it was 25 years ago, I recall the night with an unusual degree
of clarity. It was 16 June 1979, a Saturday evening.
Just a month after I had completed my sophomore year, I found
myself back on campus, as a student worker during reunion
The job was a delight, not because of the pay or prestige,
of course—I was an alumni office gofer, stuffing envelopes,
sorting dorm keys, carting luggage and running general errands.
No, the delight came from the people I was working for (Pat
McCarthy ’63 and Tom Ryan ’76) and with (my classmate
and friend, Jack O’Donnell ’81). All in all,
it was a fine week of work, capped off by a reunion weekend
that was as edifying as it was enjoyable. I was introduced
to countless alumni and their spouses and heard stories both
touching and outrageous. (In fact, I’ve long harbored
the notion of collecting the more outrageous tales into a “Myths & Legends
of Holy Cross” issue of HCM.)
By Saturday night, the evening of the General Alumni Banquet,
much of our work was done, and Jack O’D and I were
a bit tired but ready to enjoy the culmination of the festivities.
The keynote speaker that year was Will Jenks ’54. Though
he had spent only a year at Holy Cross, I was told that Jenks
was the heart and soul of the Class of ’54. I settled
into a corner at the very back of the Hogan Ballroom and
gave my attention to Mr. Jenks. And over the course of the
next 20 minutes or so, I received an education about my college,
my faith and my life.
I have heard my share of fine speakers at Holy Cross. I recall
being overwhelmed by activist Dick Gregory early in my first
year on the Hill. I remember hearing poet Stanley Kunitz
talk to a small circle of students about his early years
in Worcester, and poet Stephen Spender reminisce about his
days with T.S. Eliot. But I have never heard anyone who impressed
me more, moved me more and enlightened me more than Will
Jenks. With humility, humor and passion, he delivered an
endearing talk regarding the power of caritas to deliver
all of us from selfishness, from ignorance and from despair.
Drawing from his own life, Jenks explained that while his
time on campus had ended when he contracted polio after his
freshman year, his Holy Cross experience had endured and
grown rich over the last quarter century. In a concise 16
paragraphs, Will Jenks described lovingly how a community
came together to embrace one man. And how that one man became
a focal point for the best aspirations of that community.
In short, Jenks gave testimony to everything that is extraordinary
and unique about Holy Cross.
Will Jenks died on Dec. 24, 1989. But his words, his example
and his spirit live on in a new book, Let Yourself Be Loved,
edited by Jenks’s friend and classmate, William J.
Kane ’54. You can read about the book in this issue
of HCM, and you can purchase a copy through the Holy Cross
Bookstore. A moving compendium of letters, biography, anecdotes
and photographs, it is a must for the library of every alumnus.
And at the heart of the book, you will find that marvelous
reunion address from that June night in 1979. Twenty-five
years later, it continues to inspire.