ARLINGTON, Virginia — Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass in the Sacred Heart of Mary Chapel on the campus of Marymount University in Arlington to kick off inauguration events for Irma Becerra March 28.
Becerra was installed formally as the university’s seventh president in a ceremony following Mass. She began her tenure July 1, 2018, succeeding Matthew D. Shank.
“Dr. Becerra, you are not being inaugurated as the new president of Marymount today by some sort of chance or coincidence,” Burbidge said during his homily.
“From the very beginning, God has been preparing you for today,” he said. “You are here because it is his holy will for you. We are blessed that, with his grace, you have said ‘yes’ to his plan. As you know, that ‘yes’ needs to be renewed each and every day.”
“We celebrate this Mass in honor of our Blessed Mother, so dear to this university since its founding,” said Burbidge, who heads the Arlington Diocese. “Dr. Becerra, what a model and inspiration you have in Mary. Just this week we were reminded of the message she received from the angel and her privileged role in salvation history as she was called to be the Mother of God. Although mysterious, she said ‘yes’ to his divine will.”
Susan Lace and Lita Treacy, co-chairs of the Inaugural Committee, served as masters of ceremony. Burbidge delivered the invocation, which was followed by comments from a number of speakers, including Sister Catherine Patten, provincial superior of the Eastern American Province of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary; Becerra’s children, Anthony and Nicole Fernandez; Burbidge; and Ed Bersoff, chairman of the board of trustees.
“United with all those in the Diocese of Arlington, I express sincere congratulations to you on this joyful and historic day as you are inaugurated as the seventh president of Marymount University,” said Burbidge. “We know that you are here as part of God’s divine plan and we thank you for your ‘yes’ to his holy will. Be assured of my support and daily prayers for you and the Marymount University community.”
The bishop talked about the “essential characteristics” of a Catholic university as taught by St. John Paul II.
“A Catholic university must be a place where persons come together to learn, research and serve others together, not simply as a collection of individuals but as a true community,” Burbidge said.
“A Catholic university is a place where the light of Christ reveals the deep and true meaning of our growing treasury of human knowledge. We do not hesitate to apply the wisdom of our faith to the challenges that we face in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the world,” he continued. “This requires, of course, that we remain faithful to the Lord and the truth of the Gospel.
“Finally, in a Catholic university, we work together in service of one another and the whole human family for the greater glory of God.”
He urged Becerra to “promote the community of this university and its Catholic identity” through her “leadership of service.”
“Always recognize that the Lord has not given you a burden but a great privilege as you are entrusted with advancing the mission of Marymount University,” he said. “Your faith, zeal, enthusiasm, dedication, hard work and joy are already known to us and you clearly understand that in order to live out the many responsibilities entrusted to you, you must turn daily to God for with him all things are possible.”
In her inaugural address, Becerra said, “While guided by the legacy of Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary Sister Magella Berg, we now look to the future with the leadership of our board, faculty, staff and students. Marymount is an aspirational university and in many ways the goals of this campus match my own.”
The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary founded Marymount. Berg was the university’s third president, serving for 33 years, from 1960 to 1993. The nation’s longest-serving female college president, she died in 2004 at age 87.
“The idea to think big was first established by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary when they decided Marymount would provide young women practical education grounded in career preparation and liberal arts,” Becerra said. “We, too, must adapt to meet the educational demands of our time.
“Like Sister Magella, we must be fearless, forward-thinking and willing to take risks while upholding outstanding educational standards,” she added.
Becerra also introduced the implementation of the 2019-2024 Momentum: Strategic Plan, which she said would focus on four areas: distinctive identity, transformative experiences, vibrant community and sustainable future. It also includes a $250 million endowment.
An entire week of events surrounded the inauguration, including lectures, sports, art openings and a student ball.
Becerra, a Cuban-born American, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Miami and became the first woman to earn a doctorate in engineering from Florida International University in Miami. She then worked as a professor there and later led the school’s Entrepreneurship Center.
Elliott is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.