Madsen and his mace

Grand marshal explains the history and meaning of a key university symbol

Madsen and Mace Horiz
Story by: Mike Thee
Published: 2010-05-28

As grand marshal at Commencement, one of Dave Madsen’s duties is to carry the university’s mace. The associate professor of history recently took time to explain the significance of this curious implement and to share a few other insights along the way.

The Commons:  What does the mace symbolize?

Dave Madsen:  The mace is really Father Steve’s thing. It symbolizes the university’s authority and it is only supposed to be present at public settings when the president is in attendance. It says that the event is officially sanctioned. The tradition goes back to the Middle Ages when someone was designated to hold the mace as a body guard.

The Commons:  When is the mace used at SU?

DM:  It comes out for freshman convocation, the Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Baccalaureate Mass, the Law School’s Red Mass and Commencement. It is also present when a president is inaugurated and when honorary degrees are conferred, as when Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu visited campus.

The Commons:  How old is the mace we have now?

DM:  Based on the decorations, it probably dates back to the 1970s.

The Commons:  How’s it holding up?

DM:  It’s showing its age, and some of the symbols, particularly the Native American imagery, should probably be updated.

The Commons:  What sorts of symbols are on the mace?

DM:  There are a number of symbols that show the university’s associations with the Loyola family, the Jesuits, Chief Seattle and the Northwest. The state seal is on the bottom.

The Commons:  Is it heavy?

DM:  It’s not so much that it’s heavy as it’s awkward. The bottom handle is like a baseball bat, but the business end is heavier. It’s very top-heavy.

The Commons:  Speaking of the business end, have you ever had to, you know, “use” the mace?

DM:  No, but someone once told me that the mace is also supposed to remind us that learning is not always fun or easy.

The Commons:  How long have you served as grand marshal and is it a lifetime appointment?

DM:  I’ve been grand marshal since 2000. I serve at the pleasure of the provost.

The Commons:  Where is the mace kept when it’s not being used ceremonially?

DM:  In the Registrar’s Office.

The Commons:  What’s the most unusual place it’s been that you know of?

DM:  Probably in the trunk of my car.

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