BY CHLOE BECKER | January 21, 2021
On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris noticeably incorporated Jesuits in significant roles in the ceremonies. The morning’s Inaugural Mass was celebrated by presider Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., the president of Santa Clara University and a friend of the Biden family; the Inauguration’s invocation was given by Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., the director of mission for the U.S. branch of Jesuit Refugee Service, a former president of Georgetown University, and a longtime friend of Biden.
As the second Catholic U.S. president to date, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, their families, and Congressional leaders attended the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for an inaugural Mass. In his homily, Fr. O’Brien likened the Gospel reading from Luke to that of an inaugural address from Jesus; In the passage, Jesus explains to his followers what will be the core of His ministry: “to care for the poor, free the oppressed, and relieve people of their burdens.” Fr. O’Brien continued by relaying that like Jesus’ “inaugural address,” so will Biden’s address capture the spirit of the Gospel message一“to help and protect people and to advance justice and reconciliation, especially for those who are too often looked over and left behind.” His homily concluded by reminding President Biden and Vice President Harris一and all of us, who are to follow in the same divine pursuit for justice一that amidst the chaos and struggle to bridge division and disseminate hatred, God will be near to provide the peace needed for them to persevere.
Fr. O’Donovan, who delivered the inaugural invocation, has had a strong relationship with the Biden family for decades. When he was president of Georgetown University, Fr. O’Donovan encouraged Biden to give a speech at the school on the role his faith had played in his political career (the first time he would publicly engage with the subject), and presided over the funeral Mass for Biden’s son, Beau. In his inauguration day invocation, Fr. O’Donovan’s prayer reflected this respect for President Biden’s service and character, expressing that he is indeed entering office in a time of great need, but also at a moment where hope is tangible.
He centered his prayer for the new administration on justice, proclaiming, “Today, we confess our past failures to live according to our vision of equality, inclusion, and freedom for all.” In further emphasis, Fr. O’Donovan defined what American patriotism truly is: “not of power and privilege but of care for the common good—‘with malice toward none and with charity for all.’” His invocation made no hesitation in drawing references to scripture一including Solomon and Letter of James一and even quoted Pope Francis’ reminder to us: “how important it is to dream together…. By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built Together.” As he concluded, Fr. O’Donovan called upon God, the “Holy Mystery of Love,” to help the nation, through the Biden/Harris Administration, “reconcile the people of our land, restore our dream, and invest it with peace and justice and the joy that is the overflow of love.”
Fr. O’Donovan’s connection to Jesuit Refugee Service/USA offers significant hope for President Biden’s incoming agenda on immigration. Biden himself has supported JRS/USA, delivering an address this past November at their 40th anniversary event. In his address, he promised to increase the U.S. refugee ceiling to 125,000, and affirmed that the Biden/Harris administration would prioritize the protection of refugees and their rights throughout their time in office.
Chloe Becker is an artist committed to creating Catholic art for racial justice. She graduated from Magnificat High School in 2020, is currently taking a gap year, and will be attending Harvard University in the fall of 2021. She is spending her time this year in Cleveland, Ohio as an intern at ISN and doing lots of painting. In 2019, she painted a mural at her high school to strengthen the Catholic Church’s voice against racism, which gained attention over social media and was published in an article in America Magazine. She spoke at the 2019 Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, and has had her writing published by ISN.