Inauguration | Mass of Thanksgiving

Inauguration of the Ninth President
of Chaminade University


Rev. Joseph Lackner, SM
Assistant for Developing Regions, Society of Mary, Province of the United States

“May a double portion of the Spirit alight upon me!”

I imagine that is the prayer of Brother Bernard Ploeger as he accepts the mantle of trust and duty as ninth president of Chaminade University. Just as Elisha called upon Elijah, so he, with us, calls upon the favor of many ancestors, both ancient and recently departed, especially those who have graced these islands, not the least among them his Marianist brothers who came here in 1883 and Blessed Marianne and Damien, to ask that the strong wind, the life-giving breath, the creative spirit of God, all known in the scriptures as ruach in Hebrew or pneuma in Greek, descend upon him.

Mirrored in the complexion of students, faculty, staff, administrators, regents, governors, and friends he will lead is the boast of this land of O’ahu, named “The Gathering Place,” where all are invited to share the same Ha, the same breath, the same spirit of Aloha. That same breath of life breathed, many of us believe, in Jesus – breathed so deeply that death could not even undo it; breathed so boundlessly that it was impossible for him finally to be chained by death. Among the ancestors he is the Elder Brother. Every family, every nation, every people of every tongue looks back in its heritage to an elder brother, as, for example, the people of these Hawaiian Islands look to Haloa. But most of us here probably believe that all peoples united together in one humanity, from the beginning to the end of time, find our unity in the first of all elder brothers, Jesus, whom, like Peter, we also confess as Lord and Christ. Filled with the breath that God first breathed at creation, he shares his spirit with every person, with people of every nation, language, and way of life and makes us one with him, sustaining and nourishing us with his very life, just as Taro does here on these islands. He empowers us and surprises us with that spirit, so that we may find ourselves seeing visions and dreaming dreams.

Wasn’t it both a spirit filled dream and vision that led to the re-founding of our university several years ago? Is that not something for us in this Eucharistic memorial to recall on this Yom Ha-Zikkaron, on this Jewish day of remembrance? And is not its promise, now personified in our new president, something to commit ourselves to once again as we begin a new time for the university, which by grace or good fortune, falls on this first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, a time for new beginnings?

Dreams and visions are simply fantasies unless they are accompanied by hard work. I believe all of us can attest to this in our own lives and in the experience of the last several years of Chaminade University. So, we also pray that that double portion of spirit brings Brother Bernie the continued energy to work with our community to turn imagination into action. Of course, we do not expect him to go digging around with his o’o like Pele, causing fiery mountains to erupt and rivers of lava to flow, but we do pray for his continued skill, creativity, ingenuity, diligence, and industry.

In the words of the gospel, these dreams and visions must be incarnated in something as simple and indispensible as salt and light. As salt was used in the biblical world to seal a covenant, so Chaminade University has made a covenant with the religious and civil communities of these islands to be an arena for reflection, discourse, and engagement. For its students it promises to be a place of shelter, a safe harbor, to wrestle with questions ancient and new, to develop new skills and chart future careers, to appreciate people of different cultures and understandings, to learn a self-possession that allows one to disagree and yet maintain relationship, to deepen faith, both personal and communal, to hone a moral compass, both individual and social, in order to go out from its sheltered bay into the great expanse of our universe as active collaborates in building a better world. To all, it pledges, as its motto, Vita in Verbo, announces, life in the word – in the so many words of all the domains of knowledge and most especially, in the Word beneath all words, the word filled with the fullness of power, with the deepest mana, the Word become flesh in Mary’s womb.

That Word Incarnate bids us in the gospel not to lose our taste, not to go flat, as individuals or as the ‘ohana of Chaminade University, but to bring his flavor and his sweetness to the lives we touch, to preserve them in goodness, and like the salty water of the sea, to be a source of purification and healing.

In truth, we are a community set upon a hill and it is our mission to be a beacon of light through the communion of our good deeds, especially in our faithfulness to our vocation as a Catholic, Marianist university, and even to be, as the patron of this university, Blessed Chaminade, said, a spectacle of saints. Though each of us must encourage one another in this calling, finally we turn to Brother Bernie, our new president, to keep us true to the course. Endowed with natural gifts – an inviting, somewhat shy smile, a playful gleam of eye, a ready sociability and an instinct to think the best, a remarkable capacity for work, and an incisive mind capable of seeing things from a variety of perspectives; endowed with these gifts, long ago, more than forty years, he handed it all over to the nurturing, graceful hands of Mary when he first pronounced his vows as a Marianist so that every day he might be transformed in the likeness of Jesus, her Son. His promise lived out all these years gives us reason to believe that he will keep his promise as he assumes the mantle of president. And our presence here binds us, as the president of the student association suggested the other night, to be guardian angels for him, praying daily for that double portion of spirit he needs to continue us on course.

God’s spirit can do marvelous things, as Isaiah once proclaimed, turning deserts to blossom and death to life. Many of us here even believe that that spirit can make simple bread and wine capable of feeding our very souls. As we now enter into that mystery of the spirit called down upon bread and wine, let us imagine what that breath can do with us.