End of the Innocence
By France Griggs Sloat
As Xavier University approaches the 175th anniversary of its founding in 2006,
Xavier magazine is examining key moments in the University's history. This is part of a series of stories about the people, places and events that have made Xavier what it is today. You can read previous stories by clicking on the links below.
It dangled from his neck, landing squarely on the front of his black graduation robe: a white wooden peace sign. And student body president Gene Beaupré wore it proudly as he strode onto the stage in June 1969 to receive his diploma from President Paul O’Connor, S.J. They had a history, these two, clashing more than once over student demands. On this warm June evening, however, O’Connor happily handed Beaupré his diploma. Then he spied the medallion on Beaupré’s chest.
“What’s this?” O’Connor asked, picking up the ornament.
“It’s a peace sign, Father,” Beaupré said. “Would you like to wear it?”
O’Connor looked him right in the eye. “No, thanks.”
O’Connor had just about enough of Beaupré and his fellow student activists. The University’s 29th president presided over Xavier at a time of monumental change—both in the nation and on the campus. While the Vietnam War raged and soldiers died and politicians ranted and black activists marched, the tumult of the 1960s was echoing at Xavier as well. And it left its mark.
By the time O’Connor stepped down in 1972, Xavier was a different place, both physically and substantively. Not only did it undergo the most significant building boom since the 1920s, but it was transformed from a tranquil, unquestioning institution catering to well-raised Catholic boys into an active campus where women and black students were among those demanding more of a say in their education.
The decade began peacefully, resembling the 1950s when the World War II generation settled into a period of peace and quiet after the uncertainties and horrors of war. The all-male, mostly white Catholic university that O’Connor arrived at in 1955 was a perfect representative of its time, turning out well-educated, morally formed young men who attended Mass regularly and had a bit of wild, safe fun while on campus.
But the reverberations of a society increasingly discontent with the status quo began to be felt in the mid-1960s. Anti-war sentiment led to a new look at poverty and race. Folk songs gave way to rebellious rock ’n’ roll. Even the Catholic religion was getting a makeover as the Second Vatican Council gathered from 1962-1965. In short, anything and everything was questioned, challenged and changed.
Xavier was no exception. Radical ideas were discussed, loud music was played, students staged protests. Some say it began when Mary Lynn Tekeulve walked onto campus.
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