In Memory of Robert D. Lynch, former Dean, College of Engineering

Robert D. Lynch

Funeral - August 11, 2017

Dean Robert D. Lynch

In the gospel, we have a beautiful imaginative scene that depicts the last judgment.  Jesus, the Son of Man, is introduced as king and judge, but he identifies himself not with the powerful and those in authority, but rather with the deprived and the downtrodden of society.  He makes clear that the supreme law of love will be the measure by which we are judged.  "Lord when did we see you hungry, a stranger, lonely, naked or homeless?"  And he said in reply, “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these lest brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” His point is that we will be judged not on how much we say or pray, but by what we do, by our love toward others while on earth and this judgment is not the end but a beginning.

Bob Lynch epitomized Jesus’ lesson that we will be judged not on how much we say or pray, but want we do by our love toward others while on earth.   In his thirteen years as a faculty member, and twenty-five years as dean of the College of Engineering, Bob Lynch left a remarkable legacy at Villanova.  As a teacher and as dean of the engineering college, he influenced generations of students. To the faculty, he gave his vigorous support—he was fair, compassionate and generous; for the physical needs of the college, he devoted his utmost energies.  When the college needed space to offer its programs, Bob fought very hard for the construction of CEER, the Center for Engineering Education and Research, and it was opened in 1998.

I had the privilege of serving with Bob on the Dean’s Council as a new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Along with my colleague, Dean Louise Fitzpatrick of the Nursing College who is here today, and Dean Al Clay of the business school who passed away in 2012, Bob, who had already been on the council for ten years, offered unconditional support.   It was an experience to be with Al, Bob and Louise, who along with the academic vice president, our dear friend, Fr. Larry Gallen, were a fearsome foursome.  They stuck together and supported one another when things got tough, and they laughed when things got too serious. 

It should be acknowledged that Bob did not suffer fools lightly. In others it could be off putting, in Bob, it was a corrective. This may be something he learned from his service in the Navy, for he was nothing if not methodical and disciplined.  He expected the same of others.  It served him well on the Council of Deans. His displeasure could be withering.

More importantly, Bob also embodied compassion and epitomized Villanova’s mission. His advocacy made a lasting impression.  A faculty member told me that as a new assistant professor in 2000, he was asked by an alumnus about partnering with Amigos de Jesus, an orphanage in Honduras. So, he arranged his first meeting with the dean, who was Bob.  He admitted to being nervous; because, like Willie Sutton, who reportedly said he robbed banks “because that was where the money is.” But contrary to the Sutton Law it was far from obvious that the deans, at least at that time, had all the money. There was no wave of the magical hand; everyone had to scramble and be frugal; as a former dean, I know that was the case.  But the faculty member soldiered on, asking support for eight students and two faculty members to go to Honduras to work over spring break.  As he was nervously describing the project, how committed and great the students were and, of course, the need for funding, Bob cut him off and said "Dave, this is exactly the type of project that our students should be doing. You sign them up and I'll pay for them."

With this initiative a seventeen-year relationship with the Amigos de Jesus orphanage with Villanova engineers began.  Appropriately, it began with the building of a cross—for as Christians we begin all prayer with the sign of the cross—the first thing we do when are baptized and the last thing someone will offer over us when we are dead.  And what a cross it was—a 25' tall reinforced concrete cross that can be seen from miles away, and that stands today as the symbol of the orphanage.  A very touching story took place four months after it was completed; the Amigos sent word to the faculty that one day they found a boy in their corn field. He was crying, dirty, beaten, naked. They took him in, fed him, cared for him. When he woke the next day and was asked what happened he replied "the people in town told me to follow the cross and the people there would help you."

During those seventeen years, Villanova civil engineers have designed and constructed a volunteer center, a dining hall, a six-building bilingual school complex, girls’ dormitories, and this Easter they had Mass in a two story church designed by Villanova students. Now eight faculty, hundreds of engineers and dozens of nurses visit Amigos de Jesus and eight long term volunteers of a year or more have participated on the designs. This is an important part of Dean Lynch's legacy. It is a legacy, along with his work at Villanova, that will live on. I know I’ve spent a lot of time on the Amigos, and this is in no way to minimize all Bob has done on Villanova’s campus for the College of Engineering, but it epitomizes Bob Lynch’s answer to the Lord’s question, “When did we see you hungry, thirsty a stranger, an orphan ill or in prison?  Whenever you do it for the least of these brothers or sisters, you did it for me. “

St. Teresa of Avila composed a beautiful prayer that I think exemplifies the way Bob Lynch lived.  It begins:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,|
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
compassion on this world.

Bob’s eyes, feet and hands enabled Christ to show compassion on this world. So let us give thanks for this gift he has left us and remember to pray for Bob and all our loved ones who have departed.   May each of them rest in God's peace and in our love.   Amen.