WILKES-BARRE — The Rev. Tom O’Hara isn’t quite sure he should have been chosen to give the commencement address at the college he both graduated from and served as president for 12 years.
“I love King’s College, I’m happy to come back,” O’Hara said via phone from Chicago, where he was attending one of what he concedes seems an endless schedule of meetings and administrative duties as Provincial Superior for the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the religious order that founded King’s.
Asked what his speech will be about for his alma mater’s 69th commencement May 20 at the Mohegan Sun Arena, he offered a confession.
“My schedule has been so incredibly busy I haven’t put anything to paper yet. It will be a simple address, and some words of advice from the last six years of my traveling around the world with different Holy Cross missions.”
A Hazleton native who graduated from King’s in 1971, O’Hara spent most of his priesthood serving as a King’s faculty member and administrator before becoming the eighth president in 1999, the first alumnus to hold that post. He served 12 years, and stepped down only to take on a bigger job as Provincial Superior overseeing a congregation that encompasses three other institutions of higher learning, including Notre Dame University, and stretches to South America and Africa.
He gained some national notice as president in May 2008 when The Chronicle of Higher Education put his picture on the cover. He was shown climbing cluttered steps past peeling paint in an old, abandoned commercial building across form the college on North Main Street. The building has since been torn down and the blighted block renovated for college use, and the article highlighted such developments at both King’s College and Wilkes University as examples of a growing trend of higher education playing bigger roles in urban development.
O’Hara has no special haunts he yearns to visit when he comes for commencement, though he did point out “I’m Irish, and the Irish have this thing with death. We can’t let it go. My parents and sister are buried in Hazleton and I’ll visit them.
“I go back to the cemeteries to give thanks for who they were in my life.”
He is completing his six-year term as provincial, but current President The Rev. John Ryan need not fear for his job. Asked if he’d consider returning to run King’s, O’Hara laughed.
“No, I’ve been president and I’ve been provincial. I’m going to find someplace where I can just be a priest.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish