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Thayne McCulloh sees role as ministry as Gonzaga University’s president

As Thayne McCulloh prepares for his inauguration at 3 p.m., Friday, Oct. 22 in McCarthey Athletic Center as the first lay president of Gonzaga University, he takes seriously that the office is not merely a job, but a ministry.

Thane McCulloh
Thane McCulloh

The inauguration ceremonies begin with Mass at noon at St. Aloysius Church and then kick off the Fall Family Weekend and Alumni Reunion Weekend, events expected to draw more than 3,000 visitors to Spokane.

The inauguration will be both academic and religious in nature. Thayne will receive his mission as head of a Jesuit work from the Jesuit Provincial, Father Pat Lee, SJ, former vice president of mission at Gonzaga, who will preside at the Mass, reinforcing the ongoing connection of Gonzaga with the Jesuit tradition and values.

In several administrative posts under former Gonzaga Presidents Bernard Coughlin, SJ, Edward Glynn, SJ, and Robert Spitzer, SJ, Thayne said he comfortably served behind-the scenes to help put each president’s desires into effect.  Now he takes the lead, as he did as interim president.

“I see this work is a ministry,” Thayne affirmed.

“Although I am not a Jesuit, I have a religious mission as a lay partner, working in collaboration with the Jesuits to animate the university as a Jesuit, Catholic work,” he said in a recent interview.

He sees the responsibilities and challenges as different from those of a secular university president.  Working with Jesuits, Thayne learned about the rites and traditions of the Catholic Church that should be part of the job, beyond what he learned in his own Catholic upbringing and practice.

“Part of the role of the ‘president as priest’ has been to say prayers and offer Mass.  Although I am not a priest, I intend to be involved in the spiritual life of our community, which at times includes offering prayers and reflections,” he said.

“I take seriously the charge that the Jesuit Catholic tradition of this university is a strong part of the work I will do,” Thayne said.  “I will not just assign that to others.”

He believes part of his job is to encourage dialogue and discussion, which can be controversial.

“The role of the university is to stretch students’ minds.  That means we need to introduce them to controversies, challenge them to new ways of thinking about issues and encourage them to participate in service learning with the community,” he said.

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