By Brian Doyle
On September 27, 2013, University of Portland president Fr. Bill Beauchamp announced that he will retire at the end of the 2013-14 academic year. Fr. Bill’s dedicated leadership has steered the University over this past decade, and UP has risen to remarkable heights during his tenure, many of which you can read about here.
But we thought it would be fun to look back to 2003, when Fr. Bill was first named president.
In this piece by Brian Doyle from the Fall 2003 issue of Portland Magazine, Fr. Bill shares some of his own personal story and discusses what he hoped to accomplish during his tenure at the helm.
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Notes on the character and history and memories and convictions of the University’s new president, Father Bill Beauchamp.
He grew up under oaks and elms and maples. He played stoopball in the street from dawn to dusk with Butch and Larry and Fred and George and Billy. He went to Saint James School and at lunch he’d run to the family grocery store for soup or a sandwich and then run back to Saint James. His sister went to Saint James and his mom went to Saint James and his dad went to Saint James and his grandparents were the first parishioners at Saint James when the church building was still a chicken coop and Ferndale was pretty much still farms even though it bordered the city of Detroit.
“That was just after my paternal grandfather had come down to America from French Canada,” says Bill Beauchamp. “He started the first grocery store in town, Beauchamp’s Market. My maternal grandfather was an organ and piano player who played in theaters during silent movies, but when the talkies came in he never played again, not even in church, not once. It was the oddest thing. He started working for the city, and when he did there were crosses burned in their yard.
“My mom and dad and sister and I lived in a little house near Eight Mile Road. I remember listening to the Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and The Green Hornet on the radio, and being an altar boy, and walking the golf course where my cousins and I caddied. I even remember the night we got our first television set. I was eight years old, and I remember it was a Wednesday in Lent, because we went to church instead of watching television.
“I was a straight arrow as a kid. I loved sports but I wasn’t much of an athlete. You know how a kid knows inside himself whether he’s a good athlete or not? I knew I wasn’t so good. I was the romantic lead in the senior play, though – Jenny Kissed Me, by Jean Kerr – and I won the religion medal, and I was the salutatorian, and like every Catholic teenage boy in America in 1958 I thought about the seminary, and I interviewed for it, and took a test and all, but I just didn’t feel any real feeling for it then. I just wanted to be a typical guy, you know – get married and have kids and have a job and be independent.
“I wanted to go to Notre Dame for college, but we just couldn’t afford it. I remember having one of those real honest conversations with my dad about that. So I went to the University of Detroit, which was a big commuter school in 1960. Started as a chemical engineering major but I was awful at chemistry, so I switched into accounting, partly because I took an aptitude test right about then which told me I had empathy for people, a sharp sense for business, and a talent for pastoral matters – predictions which fascinate me now, looking back at a career as priest and accountant and attorney.
“I worked all through college, for a direct mail firm and a visiting nurses association and for an engineering firm and as comptroller of the student council, and I did pretty well, finished first in the business school, and then I started in to work right after graduation, as a financial analyst for Burroughs. This is 1965 now and I had registered for the draft but I was never called up – I suspect because my local draft board had so many enlistees that they never dipped into the student deferment pool.
“In 1966 I got an offer to teach accounting and business law at Alma College, right in the middle of Michigan. Well, I was 24 years old and still living with my parents, so I took it, and I did that for three years, and then worked in the admission office for three more years, and I made dear friends there, and dated some lovely women in Alma – let’s see, Linda, Sharon, Shirley, you don’t need to know more – but I was still restless. It was time to move on, so I applied to law school. This time I did get into Notre Dame, and I started in 1972.
“I needed a job, though, and the only one I could find was to be an RA in Grace Hall. I’d never set foot on the campus, never lived in a dorm, and I was thirty years old – not your usual RA profile. But I figured I could do anything for three years, and that turned out to be my first step toward Holy Cross. I owe my vocation to that job. I met really generous and fascinating priests – men like Don McNeil and Tom McNally and Claude Pomerleau and the late Mike McCafferty. I became aware of priests who were also scholars and teachers and activists and counselors. I began to think it might be possible to be a lawyer and a priest, which intrigued me.
