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  Editor's Note
     
   

Will Jenks ’54 and the Power of Love

Jack O'Connell Though 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 weekend.

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.

Jack O'Connell

 

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