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Stewardship and Dr. Willke


Following are my remarks from today’s Memorial Mass for Jean C. Willke:

Stewardship is a rare concept in American life — an idea that expresses a profound sense of responsibility for the integrity and vitality of our assets and resources, our institutions, and vital human processes like learning and the discovery of knowledge.

Jean Willke was a remarkable steward of Trinity’s assets — intellectual, spiritual, human. Her devotion to each was in full measure.

To her beloved discipline of History, Jean was indeed a faithful disciple. She plumbed the depths of the historical circumstances of 19th and 20th Century ideologies and events and movements and dictators and nations. No superficial reading of current events would satisfy her critical sense of scholarship; underneath each facile student conclusion lay the scholar’s truth of a much more complicated web of remote and immediate forces and conditions that gave a whole new meaning to the surface perceptions.

Teaching was her great love, and she well knew the power she wielded to shape the eager young minds she encountered each day. She may have been at her most effective when she wielded the pedagogy of high expectations. Jean expected a student to come to class well-prepared. She expected us to know the differences among the legitimate monarchs and illegitimate dictators, the myriad “isms” of the premodern era. She expected her students to love History as much as she did, and to quest for Truth with equally as much zeal as her own.

Dr. Willke expected Trinity to be faithful to this discipline as well. Surely one of Trinity’s greatest academic and intellectual leaders in the 20th Century, Dr. Willke was steadfast in her devotion to the foundation of the liberal arts. On more than one occasion, during my early presidency, when we would venture into the tricky terrain of curriculum reform, Jean would set that firm steely gaze upon me and state — without emotion but with clear resolve — that the curriculum could certainly not fall victim to what might be considered “trendy.” Trendiness, indeed, was the great enemy of curricular integrity in Dr. Willke’s stewardship of Trinity’s intellectual assets during her years as academic dean and vice president.

Jean cared deeply about her colleagues, as much as she doted on her students. She was fiercely loyal and even protective, while also having the good sense to guide younger colleagues wisely when they strayed into dangerous territory — the trendy, the superficial, the irrelevant, the disloyal. She was a wise oracle for so many new faculty, and a beloved friend and confidante for senior faculty. She did her best to try to give guidance and good advice to me when I was a very new, very inexperienced president, and I’m sure that this effort left her frustrated more often than not, but there she was each day being the best steward she could possibly be of the assets of Trinity she held so dear. She tried her very best to teach me to do the same. She should have all the credit for the lessons that flourished, but no blame for those that may have fallen on deaf ears.

She was equally a conscientious steward of Trinity’s spiritual life, ensuring that this community remembered its roots and traditions as a Catholic college formed in the grand tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Jean, Dr. Willke, Dean Jean — we remember you with fondness and gratitude today. We enjoy the results of your faithful stewardship of Trinity’s assets, made so much stronger for future generations through your loyal devotion to this great College. We are confident that you now know completely and eternally the power, wisdom and love of the Most Holy Trinity.

Anne Bronte leaves us on a happier note, from her poem “Farewell:”

Farewell to thee! But not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.

And so shall our memories of Jean.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: