Flying with Monk

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

Back in 1993 the editor of this magazine, Walt Collins ‘51, asked me to write about Father Monk Malloy, CSC, University president. It is not an easy task, writing about the person who is ultimately your boss in a manner appropriate for this magazine.

Now, in a reversal, I asked Walt to profile Monk as he nears the end of his remarkable, 18-year tenure as president of this University. Monk will step down this summer, leaving the presidency to John Jenkins, CSC, and the University a far different place from the one he inherited in 1987. Walt’s piece presents a man very comfortable in his own skin, leading a world-class institution to impressive achievements.

Monk is a distinctive character in the world of college presidents. He is a Catholic priest. For decades he has lived among students in a small, single room in one of the oldest residence halls on campus. Throughout that time he has led a troop of student hoopsters over to Moreau Seminary for weekly late-night basketball games. Throughout his presidency he has taught a freshman seminar. He has remained true to himself in the midst of all the travel and engagements and demands that come with presiding over one of the nation’s most visible and ambitious universities.

My favorite image of Monk is a personal one, coming from that assignment I had years ago to write about him. We flew together from South Bend to Dayton, Ohio, where he was to say Mass and speak to an alumni gathering. As we boarded the University’s little four-seater, propeller-driven airplane, the pilot said, “It’s going to be a rough flight, Father. There’s real bad weather between here and Dayton, and there’s no way to go above or around it. It’ll be pretty bumpy going through.”

I am not a happy flier under any circumstances. I had been told that Monk does not like to converse on airplanes, so not to try talking to him. I tried reading a book but read the same sentence for the entire round trip. My fingers dug like claws into the armrests. The whole flight was awful—there and back. We bounced and plummeted, jerked and careened, with lightning flashing right outside the windows. Despite being strapped in, I flew off the seat a bunch of times, my head banging off the interior surfaces with an ouch. I actually prayed for God to deliver me safely from this rollicking, pint-sized airplane.

Because of the seating configuration, Monk and I faced each other, knees only a foot or two apart. Monk worked on crossword puzzles. Didn’t appear to notice the plane was moving at all. Seemingly oblivious to all that was roiling around him. Never looked up, hardly paused between answers. He had brought five or six crossword puzzles clipped from The New York Times_. I’d guess he finished two or three on each leg of the round trip—his erudition as impressive as his calm.

That is my enduring image of Monk. It says important things about him. I’d also like to thank him for all the good he’s done for this University and to say thanks, too, for letting this magazine be what it is. That, too, is a sign of uncommon leadership.

_Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.