During Saint Anselm College's 125th commencement exercises on Sunday, May 20, commencement speaker Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap. addressed 474 members of the class of 2018, and Dr. Steven DiSalvo presided over his fifth commencement as president.
President DiSalvo, Abbot Mark, the Benedictine community, members of the Board of Trustees, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and honorary degree recipients, distinguished faculty and staff, friends, families, and my fellow classmates of the Class of 2018, good afternoon and welcome to Saint Anselm College's 125th commencement exercises.
I want to let you in on a secret.
Right here, right now, all I can think about is one thing: Doors. Do you know how many doors at this school I have held open in the past four years?
Since I came here as a naïve freshman, Saint Anselm College has taught me so many things about the world, so much about service, so much more about education and science than I ever could have imagined. The professors at this school have lifted my understanding of so many things. They have helped me clarify so many questions I had about how the world works. They have prepared me to go out into the world and begin a meaningful career. And yet, here I am at my graduation, thinking about doors.
The doors to Geisal library at 2 AM as students cram last minute information before finals. The doors to Davison hall, as we enter into the Christmas feast on the last day of classes of Fall semester. The doors to the Carr Center, being held open during Relay for Life as we band together to support people who suffer with cancer. The doors to Alumni, as we climb up four flights of stairs on our way to class.
In all honesty, this school has obliterated my understanding of what the proper distance is to hold a door for someone behind you. I estimate that, perhaps, 12% of my college career has been consumed with me either holding a door for someone, having the door held for me, seeing a door held for someone else, or in general contemplating whether or not to hold a door open for an approaching Anselmian or guest.
I’ve seen doors held open for people while they are only half-way across the quad. I’ve seen professors with no free hands, holding four coffees, a stack of papers, and book bags, holding doors open for someone 100 feet away who might not even be going into that building.
And I know every single one of us associated with this school has, at one point, engaged in one of those door holding dances, the friendly competition where two people are holding the door open for one another. The words, “go ahead”, “I insist”, or “after you” are exchanged three or four times before the dance is complete. One person may even leave the situation angered that their door was not chosen to walk through.
Why are we like this on this campus? Why, with all I have learned and experienced, is my lasting impression of this school the door holding etiquette? And what does any of this have to do with the doors that we are going through next?
On the one hand, holding doors is not unique to this campus. I mean, it’s a custom people practice all over the world. We did not invent the holding of doors. On the other hand – you know, the hand which is not holding the door? – This action is practiced with such constancy and is so engrained into our Anselmian culture, that we may even take it for granted.
But in every instance where we hold the door for another person, we are showing regard for that individual. We’re even acknowledging them as a member of our community. And we may even, in a small way, be extending the hand of the divine.
When we hold the door open for another person, we are saying more than just, “hey, I got this”. It is more than just courtesy or manners. Our simple gesture is a statement. We are saying, “Enter into our world. Allow us to welcome you properly. Join our school and community in food, in prayer, in thought, in conversation, in work, in service, and in action. Join us in change.”
So, you see, without realizing it, Saint Anselm College has been priming us to extend this simple Anselmian tradition from our own hearts to our lives beyond this campus. In this sense, our commencement today is not just the beginning of us putting into practice our knowledge, or our expertise, or our shiny new degrees, but the beginning of us holding open the door for the rest of the world.
And let’s face it: we all know our world is a world filled with many... MANY... closed doors. There are closed doors because of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. There are doors closed to people in poverty. Doors closed to people because of mental illness. There are doors closed to people because of mental or physical disabilities. Doors are closed to immigration. There are doors closed because the apprehension to open them is far too great.
When we reflect on the past four years, it is time to reflect on the joys, the memories, and the lessons. It is also a time to remember the doors that have been graciously opened for us. Through analysis of literature, we have examined the minds of the greatest writers of the past. Social work has enlightened us on addressing significant issues in our society which are all too often overlooked, such as poverty and institutionalized oppression.
Nursing has opened the doors to practicing holistic, safe, and compassionate care, as well as training for advocacy of patients, self, and the future of health care. Science has opened the doors to understanding the mysteries of the universe, observing the farthest of stars to the nearest microscopic cells. Criminal justice has opened the doors for detailed introspection of the flaws in the prison system, along with analyses of how we can address these in order to improve societal issues that lead to crime and incarceration. Psychology has opened the doors to understanding mental health and the intricacies and development of the human brain. Peace and justice studies has opened the door to understanding how we can band together towards creating peace, cooperation, civil discourse, equality, equity, and liberation.
