Jesuit Father Leo O’Donovan, former president of Georgetown University, will deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden Jan. 20.
The priest, a friend of the Biden family, was the main celebrant at the funeral Mass for Biden’s son Beau in 2015 at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Wilmington, Delaware.
He confirmed with National Catholic Reporter Jan. 6 that he would be delivering the invocation, saying Biden had personally called him and invited him, which he accepted.
This year’s scaled-back public inauguration ceremony, due to the pandemic, will take place on the west side of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, a site taken over Jan. 6 by rioters contesting the certification of the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump announced Jan. 8 that he would not attend the ceremony.
In leading the prayer of blessing, Father O’Donovan, who is currently director of mission for Jesuit Refugee Service, will follow the footsteps of his predecessor at Georgetown, Jesuit Father Timothy Healy, who offered a prayer during the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
The tradition of invocations at presidential inaugurations goes back to 1937 and Catholic leaders have been in this role for several presidents. The Southern Baptist minister, Rev. Billy Graham, offered this prayer for presidents Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
In 1961, when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the first Catholic president, Boston Cardinal Richard J. Cushing delivered the invocation, which said in part: “Strengthen our resolve, oh Lord, to transform this recognition of others into a principle of cooperation. Inspire us to practice this principle of cooperation both in ideal and action in these most dangerous, but soul-stretching times.”
Four years later, Archbishop Robert E. Lucey of San Antonio gave the invocation at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration.
His prayer included a description of the time saying: “In these days of tragedy and crisis all that we hold dear is challenged — belief in God, respect for human responsibility, honor, integrity, and every freedom of the human spirit. All these are at stake and our country, champion of truth and justice, must lead the nations of the world to the dawn of a brighter hope.”
Worth your time: this prayer, composed by Father O’Donovan for Pentecost during a pandemic:
Come, Holy Spirit,
come, Spirit of God,
come with your peace, your power, your light.
Come with forgiveness, courage and hope.
Come, Spirit of God,
unite us with the risen Jesus,
turn us again to the Father of Jesus.
Together they pour You daily into our hearts.
Come now to our suffering world,
sick with a killing virus
and everywhere threatened with silent death,
but most cruelly among your poorest children.
Come to our first responders, our doctors
and nurses and hospital staff,
the men and women who preserve the civic order
and protect us from fire and bring us our food.
Come now to the hearts and minds
of scientists seeking a vaccine for the pandemic,
to all who support their work, bringing to it
in equal measure patience and commitment.
Comforter, we call you, Counselor, Consoler,
Advocate and Paraclete. Come now also to the borders
of our world—between Greece and Turkey, central
Africa and Kenya, Myanmar and Bangladesh,
where millions on millions of men and women,
and children, helpless before the virus—
have fled violence, are homeless now, without sure shelter—
your sons and daughters, in such pain, our refugees.
Come to the hearts and minds of all
who seek to walk with them, and care
and advocate and pledge a future that,
if found, will equally enrich ours as well.
With your gift, the community of believers
who came to be called church was born.
Strengthen us to be working signs for all
humanity to be one, a community of mutual care,
and a sacrament of salvation through your loving power,
united eternally with the Holy Mystery
who gives us Jesus, the Risen One among us, to bring
our suffering yet beautiful world home forever.