On Saturday, February 4, Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. was honored with the 2023 Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, Award from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) in Washington, D.C. Fr. Garanzini was honored for his lifelong contributions to Catholic higher education, including service as president of AJCU and Loyola University Chicago; Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus; and founder of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU).

Below is the text of Fr. Garanzini’s remarks delivered during the award ceremony:

I am humbled by this award and extremely grateful to the Board of ACCU. This is indeed an honor.

I met Fr. Hesburgh only twice but knew well Rev. Paul Reinert, S.J., from Saint Louis University (SLU), my alma mater. Together, these two men persuaded both leadership in Rome and their respective Congregations that it was time to do something bold for Catholic colleges and universities in this country during the middle of the 20th century. If the Catholic university was to not simply survive but take its rightful place alongside other great American institutions of higher learning, it would need to expand the leadership group at the top to include committed lay men and women in both internal and external governance positions of a university. In 1967, the first separately incorporated board was established, thanks to their leadership and vision. Within a few years, the religious communities of their day, led by male and female religious educators, gave up their exclusive ownership to include civic leaders, Catholics and non-Catholics, on their boards and in key leadership positions, adding to the ranks of talented women and men with a love and commitment to Catholic education and its emphasis on educating the whole person and academic excellence.

Not long after the creation of independent boards of trustees, these religious leaders issued the Land O’Lakes statement proposing a new kind of university firmly grounded in a faith tradition, but committed to academic freedom and the education of citizens for our democracy. In a relatively short span of 25-30 years, Catholic colleges and universities entered the ranks of the national and regional best institutions. That list keeps growing today. The perception that our schools were (among other things) excessively parochial soon dissipated. Their efforts (and basketball) helped put Catholic universities on the map. This is a story that each of our institutions knows well.

Our theme this year, “Rising to our Times,” made me think. At first, it seems obvious that the phrase is missing the word “challenges,” i.e., “Rising to the Challenges of our Times.” That additional word would seem to be more natural, more fitting. But, then it occurred to me that those planning this year’s gathering of Catholic university leadership had picked up some of ACCU president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider’s ever-positive and up-beat approach to life and difficult matters. I suspect that he is the reason the word “challenges” is not in our theme.

“Rising to Our times” signals that the challenges should not be our emphasis but rather the creation of something new needed for our times, as our forebearers Fathers Hesburgh and Reinert and others did in their day. The challenges we face—from access, to affordability, to accountability, to athletics—and this is just the A’s—we will indeed face. But, I think these times are calling us to another bold and risky vision of the role and purpose of our Catholic institutions and the way they will contribute to our nation and our Church. They are calling for another reset, another bold plan. I believe we are capable of rising to our times.

For one, there are new “outsiders” and we know something about bringing outsiders into the tent. Our students are more fragile and in need of guidance. We know how to care for them as whole persons. There is an urgent need to resist the instrumentalizing of education, with its singular emphasis on the marketability of a degree. We are steadfast about a true humanistic core. And, the more urgent need to be inclusive while holding firm to building a Catholic culture and nurturing the faith of our young people is something we are already committed to improving.

While this is not the occasion for spelling out the details of a new vision or precisely what bold steps we need to take, I will simply say that I am optimistic that those who have joined the leadership ranks of Catholic higher education in this country, the many lay men and women who now lead our institutions, will be capable of assessing the risks we need to take in order to be—in the words of another one of my heroes, Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara, OFS of Brazil—“worthy instruments for the miracle of becoming as bold as the prophets, revolutionary as the Gospel and true as the Christ, without wounding love.”

Thank you, again, especially for joining in this project of Catholic higher education together.