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‘A New Legacy’: St. Ignatius Institute Alumni, UD Parents Establish UD Scholarship, Honor SII Priest
Julie and Erick Pecha consider themselves a new, different kind of UD legacy. While not alumni themselves, they are the parents of four alumni — Brennan Pecha, BS ’11, Camille (Pecha) Kennedy, BA ’13 MA ’15, Luke Pecha, BS ’15, and Gabe Pecha, BS ’17; a current student, Josephine Pecha, BA ’21; and a future student, Katerina Pecha, BA ’25.

By Callie Ewing, BA '03 MH '22

Further, the Pecha parents are alumni of the St. Ignatius Institute (SII) at the University of San Francisco,  which was, when they attended, very similar to UD, with a liberal arts curriculum grounded in community and a solid foundation in the Catholic faith and the Great Books. When they were students at this private Jesuit university in California, Father C.M. Buckley, S.J., was an integral part of the program and their guiding light, hence the choice of namesake for the scholarship they have established at UD: the Father C.M. Buckley Scholarship.

“Father Buckley lived on the floor in the boys’ dorm and was very involved with students, and very well-loved,” explained Julie Pecha. “He was an on-campus presence — incredibly funny, witty, approachable.”

Father Buckley was known for the 10 p.m. Mass he would celebrate nightly that almost all of the Institute students would attend, then sometimes walk down to the bars afterward.

“He brought us together as a group,” said Julie. “He served students in that way and was an institution at the Institute, our parent on campus. He married many SII alumni.” 

In his 90s now, Father Buckley is in residence at Thomas Aquinas College, serving the students there in much the same way he did those at the Institute. He still calls Julie on her birthday and everybody on Christmas, remaining involved in the lives of the students from the Pechas’ era.

“He was a mountain of a man intellectually for the students,” said Julie. “He’s an absolutely amazing person. We began this scholarship in his name to both honor him and to encourage other SII alumni to support UD, which is continuing the legacy of education that we received and want to pass along to our children.” 

She likens Father Buckley to Pope St. John Paul II, having a joyful charism that appeals especially to young people and has a great positive influence on them.

The St. Ignatius Institute itself was in some sense an honors program at USF, with SII students studying essentially the same books that UD’s undergraduates study in the Core Curriculum. When the Pechas’ children were approaching college, they began looking for a school as close to the Institute as possible, and they found UD. 

“At UD, the whole university does this curriculum, not just a small part of it,” said Julie. 

The Pechas, who live in Folsom, California, have since discovered that other SII alumni are sending or have sent their children to UD; in fact, there is a whole group of them, and this is where the “new legacy” comes in. 

“We have a presence on campus that isn’t really recognized,” explained Julie. “UD hasn’t understood that there’s a group of us from the St. Ignatius Institute who are there and have been there. We want to encourage other St. Ignatius alumni to send their kids to UD as well, because it’s a great fit.

“We’ve been so impressed with UD and what it’s done for our kids, keeping them on the right trajectory, faith-wise and so on,” she added. “College is the first time your kids are living outside the home, and I think it’s the most critical time in a young person’s formation. There are no guarantees your kids are going to stay on track, but they have a lot better chance at UD.” 

UD has also prepared the Pecha children well for their careers. Brennan, who earned his Ph.D. after graduating from UD, is working at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Camille is finishing her Ph.D. in French and plans to teach. Both Luke and Gabe are or will be medical doctors, like their father. Josephine is in nursing school through UD’s partnership with Texas Woman’s University, and Kat will be a freshman this coming fall. Kat, incidentally, is the only one of the six Pecha children who did not get to participate in UD’s Shakespeare in Italy summer program for high school students, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Julie particularly highlighted the impact of his UD education on Luke, who finished medical school last spring, as he treated patients on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

“Luke loves pomp and circumstance, but he didn’t get to have his med school graduation because of COVID,” she said. “His very first assignment was on the COVID floors, and he’s been working with COVID patients on and off for the past six to eight months, which has been a very interesting and tough introduction to medicine. At the very beginning, he had to call a family and tell them their mom had died. Being able to tap into his background in philosophy and faith really came into play, I think. As a doctor, you also have to be a compassionate person. All that you learn in the Core Curriculum, you take into the world. You’re a much better physician if you bring to the table these other parts of life.

“The type of education that we got at the St. Ignatius Institute and that they got or are getting at UD creates a Renaissance person,” she added. “Our kids already had this base from us, but we wanted them to have it in college as well. It teaches people to think and read in a cogent manner. It’s not about what society tells you to think, but learning to think for yourselves. It sets your compass straight. As parents we gave them the moral aspect, and this type of education helps with the philosophical piece.”

Ultimately, the Pechas want to celebrate what UD is doing as an institution.

“We want to celebrate it and keep it going — and going in the same direction,” said Julie. “This is not an alumni scholarship, but again, we’re the new legacy. This is our new St. Ignatius Institute for our kids. As parents, we want to support the great education that UD offers and encourage other parents to get involved and do the same.”

To learn more about contributing to this scholarship or establishing one of your own, please contact Assistant Director of Development Sarah Sokora at sdsokora@udallas.edu or 972-721-5131.

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