After all, what are the liberal arts? They are the collective in depth learning that frees people from inexperience, from unawareness, and from the chains of ignorance. The purpose of our undergraduate education has been to create a basis of understanding to build on as we work in the world. The purpose of our undergraduate education has been to open doors. To open doors to an augmented understanding of the world in which we live. And now, we must open the doors beyond the campus of Saint Anselm College.
There are so many various ways in our lives to hold the door open. Hold the door open when you disagree with another. When someone has a different view of the world than you, hold the door open for them to see your point of view. And then, allow them to hold the door open for you so that you may see their view point.
Hold open the door to yourself. What this means is not closing ourselves off in times of adversity and pain, but holding ourselves open to change and to understanding, to companionship and love, to disagreement and cooperation, to new experiences, emotions, relationships, ideas, and stories.
Hold the door open to victory, as well as failure. Hold the door open to your heart and allow people to experience the real you that you have been finding for the past 20-something years. The “you” that is going to change the world using your own unique set of skills and passions. Let us hold the door open to allowing the pain we experience to increase awareness, to speaking out in times of adversity, and to changing policy so there is less pain among us all.
But most importantly, continue holding the door open for others. Allow others to enter into your world, regardless of their differences. Allow others to better understand you, themselves, and our community through intellectually stimulating conversation, spiritual connection, and open-heart dialogue. Hold the door open for those who may not be able to open the door for themselves. Remember the blessings and accomplishments in our lives, and share the benefits with all.
We are taught to walk alongside people. We need to treat all people with human dignity. The world equally distributes talent and skill, but does not equally distribute opportunity. Meet people where they are at. Use your opportunities and awareness to open doors for others.
I ask you to think of this as you commence the beginning of your next grand adventure. We are exiting the realm of being graded upon the quality or quantity of our work, and entering the world where our most important achievements will not be measured by a letter grade, but how we exist in a community, how we make others feel, and how we add to the overall good in the world.
As we close the door on the past four years, we open the door to new experiences and challenges. There will be failures as well as successes. Remember those who held the doors open for you, remember your accomplishments and experiences because of these helping hands.
Keep these mind as you progress forward. This college has opened the doors of education and career to each of us. Do not let the world diminish your Anselmian spirit. It is now our turn to spread our Anselmian values, and hold the door open for all others.
Members of the class of twenty-eighteen: I am honored to walk through the doors of the future with you. After you... no really... I insist.
This year’s recipient of the AAUP’s excellence in Faculty Accomplishment Award is no stranger to the role of teacher, scholar and citizen. This faculty member has always focused on the roles of faculty mentor, dedicated scholar, and concerned a concerned citizen of the College and the broader community. Few people can match her energy in the classroom or, for that matter, her rapid stride as she speeds across campus. She is generous, always willing to lend a hand or contribute encouragement with a smile. This year’s winner is a graduate of Regis College in Westin, Mass., and a native of Cranston, Rhode Island. She received her Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire, and lucky for us, has been at Saint Anselm ever since.
Since joining the faculty here at Saint Anselm in 1990, she has done whatever has been asked of her and more. She has served as both an example and an advisor to young faculty in her department. As a teacher, she is admired by both her students and her colleagues for her careful class preparation and her enthusiasm for her topic. After a particularly enthusiastic class, a student once noted that she “really needs to calm down about this stuff.”
In her scholarship, she reaches across boundaries to work with colleagues in education and criminal justice; she has extended her reach within her own department as well. She is passionately committed to searching for better ways to understand children and families and how they process their world. Her expertise has not only benefitted her colleagues but also multiple students doing research projects in any given year.
As for service, few at Saint Anselm are more visible. She has served nine years as a Faculty Senator. She has been a member of and chaired numerous committees (including working as co-chair of the Inclusivity and Sexual Orientation Task Force, which led to the creation of our Core Council on Inclusiveness). Most recently, she led the nation-wide search for the Colleges’ first Chief Diversity Officer. She has participated in a Service and Solidarity Mission trips to Costa Rica as part of Spring Break Alternative. Her passion and support for the students extends beyond the classroom, whether advisor to the Women’s Ice Hockey team (she rarely misses a game, home or away) or as an ardent fan of the Abbey Players.
