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Fr. Cavanagh: For three decades, he has been at heart of campus life

By Joe MacLean
On December 7, 2011

His office is tucked away in a corner of the Commerce and Finance Building, but frequently you will find him elsewhere: cheerfully roaming the campus, watching games at Calihan, conferring with students and colleagues.

For more than 30 years, Father Gerry Cavanagh has been a central part of life at McNichols and Livernois.

Many who come in contact with him are touched by his aura of positivity.

For Kathleen Walker, a university alum and director of the STAR program, his presence changes moods.

"His smile is infectious," said Walker. "If you are having a bad day and you are walking across campus and you see him coming the opposite way, immediately, it's like his smile makes the day

Cavanagh dedicated his life to his faith when he became a priest. He sacrificed having a family, but made room for the numerous people he has impacted.

"I decided to become a priest because I wanted to help people," said Cavanagh, whose 80th birthday was celebrated on campus in September. "I wanted to be with them in good times and in bad times. I wanted to introduce them to Jesus."

Cavanagh knows some people hear the word Jesus and ignore whatever comes after, but his passion is to follow and spread the message of Jesus, he said.

He said aims to inspire people to have goals other than the acquisition of money and possessions.

"For most people, even people who aren't believers, the goal is something beyond that," he said.

If most people focused on helping others, the world would be a better place, he said.

This message is incorporated into his lectures and teachings.

Cavanagh started his teaching career in 1970 at Wayne State University. He taught at Wayne for 10 years before coming to what was then the University of Detroit in 1980.

Cavanagh teaches at the business college and has published five books, some of which he uses as textbooks for his classes.

The university won over Cavanagh because it allowed him to blend ethics into his teachings.

"It's easier here to teach Business Ethics and Social Responsibility than it was at Wayne State," he said. "There you couldn't even talk about ethics. It was kind of a taboo word. I think it's better now, but I used to have to use the word ‘value.' "

Cavanagh has lectured, led workshops and consulted with business firms, governments and universities in the United States, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia, Europe and India.

John Dwyer, a junior accounting major at UDM, takes Cavanagh's Business in Society class.

"His understanding of the material and enthusiasm towards the class helps immensely with the learning process," said Dwyer. "He has all the answers, but lets the class figure them out rather than just give them to us."

In 2000, Cavanagh received UDM's Outstanding Faculty Award from his colleagues.

Walker understands Cavanagh's impact on UDM. She has seen his work from the perspective of both students and colleagues.

"During my undergraduate years I was very involved with Campus Ministry and that's how I met Father Cavanagh," she said. "He was a very active person in my life. He guided me in the right direction and I respected his advice."

Walker added that as a colleague Cavanagh is the same person. She said he is one of the most influential and genuine people she knows.

"He is a fabulous example of what our job as faculty really is, and that job is to be the spirit of Christ on earth," she said. 

 

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