Last Thursday, University President Leo O’Donovan, S.J., spoke on his life at Georgetown, from his undergraduate days to his tenure as president. The speech was the concluding address of the first annual Jesuit Heritage Week.
O’Donovan began by describing the influence Georgetown’s Jesuit identity had on him and then spoke on the effects of a Jesuit foundation on the University in general.
When he arrived at Georgetown from New York City as an undergraduate in 1952, O’Donovan said had no plans to become a priest. O’Donovan said he enrolled in the college with the intention of going to medical school to become a psychiatrist. By the end of his first year, he had been affected by the spirituality of Georgetown.
O’Donovan described a moment during a service in Dahlgren chapel, as he was sitting next to a statue of Joan of Arc.
“I remember it searingly,” O’Donovan said. “I was struck by how much it meant to those around me; that there must be more to it than I had credited.”
O’Donovan said he was influenced by the friendships he established with faculty members.
“They were interested in me personally, not just as a student,” O’Donovan said.
By his third year, O’Donovan said he had been exposed to a many new ideas that led him to re-consider his future.
“I knew I wanted to help other people with their problems, but I wasn’t sure if psychiatry was the best way to do that,” O’Donovan said.
While in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship, O’Donovan said he decided he would join the priesthood.
“Despite the lures of Paris, and a certain woman named Carol, I decided I wanted to enter the Society of Jesus,” O’Donovan said.
In 1966, O’Donovan was ordained as a member of the Society of Jesus.
When O’Donovan became president in 1989, he had a conversation with a former professor who said a “passion for ideas” makes a great teacher.
In his years as president, O’Donovan said he has applied this motto to the entire University, developing what he sees as the “twin passions” of Georgetown: the love of God, and the love our neighbors.
O’Donovan said he hopes a love for others marks Georgetown students beyond their years on the hilltop.