Off campus, this year’s recipient is wholly engaged in her local community. She was for many years as the first communion coordinator for her parish and continues as a Eucharistic minister there. When she is not contributing to the lives of others, she is enjoying the company of her husband, Paul, as they celebrate the many accomplishments of their children – Kathleen, Daniel and Daniel’s wife Shannon. She is a proud Nana to her grandchildren Brynn, Colin and Addison (who also share her love of our Women’s Ice Hockey team). She is a much-loved and cherished sister to a very close group of siblings. She has abundant energy, a warmth that people naturally gravitate towards, and strength in her convictions about righting the wrongs in our world. It is my great pleasure to announce that this year’s recipient of the AAUP’s excellence in Faculty Accomplishment is Associate Professor of psychology, Dr. Maria W. McKenna.
Members of the Class of 2018, Family and Friends, Abbot Mark Cooper and Members of the Monastic Community, President Emeritus Fr. Jonathon DeFelice, Faculty and Staff, Members of the Board of Trustees, Cardinal O’Malley, Bishop Libasci, Mr. Bready, Professor Romps and Dr. Stuart-Shor,
It is with great pride and joy that I welcome you to our 125th commencement celebration and offer my personal congratulations to the Class of 2018 on the completion of your academic degrees. Today we celebrate your accomplishments, and have an opportunity to reflect on the moments that have brought us all together for this happy occasion. You have finally arrived at the end of your academic journey.
Well, it’s about time. That’s been the theme of these past four years. But it all depends on how you read into those words - it's about time. After all, time is the most precious commodity we have.
Think of the time when you first arrived to tour this magnificent campus you now call home. Or the time you met your first roommate or figured out how to do laundry on your own. Or when you witnessed Tammy reciting your order at the grill in Davison Hall, when you attended liturgy in the Abbey Church, participated in a presidential primary event, performed in a theatrical production, won a sporting event, and completed final exams. You have celebrated four years of Homecoming and Family Weekend and probably have been to at least one intense night of CABingo.
Your class is etched in my memory by important moments in time. Brandon and Clare working events at the NHIOP, learning the rules of Field Hockey during a final four appearance, Jake and Emily’s engagement, Cody driving me to Logan Airport many times, Katherine’s work with Judge Broderick, interviewing a prospective student in Haiti by the name of Sybille and cheering on Amanda, Megan and Shannon these past few weeks as they have led women’s softball onto the elite eight! While the three of you will be receiving diplomas today, you will continue to represent the Hawks in the National Softball Championship next weekend!
And your class was instrumental in the design of the brand new Roger and Francine Jean Student Center Complex. It will remain a beacon for future Anselmians for many years to come. You each have fond memories marked by time that you will take with you for the rest of your lives.
Four years ago you arrived, here on this quad, to begin an academic journey that has prepared you well to enter the workforce or to continue your education with graduate studies. A rigorous curriculum, rooted in the liberal arts, has sharpened your oratory abilities, critical thinking skills and theological foundation. This was not simply a transfer of knowledge, but rather a course from which to grow – academically, socially and spiritually. You have been led by the charge to contribute to the common good.
Each moment taught you something: About being part of a community. About service for others. About being prepared.
Perhaps you met a presidential candidate, or worked behind the scenes at one of the debates. I hope that being up close and personal with the primary process here on campus has encouraged you to be more active citizens now and in the future. There are few certainties in life, but major political figures visiting our campus is one of them, and as alumni we hope that your pride only grows as you continue to see Saint Anselm in the spotlight.
Obtaining a Saint Anselm degree is not designed to be an easy task. Through the best of days, and particularly during the most challenging, you have had friends and family at your side. These years would not have been the same without the support of your loved ones. They share in your joy today. Always remember to tell those around you how much you love them, and thank them for their support.
At the heart of our college is the Benedictine community. We honor our founders, the monks of the Order of Saint Benedict, and we continue to be grateful to their successors, the monks of Saint Anselm Abbey, for preserving our mission today and into the future.
