds us, ‘Nothing is hard to one whose will is set on it, especially if it be a thing done out of love.’”

Excerpt from Father Pilarz’s address

“In a year’s worth of visits and a month now on the ground, I have learned how much God has blessed Marquette. Like the city of Milwaukee, this campus extends itself to newcomers in a warm and wonderful way. The cultures of the city and the campus are marked by an authenticity and utter lack of pretension. In that sense, it reminds me of my home in the Garden State. People here are comfortable in their own skins. And like the Garden State, there is a big body of water to the east that helps me orient myself. And seagulls. Who knew that Milwaukee had seagulls?

“In my meetings with members of the Marquette community, I have learned how every group thinks they own the place. And that is a great thing. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, they all unabashedly love Marquette. There is an incredible sense of gratitude and awe for how far Marquette has come since 1881. And born of that gratitude are high aspirations and hopes.

Access and new excellence

“Marquette is also animated in a special way by the spirit of the man for whom it is named, Jacques Marquette. Jacques Marquette was fearless in facing the future and welcoming what was to come. Imagine the risk of leaving family and the comfortable environment of France in the 17th century to come to North America. Jacques Marquette is an excellent example of St. Ignatius Loyola’s commitment to the magis — a restless desire for God’s greater glory and the well-being of the world. Jacques Marquette was never afraid of the new, and therein gives us direction as we steer the university’s course in the second decade of the 21st century. Let me hazard a metaphor — after all, I’m an English professor. Jacques Marquette was obsessed with discovering the Mississippi River. He was convinced that making its map would enhance human experience and open opportunities for the spread of God’s good news. So what is our Mississippi River? What keeps us up at night at Marquette?

“Without meaning to sound presumptuous, let me suggest two goals which I have been hearing about from every corner of this campus for over a year now: access and a new excellence. When Archbishop Henni scraped and saved enough resources together to open Marquette College in 1881, he was creating an engine of opportunity for the people of this diocese, for newly arrived immigrants from Europe. Ever since, Marquette has proudly educated students who were the first in their families to earn a college degree. And perhaps nothing has a more profound effect on a family. I have experienced this firsthand as the first Pilarz ever to graduate from college. Again and again, I have heard from members of the Marquette community how proud we are that nearly 25 percent of the students we welcomed a few weeks ago are the first in their families to do the same. This Marquette tradition must continue if we are to be true to our mission. And this will require efforts on our part to provide resources and support.

Authentically Marquette

“This commitment to access might seem in tension with the drive to new excellence. If it is, it is a tension we must embrace. For Marquette to remain authentically Marquette, access and excellence cannot be viewed as an 
either/or proposition, but rather a both/and situation in order to serve God’s glory and future generations of students.

“New excellence for Marquette will 
require resources of us. And our work must always be informed by Father General’s final challenge to us as a Jesuit university. We need to ask, he says: How do our students and faculty become ‘voices for the voiceless?’ How do they become ‘sources for human rights for those denied such rights [and] resources for the protection of the environ-
ment?’ How do they become ‘persons of solidarity for the poor?’ How can such questions not keep us up at night at Marquette?

“… Let us commit together to shape Marquette in a way that at once honors the legacy we inherit, as well as the chapter of Marquette history that we will write together. Standing here today peering into the future is daunting. It is colored significantly by mystery. And it requires of us, hope.”

Read the complete inauguration address and see a video of Father Pilarz’s first week on campus at

Pledge to Service

In a March 2010 speech, Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus, said, “Depth of thought and imagination in the Ignatian tradition involves a profound engagement with the real.” To build upon the Jesuit legacy of being men and women for and with others and to mark Father Pilarz’s arrival, a Call to Service asks each member of the Marquette community to commit this year to a service experience. Choose a service project and then make your pledge at

As an English professor, Rev. Scott Pilarz, S.J., is passionate about poetry, especially the works of 16th-century poets St. Robert Southwell, S.J., and John Donne. But he also enjoys contemporary masters such as Carolyn Forché, who gave the keynote address at the inauguration ceremony, and his favorite rock-poet, Bruce Springsteen. In a poetic gesture and spirit of welcome, Marquette Magazine asked Dr. Angela Sorby, poet and faculty member in the Department of English, to communicate our hopes for Marquette’s 23rd president.

Sky Chart

“What if to you these sparks disordered seeme
As if by chaunce they had been scattered there?”
Sir John Davies (1569-1626)

There is a pattern in the scattered stars,

though light pollution makes it hard to read.

God grant you vision, Father Scott Pilarz.

All night the avenues are bright with cars

that hurry, halfway-human in their greed,

but there are patterns in the scattered stars.

Midwestern kids trap fireflies in jars,

then watch them surge and glow as they are freed.

God grant you vision, Father Scott Pilarz.

Our books are dense with battlefields and czars,

but also prairies — sprung from sun and seed —

that form a pattern under scattered stars.

Can education tell us who we are?

It is not truth, but questioning we need,

since vision’s partial, Father Scott Pilarz.

Some seekers see a human face on Mars,

but still their feet are tangled in the weeds.

So let us trust the force behind the stars

to grant us vision, Father Scott Pilarz.

—  Dr. Angela Sorby

This is where I need to be.

By Jessie Bazan

Communication sophomore Jessie Bazan felt honored to play a small role in the inauguration Mass, but it was an experience earlier in the week’s festivities that made the biggest impression. Here, she reflects on moments spent in conversation with Father Pilarz at a student retreat.

As the crowd rose to applaud Marquette’s newest president, my mind flashed back to a moment four days earlier. It occurred immediately following the student retreat Father Pilarz hosted as a kickoff to inauguration week. As we were heading out of the chapel, my friend leaned over and whispered, “This is where I need to be.”

The truth of her words affirmed what I had felt all night. In front of an intimate group of 65 students, Father Pilarz recounted stories about his college days that, frankly, didn’t sound much different from my own. As a community, we discussed; we laughed; we prayed. We didn’t talk about endowments or enrollment or other subjects that typically consume the life of a university president. Instead, Father Pilarz shared his passion for Ignatian spirituality. He encouraged us as young people to watch for patterns that stir our hearts and to be open to God’s calling. I was moved by his candor on personal topics like falling in love and how scary it is to leave the familiar.

I left the retreat feeling rejuvenated. I left confident in the direction Father Pilarz will take the university. And on Friday, as the Al McGuire Center crowd applauded joyously in celebration, I, too, was reassured that Marquette is where I need to be.


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