From interim president Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J.
When Marquette opened in 1881, the building housing this school’s first classrooms, library and laboratories also included living space for three Jesuit priests, plus several scholastics and lay brothers. Since then, members of the Society of Jesus have never been far from center of the life of Marquette — or the center of campus.
Questions about where Marquette’s Jesuits would next find themselves, though, first emerged several years ago. It became clear that our Jesuit community’s home for the last 40 years — the former hotel at 14th Street and Wisconsin Avenue known affectionately across campus as the “Jes Res” — was plagued with maintenance problems and aging mechanical systems that would be impractical to replace. And in this time of belt tightening and students straining to afford college, the cost of a new residence could not just be absorbed into university budgets.
So with exciting plans in hand for a new Jesuit residence — again at the heart of campus, about a half-block from the current facility — I joined our University Advancement team early this year in reaching out to benefactors about this cause. Hoping this would not be one of those fundraising efforts that is slow to catch fire, I was delighted to experience a totally opposite kind of response. It’s rare that a single early gift gets us halfway to our goal, but that’s what happened with a $10 million contribution in January from an anonymous donor that included $7.5 million for this project and $2.5 million for another critical Marquette priority: need-based and current-use scholarships. By mid-March, we were announcing a $5 million gift from Ray and Kay Eckstein through their charitable trust and working to secure other gifts that put us within reach of the $15 million needed for the project.
Friends of the university have clearly been moved by this opportunity. They understand the Catholic, Jesuit traditions at the core of Marquette’s curriculum and mission. And they know our university community is profoundly richer for having members of the Society of Jesus dwelling here and serving as teachers, mentors, moral guides and examples of lives dedicated to serving others.
A brief story on page 8 of this issue describes how the new residence will support the spiritual and physical needs of my Jesuit brethren while helping to engage the university community in new ways. The project’s scope also extends well beyond the residence. Ultimately, it will remake the area east of the Alumni Memorial Union by adding new green space and a continuation of our campus’ main north-south pedestrian axis.
Broad in its benefits, this is also a project I can’t help but view in personal terms. For the past 17 years, the current Jesuit residence has been my home. This community of Jesuits is my community. We live, pray and serve God together, most often by helping students grow academically, personally and spiritually.
Although we hardly agree on all matters, my 43 fellow community members and I share powerful bonds resulting from our Jesuit formation. And we have grown more vital as a community since the mid-1980s, when, in partnership with the university, we first began to host young Jesuits from Africa and Asia for their doctoral studies. In sharing our home with these young, very talented Jesuit priests, we had to get serious about our hospitality and our willingness to welcome and support these men personally and spiritually.
Last year Pope Francis revealed that a desire for community drew him to the Jesuits originally and guided him again when he decided to continue residing in a bustling Vatican guesthouse after assuming the papacy. “The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace,” he explained, “is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel … the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”
That is how we live as Jesuits — “in community” and focused on faith, mission and service. And thanks to the deeply inspiring generosity of this university community and its generous benefactors, it is how we will go on living at Marquette for generations to come.