Today brings closure to your time as an undergraduate. When you leave campus today, you will have turned a page on an amazing chapter in your life, and will continue to write your story in new places among new people. But I hope you remember that no matter where your journey takes you, you are always welcome here. You may be leaving the ranks of the student body, but you are now and forever entering the alumni community.
While your four years have undoubtedly gone by all too fast, it was the last two years that may have left the deepest impression. A time when politics became unpredictable. A time when the world became less stable on the outside, but caused each of us to find peace and strength within ourselves. A time when we felt the urgency to shift from where we have been and focus on where we are going. Yes, it is about time.
So I wish you all Godspeed in your lifelong journey. Have faith in the future. May God guide each and every one of you today and for the rest of your lives as proud graduates of Saint Anselm College.
And I leave you with one final thought: College is for four years. Saint Anselm College is forever.
Thank you and God Bless you.
When I graduated from St. Fidelis of Sigmarigen Seminary I had to give the commencement address in Latin. The good thing about Latin Valedictorians is that the most even banal musings sounded very profound. Still, I am happy to make these remarks in the vernacular.
First, let me congratulate my fellow graduates and their families. Saint Anselm College is a blessing for our Church and indeed for the whole community, I grateful to President Steven DiSalvo and Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB, for their leadership and am very honored to be here.
I grew up on Western movies, 25¢ Saturday matinées, double features, newsreels, as there was no CNN in those days, cartoons and a serial film that continued from week to week. The film always ended with a dramatic scene geared to bring the audience back next week to see the fate of the hero who fell from an airplane without a parachute into shark infested waters, while at the same time under fire from machine guns and bazookas. Will he survive? Of course, he did; but you waited all week to find out how.
Actually, Westerns comprised about one fourth of all films in the 20th century and about one fourth of all prime time television. The hero cowboy was always a rugged individual, completely self-reliant and who by his own efforts and determination was able to overcome all adversity.
Our cowboy heroes were joined by Ayn Rand heroes, the private detective of the noir genre, Rambo, Rocky and Luke Skywalker. Individualism and competition became our most important national values as personified in our cultural icons.
To a certain extent these rugged individuals who enjoyed hero status have been supplanted by our celebrities many of whom are simply famous for being famous, and we often have no idea how they entered our consciousness. We love them for being who they are, not what they have done.
Sometimes celebrity is warranted by talent in music, sports, entertainment, or because of intellectual prowess or good looks. Oftentimes these celebrities lead very self absorbed lives, and yet because we live in a culture addicted to entertainment, celebrities are a very important part of our lives.
Several years ago I was invited once to a state dinner at the White House. The president of Brazil was visiting the country and they wanted to have a Portuguese speaking Bishop present. When an O'Malley showed up, they were all very surprised. They sat me down next to President Bush,Sr. who was the head of state at the moment and whom I recognized immediately. On my other side was a lovely young woman who introduced herself as Gloria Estefan. I said to her: "Do you work in the White House?" She replied: “No, Father, I'm a famous singer.” I said: "You obviously don't sing Gregorian Chant." She was a good sport and understood that a Capuchin Friar might not be totally conversant with pop culture. Yet the truth is we are all immersed in a culture that lionizes celebrities and exalts the rugged individuals and Randian heroes who are the embodiment of the extreme individualism rampant in our society.
Saint Anselm College and Catholic education exist to present a very different ideal from the popular fascination with celebrity and the exaltation of the autonomous self.
I often share with people the story about a man who is very sick and went to the doctor to undergo a series of tests. At one point the physician asked to speak to the man's wife and told her: "Your husband is very, very sick. He will survive only if you take very good care of him." The wife asked: "What do you mean Doctor? The Doctor said: "For your husband to survive, you need to take very good care of him. Serve him his favorite meals. Allow him to go to sporting events, and on hunting trips with his buddies. Don't ask him to cut the grass or take out the garbage. Don't share with him any news that might be upsetting. Let him have the remote control for the television set. And whatever you do, don't invite his mother-in-law over to the house." On the way home in the car, the distress husband asked his wife: "What did the Doctor say? The wife replied: "Honey, the Doctor said you're going to die."
