Bagpipes and colorful academic robes marked the official changing of the guard at Canisius College Saturday, as the Rev. Vincent M. Cooke became the college's 23rd president by replacing a man who had become an institution himself at the Main Street college.
Father Cooke's installation at the Koessler Athletic Center completed the change that began last July when he succeeded the Very Rev. James M. Demske after three decades spent as Canisius' president.
Father Demske, who is now the college chancellor, took only a small role in the proceedings Saturday, as if not to overshadow a day celebrating his successor.
Before an audience of 1,000, Father Cooke officially began his tenure by calling for character, as well as intellect, to be the Canisius educational mission.
Bagpipes of the Caledonia Pipe Band and Gordon Highlanders accompanied the procession of Canisius faculty and representatives of sister institutions. The Buffalo Brass Quintet and Galliard Brass filled the gymnasium with celebratory music.
Mayor Masiello, a 1969 Canisius graduate, recalled helping lay the cornerstone of the Koessler Center when he was a student.
"This institution has shaped the minds and hearts and the destiny of many people," Masiello said of his alma mater to its new president. "You have a friend in the people of Buffalo and Western New York."
Father Cooke, 57, continues the unbroken line of Jesuit priests who have led Western New York's largest private college since it began in 1870 in a former bookstore on Washington Street.
He came to the Canisius from John Carroll University in Cleveland, where he was vice president and a philosophy professor. A New York City native, he grew up in Hoboken, N.J.
Father Demske was not among the day's speakers. He assisted Robert M. Greene, chairman of the college's board of trustees, in presenting Father Cooke with a bronze medal of office, recently commissioned by the college's Jesuit community.
"We rededicate ourselves to the primacy of our academic mission," Father Cooke said.
"The faculty is the heart of this institution," he added. "We must attract and retain the best that are available."
Addressing "the view that a concern for the character of their students was not a responsibility of our colleges and universities," Father Cooke said that "such strategy has failed. Education is concerned with more than the mind. It is concerned with the whole human being. The character of our students is our responsibility."
In his first meeting with students as a prospective president a year ago, Father Cooke was asked what he would first like to accomplish, recalled Steven Siffringer, president of the Undergraduate Student Association.
"He wanted to improve the aesthetic looks of the campus and meet with students," Siffringer said.
And today, Siffringer added, the campus has undergone a face lift with painting and landscaping, and students have been consulted at every step.
Professor Herbert J. Nelson, head of the Faculty Senate, urged Father Cooke to "lead this college to be always better; engage with us in shaping the future of our students and this college."
Anne S. Pollino, spoke for women graduates as Alumnae Association president, cited the paucity of women trustees of the college and as leaders of the Alumni Association. She asked the new president to "make it possible for statistics such as these to change."
Other speakers recalled the college's humble beginnings and its growth to nearly 5,000 students pursuing bachelor's degrees and master's in business and education.
The speakers included Bishop Edward D. Head of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese; the Very Rev. Joseph P. Parkes, head of the Jesuits' New York Province; Chancellor R. Carlos Carballada of the state Board of Regents; Canadian Consul General Robert B. Mackenzie; and Thomas C. Mack, Alumni Association president.