Inside USD

Portman Reflects on USD’s Beginning

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

portmanmainAs a young priest in San Diego, Msgr. John R. Portman recalls seeing the two original buildings at the University of San Diego. Founders and Camino halls were beautiful, but were surrounded by barren ground. A call soon went out from the San Diego diocese for each parish to donate ice plants to help landscape the campus.

While that is fact, Portman — who spoke Tuesday at a USD Faculty and Staff prayer breakfast — also had a fantasy. He imagined USD’s co-founder, Bishop Charles Francis Buddy, in full pontifical garb, surveying the young plants and shouting “Grow, damn you, grow,” said Portman with a chuckle, “he would have done that if he’d thought of it.”

As USD nears the culmination of its 60th anniversary year, the 77-year-old Portman recalled the vision, boldness and determination of Bishop Buddy and USD co-founder, Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill, superior vicar of the Society of the Sacred Heart.  “She and Bishop Buddy were, indeed, what we used to call the ‘dynamic duo.’”

In his remarks, Portman paid special attention to Mother Hill, whom he doesn’t think has always gotten all the credit she deserves. He noted that she came from a very prominent family whose ancestors included Archbishop John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States and Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Mother Hill’s grandmother also taught her the art of interior design and decoration by creating paper models of rooms and houses. Such skills were to become very useful in designing schools and universities, Portman noted. It was a “red-letter day” when the bishop invited her to help create “the Catholic university of the West,” as he liked to call it, Portman said.

Far beyond its initial two buildings, USD now includes dozens of structures, including relatively recent additions like the Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. But Portman — who created his own legacy as the founding chair of USD’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and had a chair in Roman Catholic theology named in his honor in 2000 — said the vision of Bishop Buddy and Mother Hill was so far-reaching that they would not be surprised at the nationally prominent university USD has become.

“I think it turned out the way they envisioned,” he said. They would be “just thrilled” to see the USD of 2009.

— Liz Harman

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