A reflection on the life of the Rev. Robert Drinan, the Jesuit priest-turned-Congressman who recently died, written by President Mark D. Gearan, was printed in the Saturday, Feb. 3 issue of The Boston Globe and included in the online edition.
Gearan, who headed the Peace Corps before accepting the HWS presidency in 1999, is currently Chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee and is a member of the Leadership Council of ServiceNation. He is the past chair of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Annapolis Group and the National Campus Compact and served as a Board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and The Partnership for Public Service. Additionally, President Gearan serves on the Ontario ARC and Community Center advisory boards.
Gearan holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Georgetown University.
The full article follows.
The Boston Globe
Father Drinan was our unfailing champion
Mark D. Gearan • February 3, 2007
IT WAS the most important bike ride of my life.
As an eighth-grader growing up in Gardner, I had noticed that a Catholic priest was running for Congress amid the political turmoil of the Vietnam era. Curious, I rode my bike to the Drinan for Congress Headquarters, and that ride changed my life forever.
Wonderful words have been shared this week following the passing of Robert Drinan — Jesuit priest, congressman, scholar, law school dean, and activist. To be sure, he was all of those things and more. His vaulting intellect combined with his remarkable courage to do and say what he thought was right. Political leaders, present and future, should take note of this legacy of a life well lived.
But for me and countless others, it was his role as a mentor that distinguished Father Drinan. Amid the pressures of tough campaigns and congressional duties, he always reached out to young staff and encouraged their interest in politics and policy. He took time to ask your opinion on issues and was genuinely interested in knowing why you felt that way. “Tell me something I don’t know” he would bark out in an elevator ride or driving to the airport. A tough assignment to respond to the author of 12 books with such a keen and inquisitive mind.
After his death, a friend who worked on his staff wondered “Why does it feel like we lost a parent?” She brilliantly answered her question noting that his presence in our lives was transformative, that he molded us without us really knowing what he was doing. He loved us unconditionally, she observed, adding the essential caveat that none of us really tested that unconditional love by becoming Republicans. Most of all, she said, “he was the person your mind went to when you were in a moral jam — OK what would RFD do? That would be enough to sort things out.”
From my early days on a bike leafleting the neighborhoods of Gardner, I graduated to driving the congressman. He was persistent in pushing his young student to read and to get involved. When my Harvard acceptance arrived and I asked him how I would explain to an elderly relative why I was not going to BC, he replied “Tell her a lot of Jesuits start out at Harvard.” One of his many good lines.
As an undergraduate I interned in his Washington office and later worked on his congressional campaign. In all these experiences I saw his commitment to “the good fight” and was grateful for his guidance. His lessons were not always formal ones, but useful and practical ones. My favorite was the simple acronym he would write on memos to delegate uncomfortable matters to staff: “MIGA” or, Make-It-Go-Away.
He delighted in my courtship of his staffer, Mary Herlihy, and proudly officiated at our wedding and later celebrated the birth of our daughters. From my decision to go to law school, work on presidential campaigns, join the White House staff, lead the Peace Corps or serve as a college president — I turned to Father Drinan for advice. He always had an interesting take on issues and thoughtful perspectives. And he was always an unfailing champion for his “Drinan minions.”
It is no surprise that his congressional staff attracted the most talented minds on Capitol Hill and in his district offices. It is no surprise that his classes at Georgetown Law School were filled with eager students. And it’s no surprise that his lectures across the country were well received. Good mentors attract a faithful following.
I will travel to Boston to mourn Father Drinan and celebrate his extraordinary life. I will be thinking a lot about that bike ride 37 years ago, and be grateful for his friendship on the journey.
Mark D. Gearan is president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.