PROVIDENCE — Providence College celebrated the inauguration of its 13th President, Father Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P., on Friday, Oct. 1, in a formal ceremony attended by representatives of the Diocese of Providence, the Dominican Order, state and local governments and numerous academic institutions. The event marked the beginning of a particularly momentous Homecoming Weekend for the school, culminating with a celebration at WaterFire and the long-postponed in-person Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2020.
Father Sicard had already been serving as the college’s president for over a year, having officially succeeded Father Brian Shanley on July 1, 2020. No ceremony could be held at the time due to ongoing pandemic restrictions. Father Shanley, now the president of St. John’s University in New York, returned to Providence to celebrate the investiture of his successor, who had previously served as his executive vice president and treasurer.
A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, Father Sicard is a two-time graduate of Providence College, receiving a Bachelor of Science in accountancy from the school in 1978 and a Masters of Business Administration in 1982. He earned his doctorate (in business education) from The Ohio State University in 1997, seven years after his ordination to the priesthood. His business acumen made him an invaluable member of Father Shanley’s administration, during which time he oversaw college operations ranging from marketing and human resources to athletics and student affairs.
“Father Sicard’s 14 years of service as Father Shanley’s executive vice president have uniquely prepared him to assume the responsibilities of president,” said the Very Rev. Kenneth Letoile, O.P., the Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph (the Dominican province for the Northeastern United States).
Father Letoile presented Father Sicard with the Great Seal of the College and the Medallion traditionally worn by college presidents; Christopher K. Reilly, the chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the new president with the charter originally issued to Providence College by the State of Rhode Island in 1917.
Auxiliary Bishop of Providence Robert C. Evans provided the Invocation for the ceremony, in which he prayed that the newly inaugurated president would “embody the spiritual virtues of the holy friar St. Dominic, by rigorous study and fervent prayer with sound preaching… That he may shine forth the light of truth who is your Son, Jesus Christ.”
Father Sicard has already had an opportunity to demonstrate those virtues through his competent handling of a remarkably challenging first year as president: taking office in the middle of the pandemic, he guided Providence College through the tumultuous 2020-21 academic year. In his remarks, Governor Daniel J. McKee praised Father Sicard’s COVID leadership, noting that the school recently attained a vaccination rate of 97%.
“Despite the challenges from this once in a century pandemic, Father Sicard navigated with grace, leading PC through COVID-19 while continuing to move the college towards its goal: providing the best education and experience for every student,” Gov. McKee said.
“Father Sicard truly embodies the missions of Providence College: faith and reason, academic excellence, community, and diversity.... On behalf of the entire State of Rhode Island, we thank him for all he’s done through the COVID-19 pandemic, and his continued leadership.”
These sentiments were echoed by Dr. Kelli J. Armstrong, the president of Salve Regina University, who offered congratulations on behalf of the presidents of Rhode Island’s 13 colleges and universities.
“As your colleagues, we witnessed your superb leadership as you shepherded Providence College with grace through many difficult decisions during the past 18 months,” Dr. Armstrong said. “Your fellow Rhode Island presidents know you to be a smart, generous, strategic and humble colleague, and we are honored to call you a friend.”
In his remarks, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza praised the close relationship between the college and its host city, saying that “the partnership between Providence College and the city has endured for many years because of a commitment on both sides to enrich each other. That commitment still stands, and I hope that it will only be strengthened in the future.”
Indeed, this relationship was celebrated in a special way on the evening of Saturday, October 2, when Providence College continued its homecoming celebrations by participating in a WaterFire lighting dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the school’s becoming coeducational.
Father Sicard was among some 100 torch bearers from the school who gathered on the banks of the Providence River to celebrate “50 Years of Women at PC.”
The alternate title of the event (“Then. Now. Next.”) drew a meaningful parallel with Father Sicard’s comments at his Investiture, which he framed around Pope St. John Paul II’s exhortation to “remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.”
“When future generations look back at the years leading up to and following our centennial in 2017, they will see them as the beginnings of a new golden age of Providence College,” Father Sicard said. “Notice that I said the beginnings of a new golden age: while we should remember our past with gratitude and live our present with enthusiasm, we should never become complacent, or to settle for where we are institutionally. We will constantly strive to improve and, as St. John Paul suggested, we will look forward to the future with confidence.”
“I’m often asked about my vision for Providence College. Because of my long, long affiliation with PC as a student, as a Dominican, as an administrator, and now as president, I have a lot of ideas. I treasure the traditions and the values which have defined us for more than a hundred years, and these will continue to provide the framework by which we define ourselves in the future. First and foremost is our identity as a Catholic and Dominican college. In even more robust ways, we will continue to define ourselves as unapologetically Catholic. And our goal is not to become a fortress for the devout, but a place of joyful welcome for every one of our students, faculty and staff who, through their experiences in our community, will come to know Truth and the tender love of God.”
Among the specific goals which Father Sicard outlined in his address was the development of new academic programs to meet the developing interests of prospective students. Noting that many prospective applicants were turned away by a lack of programs in the field of healthcare (particularly nursing), Father Sicard announced that the college was exploring the possibilities of introducing programs which “focus on the care of others and respect for the dignity of every person,” adding that such programs would allow the school “to leverage the recent investments we have made in our science facilities.”
The weekend ended with Providence College finally conducting its 102nd Commencement Exercises in person on Sunday, Oct. 3. The Class of 2020 (which had received their degrees in a virtual ceremony held May 17 of that year) were initially invited to a postponed ceremony to be held in October of 2020, though the lingering pandemic interfered with those plans as well. About 60% of the Class of 2020’s 1345 graduates returned for the ceremony, an attendance rate nearly double the reported average for postponed graduation ceremonies.
In his Commencement address, Father Sicard praised the graduates for displaying “the resiliency which has characterized Providence College throughout its storied history,” saying that “the story of the Class of 2020 will be yet another inspiring chapter when its history is written.”
As Providence College enters into the next chapter of its own remarkable history under Father Sicard, the Friars truly have reason to “look forward to the future with confidence.”
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