“But I figured maybe this was all just the aura of Notre Dame, so when I graduated I figured I had to get away. I went back to Alma, this time as a lawyer with my friend Bill Goggin, and I was a lawyer for three years. Then I got an offer from a firm in Cincinnati, and I was all ready to take it, but one day I faced the fact that I had never resolved that nagging thought about being a Holy Cross priest.
“So I figured I’d face it, and I went to see the vocation director, a great guy named Father Joe Carey.
“’I’m not holy and I don’t pray,’ I told him.
“’Then you’ll be a great priest,’ he quipped.
“Well, I took the application home and thought on it for two months and finally I filled it in and I was accepted as a candidate. My mom and dad drove me to the seminary. My dad didn’t say anything and all my mom said was if I was going to quit the order, at least I should leave before ordination.
“Dry Irish sense of humor, my mom.
“In seminary I was out of synch with the other guys – I was 35 years old by then, and used to being on my own. But I was calmer too, maybe. I didn’t have to answer the interior questions they did, about marriage and children and independence.
“Well, I didn’t quit, and I spent one summer here at the University of Portland, working downtown with alcoholics at the DePaul Center and living on campus. I was ordained in 1982, and started teaching law at Notre Dame, and working as assistant to the executive vice president, Father Ned Joyce. I learned a lot in those years – primarily that I was wrong to think that being a priest fit into being a lawyer. It had to be the other way around for me – being a priest first and everything else second. That took a while for me to get straight, and by then it was 1987, and suddenly Father Monk Malloy was named president of Notre Dame and I was named executive vice president.
“That was June first, I remember that, because a hundred days later the police found my parents.”
Ed and Marion Beauchamp were murdered in their little house near Eight Mile Road in September of 1987. The man convicted of their murders was sentenced to prison for the rest of his days. Bill Beauchamp celebrated the funeral Mass for his mother and his father and then he presided at their burial and then he went back to work.
“I threw myself into work,” he says. “I did. It took me years and years to arrive at a peace. First I blocked it out and then I had a crisis of the soul. Did I believe what I preached or not? Did I believe such evil could exist in a world filled with holiness? And I found that I did believe. I came face to face with my faith. I believe in God’s grace and mercy. My parents are at peace. They are together. They are with God. We here are left to deal with it and we grapple the best we can. There is evil in the world that God made. I don’t understand why. Neither do you. No one does. But because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean we can’t battle it.”
Thirteen more years as vice president and professor at Notre Dame, thirteen years of running capital campaigns (more than a billion dollars raised, and Notre Dame’s endowment went from $400 million to $3.2 billion during Beauchamp’s tenure), and thousands of days and nights overseeing athletics and events and construction and maintenance and investments and legal affairs and finances, “everything except academics and student affairs,” and when the century turned Bill Beauchamp was worn and weary, and so when changes in Notre Dame’s administration needed to be made that year, he stopped being everything except a priest.
“I took a semester off,” he says. “I read a lot. I was appointed steward of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross. I got ready to teach law again, I had my class all lined up, I was eager, and then I went for a walk with David…”
Father David Tyson, that would be, then president of the University of Portland, now superior of the Indiana Province, a verrry persuasive man, who invited Beauchamp out west, and Tyson knew he’d hooked his man when Beauchamp hesitated a moment, there by the bookstore at Notre Dame, and then asked Tyson:
“Could I live in a residence hall?”
He could: he moved into Corrado Hall in the summer of 2002, when he started as the University’s senior vice president. In 2003 he became a finalist for president. In 2004, at age 61, he became the University’s 19th president (and moved out of Corrado into the president’s house in north campus). And what does the lad from Saint James School dream for the Catholic university he now leads?
“We are on the road to greatness,” he says. “We are. There’s not a lot that needs fixing. We are focused. But we need a lot more money. We need a lot more endowment. We need unassailable financial security. We are committed to faculty excellence, to our Catholic character, to a national athletic reputation, to creating an education of moral and civic and intellectual depth that will draw students from around the world. But to reach greatness we need much more support. We need a new recreational sports center, a new student center, new residence halls, a renovated library, a renovated engineering hall, a nursing center, more classroom space, more land, more money for faculty, and those are just the pressing needs.
“Can we do it? Yes. Will we? Let me put it this way: I believe in God and I believe in us.”