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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Cervelli inaugurated as 12th Saint Mary's President

For Saint Mary’s President Janice A. Cervelli, a South Bend native who was officially installed Saturday as the 12th College president at an inauguration ceremony, the phrase “there’s no place like home” has a special meeting.

Cervelli began her address by acknowledging the legacy president emerita Carol Ann Mooney has imprinted on the College.

20161112, cerivalli, Monica Villagomez Mendez 2
Monica Villagomez Mendes | The Observer

“From me personally, thank you for creating such a vibrant, thriving, ambitious atmosphere,” Cervelli said. “It’s like receiving the keys to a classic car with a new engine. Tuned and humming, we are in for an exhilarating ride.”

Cervelli said she hopes to continue fostering a welcoming campus and tight-knit community.

“I promise you that I will put all my strength into living up to the tradition of excellence that I have inherited and carrying it forward with the same indomitable spirit,” she said. “I am grateful for the faith the Board of Trustees has instilled in me, and I assume the responsibility with great joy, excitement and hope.”

She feels honored to return South Bend, where she derives inspiration from loved ones who have shaped her as a person and helped her discern her life path, she said.

“It's a great thrill to be back amongst family and friends,” Cervelli said. “Being back in the town where I grew up provides everyday reminders of all the people who have nurtured and supported me.”

She said she hopes to continue partnerships with Notre Dame and Holy Cross in preservation of the Holy Cross tradition of unity.

“There is an energy and momentum and a culture of innovation coursing through both South Bend and the tri-campus community that I hope to develop for our mutual benefit,” she said.

According to Cervelli, Saint Mary's encourages its students to accept distinct viewpoints and foster open dialogue about areas of difference, rather than judge or argue.

“Understanding and unity can and should come from paying respectful attention, in our divisive climate, to the ways in which we are alike,” she said. “We must be open to learning about each other. Our College, named for St. Mary can be a bridge for that learning, helping to guide a wounded, divided world toward healing.”

Many people divide themselves by religion, political party or race instead of recognizing a common humanity, she said.

“Beneath those surface categories, we are more alike than different,” she said. “Only an institution with the depth of St. Mary’s soul can educate students to widen their view and expand their self-conceptions, not only to help themselves navigate this changing world but to understand the need to make room for everyone.”

She said she feels honored to serve such a united and supportive community where ambitious students use their talents to contribute to the greater good.

“I take particular pride in representing an institution that recognizes in word and deed that the ideal of service to one another must not be reduced to occasional acts of generosity, segregated from our real lives, but an essential part of who we are,” Cervelli said. “That is the soul of Saint Mary’s.”

Cervelli thanked the Sisters of the Holy Cross for encouraging students to serve others and give selflessly.

“Your commitment to ministering to the marginalized, the troubled, the threatened, the victims of disease and disaster and oppression, the people the bible calls ‘the least of our brothers and sisters' is a lesson in mercy,’” she said. “Your selfless example is the standard by which we measure ourselves.”


A new chapter

Chair of the Board of Trustees Mary Burke said Cervelli once called her presidency a “blessed calling.”

“Today, we would like you to know how blessed we are to benefit from your leadership, enthusiasm and vision,” Burke said. “Long after these events, we are confident that we will be celebrating your presidency for years to come.”

Kelly O’Shea Carney, president of the Alumnae Association Board of Trustees, said Saint Mary’s women have been pioneers.

“As a South Bend native, educated in the Holy Cross tradition and with a sister who is a Belle, Jan is familiar with the proud history of Saint Mary’s College,” she said.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg welcomed Cervelli on behalf of surrounding communities.

“I congratulate you not only on your presidency, but also on your timing,” Buttigieg said. “You’re arriving in a leadership role in one of the most valued institutions located in our community during a decade that may represent the greatest period of positive transformation in that community in living memory.”

Buttigieg said South Bend has transformed, with new industries, residents and a growing influence in the world.

“Transformations do not happen without partnership,” he said. “Among our most important partners are the academic institutions here in our midst. … It strikes me that we are given the unique opportunity.”

Sr. Veronique Wiedower, president of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, welcomed Cervelli by reflecting on Cervelli’s Holy Cross education and her ability to shape the future of the College.

“Saint Mary’s is the oldest daughter in the institutions of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and it holds a treasured place in our heritage,” she said. “Jan now joins the exceptional procession of sisters, and other women and men, who have read the signs of the times in women’s education, have trusted in the providence of God, and have responded with zeal and faith.

“President Cervelli, I am confident that you will continue the legacy of strong, visionary leadership that has marked Saint Mary’s from its beginning in 1844. You now have the opportunity to build on the foundation of your own early Holy Cross education obtained here in South Bend, and to bring Saint Mary’s College the skills you have honed as an architect, dedicated teacher, and seasoned administrator.”

Wiedower said Cervelli will use her prior experience to shape Saint Mary’s and its students to be leaders of society. She said the College is blessed to have Cervelli as a leader for the school and collaborator with the Sisters.

“I know that you will continue to ensure that well-crafted environments for 21st century scholars support their discovery of minds and of hearts, their healthy bodies, and their spiritual questing,” Wiedower said. “Today Saint Mary’s students are informed, formed and transformed by the values, structures and framing of these programs that create a strong foundation to equip them as leaders for today and for tomorrow.

