Homily for Fr. Creighton Memorial Mass

Homily given by the Rev. Jim Clifton, SJ, assistant professor of medicine

Memorial Mass for the Rev. Matthew E. Creighton, SJ
The 21st President of Creighton University: 1978-1981
Entered into Eternal Life Nov. 23, 2018
The Church of St. John at Creighton University
Dec. 11, 2018

Note: the readings for the Mass were the usual readings for Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent (Lectionary 182). Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 96; and Matthew 18:12-14.

“Comfort. Give Comfort to my people, says your God.” Those words through the prophet Isaiah set the tone for our readings today, which are full of assurances of every kind. It is as though God were saying to us, “let me tell you of the thousand things that my love means for you, and how desperately I long for you to know my love, to be transformed by my love, and to share my love.”

In the face of the power of that love, everything is transformed. Even the wasteland becomes a straight path, suggesting something about God’s ability to transform even the “deserts” of our restlessness in our own flesh, our fears, our limitation, our sin, our shame… into a source of graced solidarity, hard-won wisdom, and deeply-felt compassion for the wastelands of others.

God speaks to us today about every kind of restoration and redemption, of setting things right, of making things new. Of true shepherding by the One whose love is so urgent that we can never be lost, in spite of our bewildering tendency to wander away from the flock.

The challenge God sets before us: live, here and now, as one who knows and trusts God’s love, God’s redemption, God’s transformation, God’s shepherding. Live as one who knows that the truest thing about you, the only unchanging thing about you, is that you are loved so urgently by a God who is constantly longing to be with you. Live today as one who knows why the Lord comes to us in flesh.

By living that love, transform the world around you. Tell God’s glory among the nations; among all peoples, God’s wondrous deeds. Announce God’s salvation, day after day. Live our mission as disciples.

We remember today Fr. Matthew E. Creighton, SJ, part of whose discipleship was to serve as the 21st President of Creighton University. Fr. Creighton, who served from 1978 to 1981, was known as “the Centennial President” because his inauguration coincided with Creighton’s 100th anniversary (which, by the way, was also the occasion for the US Postal Service to award Creighton its unique zip code: 68178).

Think of the Church, and the world, those 40 years ago! Jimmy Carter was president, and the nation would soon be in the thick of the Iran Hostage Crisis, all 444 days of it. Pope Paul VI died as Fr. Creighton took up the helm at Creighton; Pope John Paul I lived only 33 days as Holy Father, and was succeeded by Pope John Paul II, now a Saint. “Grease” and “Animal House” were released, and the minimum wage was $2.65 per hour. And at Creighton? The Kiewit Fitness Center was brand new, and the then St. Joseph Hospital had opened only months before Fr. Creighton became President. St. John’s Church had only just received its steeple, and the inside was resplendent in red carpeting!

Fr. Creighton succeeded Fr. Joseph Labaj, whose tenure included the opening of the then-new Boyne School of Dentistry and the Ahmanson School of Law as well as the hiring of a significant number of young faculty, many of whom spent their careers here and retired over the past 10 years. Fr. Creighton’s special gift was to build and enhance structures to support faculty research and grants, in order to raise the academic profile of our University and provide the very best educational opportunities to our students. Fr. Creighton was himself a talented wordsmith, and enjoyed great success in grant submission in part because of the elegance of his prose. Similarly, his addresses to the University and his representation of Creighton externally were always beautifully crafted.

He oversaw a dramatic expansion in the size of our student body, and opened three additional residence halls to accommodate our growth. There will be a prize at the end of Mass for anyone who can name those three halls, both with their original and present names. Fr. Hendrickson will award that prize, I’m sure.

Fr. Creighton was a Classicist, and perhaps one of his greatest joys was that the then-Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus had chosen Creighton as the home for a restored “juniorate” program of humanities studies for young Jesuits who had just completed their novitiate period of formation. That program opened in August of 1979 at Campion House and that was where I had the privilege of coming to know him, as a member of the first class of scholastics. To Fr. Creighton’s delight, the curriculum emphasized not only the humanities generally but the Classics in particular. He doted on us scholastics and made it a point to attend many of our seminars and other functions – quite a commitment for a busy University president. I think he was secretly quite envious of Fr. Greg Carlson who taught us Classical Greek Drama, and of Fr. Len Waters, who taught us a course in Poetry.

Fr. Creighton, originally from the Chicago province and never having served outside of his home territory, quickly came to love Creighton University and Omaha. He would be very proud today of our “Leading with the Liberal Arts” Strategic Plan theme, and of the wonderful beginnings of the Kingfisher Institute. He would be proud of our leadership in offering research opportunities to undergrads. He was a generous apostle who gave himself fully to help Creighton take its next steps, and with that same generosity helped prepare Fr. Michael Morrison as his successor. May he, Fr. Labaj, Fr. Morrison, and all who have served usso well, rest in peace.

May we all, each in our own way, with the gifts the Spirit has given us, tell God’s glory among the nations, and among all peoples, God’s wondrous deeds.

Fr. Jim Clifton, SJ

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