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Ex-pat Irish Jesuit recalls election night

Donal Godfrey SJThere was no escaping the US Presidential election over the last two weeks, so AMDG Express sought a personal viewpoint from Donal Godfrey, the Cork-born Irish Jesuit who is head chaplain in the University of San Francisco. Donal responded at once with an engaging account of his experience on campus, where he was pictured with a life-size cut-out of his favoured candidate. Read Donal’s story below

A new dawn, a new day

Donal Godfrey SJ

When I can, I go running each Saturday morning. Two months ago I spoke with Tim, one of those I go jogging with in the Golden Gate Park. Tim said that while he hoped for Obama to be elected, he simply believed middle America, as he called it, would never ever vote for a black President. I told Tim that I heard Obama in person at Loyola University Chicago three years ago where he was senator: and that if any black person could succeed in becoming President it would be him. I also marched in the same St Patrick’s Day parade as Obama four years ago in Chicago. As Fintan O’Toole tells it, only slightly exaggerating, Obama was then the newly elected senator from Illinois, barely noticed, at the end of the parade just before the sweepers cleaning up after the parade. Certainly he was not on my radar screen that day.

Last Tuesday was a most remarkable day to be here in San Francisco. I have never seen such interest from young adults as I saw that day at the University of San Francisco where I am the head chaplain.  Young Americans have tended to be politically apathetic. But not this time around. Obama has motivated the young to become involved like never before. I hope that this is not simply a one-off thing but translates into the young becoming involved in transformational politics for the common good.

Donal Godfrey SJTuesday night I joined hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered to watch the results on large screens over pizza and candyfloss. In this picture you see the students of the University of San Francisco waiting anxiously for the results on election night. I stand back right in a blue shirt, next to Fr Stephen Privett, SJ who is the President of the University and will be conferring the honorary degree on Mary McAleese in a few weeks. Life-size cardboard cutouts of the four main candidates were raffled off after many of us had stood in line to have our photographs taken with one of them. I lined up for one with Obama.

Then when Obama was declared winner, a huge scream of joy emerged from almost all the students and faculty assembled there. Only a couple looking glum sat in the corner. Many, especially our African American students, broke down in tears. I found myself choking up and I don’t remember ever being so moved at the election of a candidate for any political office. As a fellow Paraguayan Jesuit, here to study music, put it, now in the midst of all the terrible problems of our world, at last we can find some hope.

The next day I spoke with Danielle, one of our student interns at University Ministry who had been present at the celebrations the night before. Danielle is an African American from Texas and told me that in her small town in Texas, reactions had been very different from us in San Francisco. There, she told me, black people were celebrating and overjoyed; however the white majority in the town were despondent, angry, and depressed. I said: “Danielle we obviously live in a very different America.” And Danielle responded: Yes, I am so grateful to have been here in Sa Francisco and not at home for the elections.”

It remains to be seen if Obama becomes the transformational president that is his potential.
Nonetheless things will never be the same again in the United States. I sense a shift in consciousness, a different level of conversation, the hope that comes from knowing a black person will now be the President. As one commentator put it on Tuesday night the Civil War has finally ended.