“With the keen sensibility of a landscape architect and educator, President Cervelli, you intuitively understand the critical alignment of faith, beauty and the understanding of culture that, joined with imagination and creativity, aid the discovery and uncovering of the unique elements needed to build sustainable and transformative community.”


Looking forward

Cervelli said Saint Mary’s should preserve its ideals of acceptance and community while progressing in educational tactics, always providing students with the best resources for discovery.

“The liberal arts are an education in the common good, where we raise and rustle with humanity's biggest questions,” she said. “Addressing the environmental crisis that threatens to destabilize the world for generations will not simply be a matter of developing the needed technology.”

Cervelli said Saint Mary’s classes instill critical-thinking skills and further develop a moral awareness in students, preparing them to embrace the challenges of life after graduation.

“We come to see the context in which we live our lives, our place, the continuum of humanity's past and future through history and theology and philosophy and literature and the creative arts and the sciences,” she said. “The liberal arts illuminates our intellectual, cultural and spiritual inheritance and calls on us to leave a legacy worthy of what we’ve inherited.”

She said working for social change may seem like a daunting task, but Saint Mary’s women empower one another to such an extent that the impossible gradually becomes feasible.

“Saint Mary’s has always been resolute in confronting the challenges of the times and ambitious in its commitment to preparing students for the world they will encounter,” Cervelli said. “We must continue to rise to fulfill that call.”

Education serves as a stepping stone for rising to the occasion and bettering the world, she said.

“I see the impact of Saint Mary’s character right here at home in South Bend,” she said. “I see it in the eyes of students who volunteer in the community changed by encounters with people in need.”

She said the College’s emphasis on community manifests itself in alumnae’s commitment to the school, contributions from donors and measures to advance campus sustainability.

“Most of all, I see the impact of the classroom in the challenging and inspiring interactions between faculty and students through innovative teaching and research, which is the beating heart and soul of Saint Mary’s,” she said. “As we work to fulfill Sr. Madaleva’s promise of discovery, I feel called to accelerate the growth of Saint Mary’s, to develop a culture of innovation, to fully support trailblazers throughout the College.”

Cervelli said she plans to implement the Promise of Discovery Award, which will award one faculty member each spring with $50,000 to explore an area of interdisciplinary concern.

“Our world needs new models of social, environmental and economic sustainability,” she said. “We need original thinking and the collaborative sharing of intellectual and financial resources to be equal to the challenges before us. We need novel connections across departments to ignite the imaginations of our faculty and students.”

Never stop learning

Cervelli said she hopes Saint Mary’s women embrace life’s unexpected twists and turns, always pursuing growth and discovery.

“A year ago, I would have never imagined that I would be returning to my hometown as president of this extraordinary institution,” Cervelli said. “I picked a great time to come home.”

Senior and student body vice president Mary Joy Dingler said she appreciates Cervelli’s willingness to listen to suggestions from the Saint Mary’s community.

“President Cervelli concentrates a lot on shared governance, and I think that’s really important, especially in an academic setting,” she said. “I’m excited to see where she goes with that, and I know that’s part of why she was selected.”

Senior Olivia Jackson said Cervelli’s emphasis on inclusion means all opinions are valued, which will help Saint Mary’s serve as a beacon of collaboration between administration and students.

“I don’t think students can be too involved in the running and decisions of the College,” she said. “The more that the students’ voices are heard, the better the school will be.”

According to Jackson, Cervelli’s strong leadership will play a vital role in encouraging students to do their best work and fulfill their goals.

“I think what’s really at the heart of what President Cervelli wants to do here is focus on students and just give them more opportunities to get out there and make a difference using what they learned here at Saint Mary’s,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to put into words everything that you gain from Saint Mary’s.”

Jackson said she looks forward to seeing what changes or improvements Cervelli implements.

“I am so excited about the Promise of Discovery Award she is introducing, and I think that’s going to do so much for the College and open up so many opportunities,” she said. “She’s so excited to be here, and she loves the school so much. It’s always exciting to get a fresh perspective on how to run things and how to make Saint Mary’s better.”

Dingler said she values the analytical skills enforced by a Saint Mary’s education, though she also feels her community of peers has shaped her as a person.

“A Saint Mary’s education gives you more than just writing skills,” Dingler said. “It gives you potential to grow and helps your leadership skills thrive and gives you ambition and strength and power that other schools don’t necessarily give you.”

First year Mary Coleman said she enjoyed Mayor Buttigieg’s speech, because it showed her how much the South Bend community values and admires Saint Mary’s. She said she hopes Cervelli knows she has immense student support.

“I hope she is always able to feel like she makes the right decision for the College and doesn't have any reservations about doing what she perceives as right for us,” Coleman said. “I’m looking forward to all the new opportunities that come with a new president and the time of change and transition.”

Coleman said she feels honored to attend a school with a female president such as Cervelli, because she said high-achieving women can best understand the needs of the Saint Mary’s community.

“It’s the essence of Saint Mary’s since we are a women’s college,” Coleman said. “I think that women have a special kind of change that they’re able to create in the world, and I think that’s really important to have and to establish.”