The truth is we were placed on this earth to take care of each other, and if we don't, the patient will die. For the unbeliever the universe, and life itself are the result of chance, an accident. For the believer, the universe and our life itself are the result of love. That is the fundamental difference.
So often the popular culture and the media who are the great proselytizers of our age, preach the most stultifying kind of consumer existence, convincing us to worship gods of commerce and money and selfish advancement above all else. We are told that all that really matters is to acquire things, to wear the right clothes, to drive the right cars, to live in the right place, then everything will be all right. The truth is the inevitable losses and sufferings that intrude into even the most careful planned and orchestrated life have a way of disrupting things.
A life of faith with a sense of purpose and mission is what brings us fulfillment. In our world where people put their philosophy of life on their bumper stickers, I saw a T-shirt that said: "The one who has the most money when he dies wins." It seems absurd as a slogan but too many people lead their lives as if that is what it is all about.
I urge you to be part of a community of faith, to be part of a worshiping community that can sustain you and nurture your idealism and sense of purpose. I know that a popular saying nowadays is: "I am spiritual, but not religious." Jesus has taught us very clearly that discipleship is never a solo flight. We learn to be people of faith the way we learn a language, by being part of a community that speaks that language. It is not surprising that all sociological studies show that churchgoers live longer, happier, and more productive lives, but too often these are well kept secrets.
When Pope Francis celebrated his inaugural Mass, he spoke about St. Joseph who is characterized as a protector. The Holy Father says that Joseph is a protector because he is able to hear God's voice and be guided by His will; and for this reason, he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. The Holy Father says we also have a vocation to be a protector, however, it is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the world, as the book of Genesis tells us and St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, then parents care for their children, and children themselves in time protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect and goodness. In the end everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for creation.
We are called upon to be protectors and caregivers. We must not be indifferent to the suffering and injustice on our doorstep. Our very existence is a result of love. We have our origins and our destiny in God's love. In our connectedness to God we are connected to each other. Our God has entrusted this world to us. Our task is, as our Jewish brothers and sisters say, “to repair the world.” Our world needs a lot of repair, a lot of caregivers and protectors. Lone rangers and celebrities won't cut it.
Every year I accompany hundreds of students to Washington DC for the pro-life March in January. One year we visited the Holocaust Museum while we were there. I was struck by a letter to teachers from a Holocaust survivor by the name of Hiram Ginnott. In the letter addressed to educators, he says my eyes to see what no man should witness, gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by train nurses, women and children shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmann's. Reading, writing and mathematics are important only if they serve to make people more human.
We have all seen how technology and science can be put at the service of selfishness and evil. Since the time of St. Benedict, 1500 years ago, Catholic education has been about just that, helping people to be more human.
At home we had a great photograph of my Irish grandparents in Lakewood, Ohio. My grandfather had the first automobile in our town and we have photographs of him and my grandmother in their model T Ford, wearing goggles and dusters that look like bathrobes, my grandfather with a leather cap and Nana with huge hat firmly attached to her head by a scarf. They were prepared for the life-threatening velocities of 15 mph. Before they died, my grandparents lived to see a man placed on the moon. The 20th century was the greatest century of scientific and technological progress in the history of humanity. Television, the Internet, telecommunications, cures and treatment for so many diseases that previously had been fatal, so many wonderful discoveries and inventions that have made our life easier and richer. At the same time, the 20th century was the most violent century in the history of the planet. Two world wars, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, apartheid, legalized abortion and so many examples of the destruction of people, the abuse of the of the environment, and the eroding of values. That's why Hiram Ginnott's letter is so prophetic.
Science and technology can expand our knowledge of the world around us, but they can never teach us the value of things, or the meaning of our existence, the purpose and mission of our life. Our faith is a light that helps us to see deeper into reality, to discover the loving presence of God, and in discovering God, we discover who we are, why we’re here, and what we have to do with our lives. The motto of St. Anselm's is: Initium sapientiae timor Domini”; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This wisdom begins when we discover how awesome, how great God is. Then we discover that we are not here by accident, we are here because of God's love and our life has a purpose.
