More than 1,200 people converged on the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary’s College March 16 for the inauguration of its 12th president, Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, in a ceremony paying homage to the Catholic college’s past and looking ahead to a future preparing students to be “weavers of tomorrow.”As alumnae and guests waited inside neighboring St. Vincent Church, a grand procession of MSMC’s faculty, administrators, regents and special guests exited the college gates from Chester Place onto Adams Boulevard, where the sidewalk was lined on both sides by smiling students wearing bright yellow polo shirts for the historic occasion. 

Spontaneous applause greeted McElaney-Johnson as she entered St. Vincent’s at the end of the academic procession, which also included Archbishop José Gomez, L.A.’s former mayor Richard Riordan, Second District L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Dr. Jacqueline Powers Doud, MSMC president emerita, and Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Karen Kennelly, MSMC former president. McElaney-Johnson will be the second laywoman to head MSMC, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as a women’s college in 1925. 

“Every Catholic college is a witness and an heir to the great tradition of Christian humanism that continues to shape our Western societies,” said Archbishop Gomez in his remarks before giving the invocation. 

Noting that “it is a noble calling to lead a Catholic college,” he added that it takes humility, prudence and courage as well as a lot of prayer and grace to always make sure that the identity and purpose of Catholic institutions is “not only a proud legacy, but a living force that inspires our goals and everything we do.”

Leading off the distinguished guests giving official greetings, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Barbara Anne Stowasser noted that MSMC began in a small two-story building on Crenshaw and Slauson with 25 students. It now has more than 2,000 students, “primarily women but with a few good men,” on two campuses (including the Chalon Campus in Brentwood).

“As a congregation dedicated to all of which woman is capable, we pledge our support and entrust to you our hopes and dreams,” Sister Stowasser told McElaney-Johnson. “Through your leadership, may our graduates continue to make a difference in the lives of those they touch, and may that touch be a spark that brings light and peace to our world.”

Representing the 300-member faculty, Dr. Helen Boutrous, president of the faculty assembly, said the new president was following in the footsteps of MSMC administrators who were committed to excellence, honor and integrity in academia.

“In you, we see a leader who will continue that legacy and partner with us to nurture a robust intellectual environment in the true Catholic intellectual tradition,” said Boutrous. “In you, we see vibrant intelligence, life-affirming optimism, commitment to the role of faculty in the life of this college and the will to achieve your goals on behalf of our students. In you, we see the future. May you feel the spirit and strength of our founders as you carry out your mission.”

McElaney-Johnson’s investiture was administered by Michael A. Enright, chair of the college’s board of trustees, who gave her a gold medallion “signifying the office of service and leadership among us.”

Following a standing ovation, McElaney-Johnson was presented a gift of lace from Le Puy, France, where the CSJ congregation was founded in 1650 and members taught impoverished women the craft of lace-making. 

A second presentation of two lanterns engraved with words of the college seal, “Deus illuminatio mea” (God is my light), was made by associated student body presidents Christina Villagomez ’12 and Amanda Chavez ’14 for the new president’s two offices at the Chalon and Doheny campuses.

In her inaugural address, “Leading by Design: A 21st Century Vision for Higher Education,” McElaney-Johnson said MSMC’s history has been shaped by the CSJs’ founding ministry to those most in need, when “the [lace thread] bobbins flew and the design formed.

“We are the legacy of this profound design,” declared the new president, who added that leadership and service are “in our DNA.” She pledged that MSMC’s students would be prepared for lives of service in a world “where complexity, diversity and change are constant… We cannot shy away from the task of creating the weavers of tomorrow.”

Reflecting on the new president’s comments, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Judy Molosky, former MSMC faculty member, said McElaney-Johnson’s inaugural address was very moving. 

“For me, her dedication to the history of the Mount and her commitment to young women in this city was inspiring and pushed the edges of thought and the past into a boundary-less future,” said Sister Molosky. “We don’t know where the future is going to be, so the weaving of that lace image was exactly what this president should be about and it looks like that’s what she’s going to be about.”

“What I thought was really inspiring about the new president’s speech is how motivated she is to be in contact with the faculty and her dedication toward the students,” said Erica Chavez, a sophomore gerontology student at Doheny. “I haven’t met her personally, but she seems very humble and excited to be here at MSMC.”

“I feel that she’s going to do a good job of preserving what we have now and also making moves to the 21st century with the use of technology,” said Karla Molina, a sophomore sociology major. 

“I loved Ann’s enthusiasm and she just seems to fit so well with who we are,” said Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Marilyn Binder, a former trustee. “I really do believe she will be somebody who can walk us into the future with great vitality.”

“We are thrilled to have Ann McElaney-Johnson,” said Doud, her predecessor. “The most beautiful part is that our transition is seamless. I think we are very blessed to have found Ann [who] accepted this magnificent mission at Mount St. Mary’s, carrying it forward.”

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