On Sunday, June 30th, College of the Atlantic memorialized the life and contributions of Father Jim Gower, the College’s co-founder. This was my introduction to that ceremony.
Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life and work of Father Jim Gower. My name is Darron Collins and I’m the president of College of the Atlantic and an alumnus from the class of 1992.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Fr. Jim all that well, neither in my role as president nor as a student two decades ago. By the time I’d arrived on campus the second time around, Fr. Jim’s health had already began to fail. I’ll never forget my first summer here though, less than two years ago; it was about my first order of business to call up Ed Kaelber and pay a visit to Fr. Jim at his home in Birch Bay.
Tired and a bit distracted, Fr. Jim’s eyes lit up like a flame when Ed walked into the room and that’s when I came to know — however briefly — the smile that he was known for. Indeed, it was a magical smile that spoke of brilliance, compassion, love and all the other characters that will be discussed today.
And the smile widened even more once we spoke of the College. Ed said, “Jim this is the College’s new president, and he was a student there too.” “Wonderful!” — he said. “I love those students.”
Fr. Jim’s love in that moment both reflected and embodied the purpose of College of the Atlantic — it’s all about the students. Though his faculties may have started to fail rather quickly, it was brilliantly clear from that first visit, and the half dozen or so that followed, this College held a very special place in his heart. I’m honored to have been shaped so completely by his and Les Brewer’s brainchild, and am also honored to have the opportunity to help steer the college into the future.
Part of my commitment to this school will be to rekindle the discussion and influence of spirituality as a part of the curriculum and experience of attending the College of the Atlantic. I’ve been told time and time again about how, in some of the most desperate or difficult times at COA, Fr. Jim — in the kindest, gentlest, and most non-denominational way — would ask for a certain modicum of spiritual reflection. Similarly, as our students face a world of human ecological problem solving, there can be no doubt that many, many actors operate within a spiritual or devoutly religious framework. In both cases — for the operations of the College and the operation of the world — religion and spirituality have utilitarian value for an institution like ours.
But it goes beyond that. I want our students to be comfortable with the idea that this world does have un-knowable qualities and quantities; that immersing oneself in the un-knowable is neither egotistical nor immature; that reflection on the un-knowable somehow produces new understanding of what it means to be a human on this planet; like science, like the written word, and like the arts, spirituality helps us make sense of complexity, helps bring life and hope into a world that too often feels lifeless and seems hopeless.
I owe that — and we owe that — to the man that helped breathe life into this absolutely incredible institution.