Here at Saint Anselm's you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Fifteen-hundred years ago, St. Benedict created a movement that humanized people by spreading the Gospel. In the encyclical on St. Benedict, Fulgens Radiatur, Pope Pius speaks about countless bands of monks sent by the Church to the ends of the earth to cultivate the peaceful kingdom of Jesus Christ, not with the sword or violence or slaughter, but with the cross and the plow, with truth and charity. Wherever these heralds of the Christian religion, of workmen, of farmers and teachers of sciences, human and divine, passed by, the forests and untilled lands yielded to the plow, centers of craftsmen and fine art sprang up from an uncouth and wild life people conformed to civil society and culture."
The Holy Father's description seems poetic and fanciful, but actually falls short of describing how the Benedictine monks promoted the practical arts, agriculture and classical learning at a time when other leaders in society were only focused on warfare and military conquest. The monks literally saved agriculture in Europe, they introduced new crops, industries and production methods with which the people were not yet familiar: the breeding of cattle, horses, the brewing of beer, the raising of bees and fruits. The corn trade in Sweden was established by the monks; in Parma, it was the cheesemaking; in Ireland, salmon fisheries; and in many places, vineyards. The monks were herbalists and physicians like brother Caedfile. They were philosophers, theologians, linguists, architects. The monasteries themselves were the most economically effective units that ever existed in Europe and at their height, there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries in Europe.
The monks were also known for their skills in metallurgy. In the 13th century they became the leading iron producers in France. They quarried marble, did glasswork, forged metal plates, mined salt. They were skilled clock makers. They were scientists and biologists. The monks modeled for people the dignity of human work. At the same time they passed on the wisdom of the ages by copying manuscripts and establishing monastery schools. The great monasteries were always centers of faith and culture where people learned to be more human, to live a better life, in community, guided by ideals of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Saint Anselm is part of this proud tradition that continues to be the civilizing force in the world. Being a protector and a caregiver demands courage and generosity. These are the people that are repairing our world and holding our hope for our future.
Solidarity is an expression of the great commandment that calls us to form a community among people that will enable us to overcome structures of sin and oppression that burden humanity. Above the natural bonds already so strong in our lives, faith leads us to see "a new model of the unity of the human race." The Holy Father insists that solidarity is not sentimentality or a vague compassion or empathy for the suffering of so many, but rather it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, "because we are all really responsible for all." Solidarity is about being protectors of the gifts and caretakers to each other.
The Japanese have a wonderful parable about a man who lived in a beautiful home on the top of a mountain. Each day he would go out in his garden and take a walk and look at the sea below. One day as he was out walking he saw on the horizon a huge tsunami approaching the shore, then he noticed a group of his neighbors who were having a picnic down the beach. He tried desperately to warn them, he waved his arms, he shouted, but they could not hear and they could not see him. So you know what he did? He went into his beautiful home and set it on fire. And when his neighbors down on the beach saw the smoke and the flames, some of them said: "Let's climb the mountain and help our neighbor to save his home." The others replied: "No, that mountain is too steep and we are having too much fun here, you go." Well, those who climb the mountain to help their neighbor save his house, were themselves saved. For when the tidal wave hit the shore, the ones who were having fun on the beach were swept out to the sea and perished.
Sometimes when we perform a work of mercy or an act of charity, we think we are doing God and others a favor. But actually we are climbing the mountain of love that draws us closer to God and to salvation. The only real success in life is being able to make a gift of ourselves. This is the success that we wish for all of our graduates. That they will be capable of making a gift of themselves to God and others. And in so doing, they will become protectors of the gifts and caregivers to each other, and a sign of hope.
Let me end with the words from Blessed Mother Teresa's to the graduates at Niagara University in 1982: "My prayer for you is that you grow in the likeness of Christ, to love each other."
May God bless and keep you. And today, as you leave this place with something beautiful in your hands make sure that you make your life really something beautiful for God.
Fifty-four years ago during the Church’s Second Vatican Council, bishops from every corner of our world authored a document which they entitled Light of the Nations…Lumen Gentium. It put forth a sweeping vision of the Church, and the Church’s role in the destiny of every man and woman, every living soul. In that document there are found phrases that should resonate in the hearts of our soon-to-be graduates, and certainly in the hearts of those members of their families, especially mothers and fathers who gather today and tomorrow to celebrate with the Saint Anselm class of 2018. For the bishops in 1964 wrote these words: “the family is, so to speak, a ‘domestic church’” and the primary duty of parents is the “rearing and education of their children” (LG, 11). Class of 2018, I do not think anyone needs to remind you of what you owe your family. In the context of family you first learned how to walk and talk, to dress and feed yourself, and later, how to act in public and in private. Faith and wisdom were introduced and nurtured in the home. Your family, though imperfect like all families, was the first model for you of goodness, generosity, and even holiness.
