Patrick Leahy ’61 and Marcelle Leahy come home to Saint Michael’s for dedication, celebration
Saint Michael’s College welcomed home 1961 graduate former U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle Leahy on Sept. 23 to honor them for their lifetime of service and generosity to the state of Vermont, to the nation and to the College.
Dozens of students, faculty, staff and alumni joined in the celebration during Alumni and Family Weekend to thank the Leahys.
At the center of the events was the newly named Patrick ’61 and Marcelle Leahy Center for the Environment – a fitting tribute to recognize the Leahys’ many contributions to environmental policy and stewardship. One of Senator Leahy’s last acts while in the U.S. Senate was to secure a $6.5 million appropriation for the College’s Center for the Environment as part of the 2023 Omnibus Appropriation Bill. This was one of the largest grants in the College’s history, and it will fund the Center’s continued development and growth over the next four years.
“I think of the next generation and the generation after that – that’s what counts,” the former Senator told people who filled the Roy Room in Dion on Saturday during a reception. “If you do it only for this one generation, you’ve failed, and you’re not going to fail. You’re doing it for generations to come. And, as long as we can, both Marcelle and I will be there to help.”
Watch a video from the day by Cat Cutillo:
Leahys visit the Welcome Back Bash
The Leahys arrived on campus Saturday afternoon in the middle of the annual Welcome Back Bash. There, clubs and organizations from around campus set up tables to offer information to students, their families, and returning alumni.
The Leahys first visited The Farm at Saint Michael’s table to speak with students and sample vegetables grown on the College’s two-acre farm. Students and campus visitors passing by stopped to greet the Leahys and thank them for their service. Some also angled to get their photo taken with the couple.
The Leahys then visited the table for the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), at which a student had been collecting signatures on a poster thanking Senator Leahy for his decades of advocacy for that cause as well. Senator Leahy told the student he was touched by the display before asking for the student’s name and where he was from.
As the Leahys continued down the line of tables, they were greeted by students representing the Student Government Association, WWPV (the student radio station), Model U.N., and others, asking each student for their name, where they’re from, and – if they were a senior – their plans for after college.
Saint Michael’s roots that still grow decades later
At 4 p.m., dozens of community members gathered in front of the Pollinator Gardens for a Community Event to officially thank the Leahys and show off the new sign for the Center for the Environment bearing their names. Speakers stood at a podium constructed from apple boxes and produce donated from both the College’s farm and Chapin Orchards.
Kristyn Achilich, the Center’s Director, described how the Center has become an integral part of the campus, touching many different academic disciplines and turning the campus into a living laboratory. She said the appropriation will have an immense impact on Saint Michael’s students for generations to come who seek to solve some of the most pressing environmental problems of the day – including those who choose to stay in Vermont to work after graduation.
“You have shared these values on a national stage with your community,” Achilich said to the Leahys. “Your community justice work, your service to those who build our societies – educators, nurses, farmers, veterans and current service members – you opened this conversation and began building the connective tissue through policy and funding work to connect for us previously siloed work on the environment, agriculture and humanitarian efforts.”
Senator Leahy gave fellow alum Erica Chabot Dempsey ’02, his former Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, credit for making him aware of the need for the appropriation money and acting to help him secure it in the bill. He also spoke fondly about his and Marcelle Leahy’s deep connection to Saint Michael’s and his pride in seeing how the College is using the appropriation to educate and develop the environmental change-makers of the future.
“I owe a lot of what I’ve been able to accomplish to the roots I developed here at Saint Michael’s,” Leahy said. He added, “Both Marcelle and I say thank you for having us here. I am proud of what you’re doing.”
Environmental ‘problems knocking on our door’
The Community Event was followed by a reception in Dion attended by staff, faculty, donors, alumni, friends of the College, and several former College presidents. Lindsay Kurrle ’93, a longtime friend of the Leahys and the current Vermont Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, introduced Senator Leahy during the reception and talked about Saint Michael’s track record of developing leaders in many different areas and economic sectors. She said the education and training being provided by the Center for the Environment is more vital than ever.
“There may be no bigger moment to make this investment, which will allow the College to develop the leaders of tomorrow,” Kurrle said. “Is there a more illustrative summer than the one we just experienced with floods and wildfires, late frosts and other natural disasters, both here in Vermont and around the globe, to realize that we will need environmental thinkers and leaders in the years ahead?”
She added, “We must give students the educational space to explore solutions to the problems that are knocking on our door. The Center for the Environment is striving to do that and do it through the lens of a liberal arts education, with faith and service as the backdrop.”
Kurrle said she anticipates the Center’s work will also specifically benefit Vermont. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is working to grow the state’s economy through new and innovative companies.
“This investment will strengthen Saint Michael’s ability to create that workforce for our state by partnering with Vermont companies to give students real-life experience and knowledge,” Kurrle said. “Through this appropriation, the College is going to be able to connect the dots between emerging industries and the new workers needed to foster their growth. It is truly exciting to see this institution’s roots, values and opportunities grow deeper into the fabric and future of the Green Mountain State.”
About The Patrick ’61 and Marcelle Leahy Center for the Environment
The Patrick ’61 and Marcelle Leahy Center for the Environment at Saint Michael’s equips the next generation of environmental change-makers with the skills, knowledge, and experiences to make a positive impact in their local and global communities. The Center uses the College’s core curriculum and liberal arts approach to focus its teaching, learning, and institutional stewardship in five areas: farm and food, ecological restoration, sustainability, environmental education, and environmental analysis.
Exploration of these areas happens both in the traditional classrooms and the campus-wide living laboratory – the 360-acre Natural Area; the Teaching, Pollinator, and Tree Nursery Gardens, which are incorporated into the main campus’ landscape; the 1.75-acre Farm at Saint Michael’s; and the many sustainable initiatives that take place at the College. Connections with the greater community, including paid internships, research, and social impact projects, expand the students’ access to immersive learning experiences that set them up for success beyond Saint Michael’s.
See the photo gallery by Stephen Mease Photography
Preliminary information about the appropriation’s intended use can be found at smcvt.edu/about-smc/news/2023/january/historic-grant-thanks-to-sen-leahy-to-expand-center-for-environment.