“The future of Gonzaga is bound up in the future of Spokane.” You can almost hear old Fr. Joseph Cataldo say those words as he laid the cornerstone of the new college on the north bank of the Spokane River 125 years ago.
Actually, those are the words of Thayne McCulloh, Gonzaga’s president, pondering his university’s next 25 years — and beyond. “Spokane and Gonzaga grew up together and evolved together over time,” McCulloh adds, “and our future is related to our past.”
It’s natural when you hit a milestone like 125 years to look back — to remember how, out of sheer force of will, a Sicilian Jesuit begged and bartered his way to building one of the defining institutions of the Inland Northwest.
But milestones can be a challenge, too — as in, “OK, but what now?” McCulloh says he’s been getting that question a lot as the 125th celebration has unfolded. His short answer: “Keep perfecting.”
Gonzaga has been doing just that, as, after a few rough patches, it has almost doubled its enrollment since its centennial 25 years ago. Meanwhile, its academic programs are gaining notice by the year. Oh, and you may have heard about their basketball team.
So Spokane enabled Gonzaga to grow and thrive, but what impact has Gonzaga had on Spokane? In 1887, a college was on the to-do list for any aspiring city. Today, higher education is even more crucial to our civic health. Then as now, more than diplomas are at stake. There’s a secret ingredient when it comes to Gonzaga — it’s that Jesuit way brought West by black robes like Fr. Cataldo, whose mission was to, “go set the world on fire.”
How is that tradition alive today? The Gonzaga Law School (now a century old itself) runs the Law Clinic for low-income neighbors stuck in a legal bind. Gonzaga students mentor local K-12 students through the Center for Community Action. The Campus Kitchen reaches out to the hungry in the greater community. The university teaches not only business and science, but business ethics and science ethics. Gonzaga even has a Buddhist monk as a scholar in residence.
There’s a moral bedrock at Gonzaga University and a 125-year tradition of service to the greater good that has rubbed off on Spokane. And by the looks of it, that will continue for many years to come.
National Gonzaga Day is Thursday, Jan. 24. All are welcome to attend the 125th anniversary celebration at the Spokane Convention Center at 6 pm, when men’s and women’s basketball games will be shown and hot dogs will be served.
In order to attend, RSVP is required at www.NationalGonzagaDay.org. Please bring a non-perishable food item to donate. Free.