Many of your most vital early lessons may have come to you indirectly, but one very explicit lesson was in memorizing the most important tune you were ever taught: “Now I know my ABCs.”
With the alphabet, your parents, older siblings, and earliest teachers provided you the foundation for a life of learning – in short, the possibility for a life well-examined and well-lived. I would guess there is more than one parent sitting here that remembers vividly the first time your son or daughter struggled all the way through to Z, and finished with a triumphant, “Next time won’t you sing with me.” All accompanied by deafening applause I’m sure.
Class of 2018, you did not know it at the time, but you were being handed, in a lyrical, melodious tune, the building blocks of your future. Those lessons in letters eventually allowed you to enter into new worlds in literature - through JK Rowling, Tolkien, and Shakespeare. The alphabet provided you access to updates around the world, as well as close to home, through stories by CNN, and (though not all would admit it) tweets by Kim Kardashian, and even the President of the United States. With your early lessons in learning, you were given the freedom to write your own stories, limited only by the reach of your imagination. Our excellent faculty have labored to advance your understanding, they have instructed, they have mentored, they have counseled and they have demonstrated great care and concern for you as individuals.
It is my hope that, building on your academics, your entire experience at Saint Anselm College has provided you a new alphabet, a unique A, B, and C giving you a key not only to this earthly life, but to the life to come.
We begin with the letter A for Anselmian: an over-used, perhaps somewhat misunderstood reference. Anselmian – a word, in case you did not know, which does not actually mean anything, but at the same time, a word alive with associations for all of us who have lived and studied here. Every one of you (as well as all alums of this College) has at least a sense of this term. It is the simple politeness in holding a door, even for someone a bit too far away…it is the rightness in greeting those whose name you do not know, but whose presence you have encountered before, acknowledging another’s inherent dignity. Anselmian is a call to engage the world through our neighbor. It compels us to serve others because we have been blessed with many gifts. We are called to share those gifts with all whom we encounter, and challenged always to expand our outreach to those in need.
Class of 2018 you are well aware that your College is distinct from many other schools you might have chosen. We are this way intentionally. We do not seek to be like everyone else, nor do we seek to be different. We seek God, and the Truth which God reveals. We do this by deliberately fostering faith, community, dialogue, and service in ways which align with our Anselmian tradition – a tradition which has far deeper roots than simply those of this campus community.
We proceed to the letter B, and we come to the word Benedictine. When students are asked to describe Benedictine qualities, the first word that often comes to mind is hospitality. This may be something of a disservice, for I would suggest we Benedictines are so much more than that. Benedictines aspire, around the world and on this campus, to be men and women of faith, committed to our God and the people whom God entrusts to our care. Benedictines are not simply ‘hospitable’ or ‘kind’ or, as I read in the Crier this year, “cute” (we thank you for that one)– but hopefully we Benedictines are individuals who witness to the Gospel, to gracious stewardship of God’s gifts, to deep and honest prayer, to faithfulness to a way of life which we believe, as our founder St. Benedict tells us, will lead us to “run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (RB, Prologue 49).
To be Benedictine is to desire to be life-giving and self-giving. A monk must find ways, within his given vocation, to seek God and serve Christ in his neighbors and community. We receive all good things from God and we seek to give all these gifts back to Him. We hope to offer over our wills, our desires, even our bodies to God. He will reform them, refine them, and, in His good time, endow us with grace unimaginable that we might, by following His example, give ourselves even more completely to others. //// We do not expect every one of our students to ‘take the black’.Yet we do hope the Benedictine charism challenges our students, faculty, staff, and our own monastic community; to share, to give, and to give again, trusting in the Lord’s promise that in giving, we will receive.
We arrive at the letter C, and so examine the significance of our Catholic nature. In our new alphabet, A and B are meaningless without C, for Catholic is the root system that gives life to the entire tree. What has your time at St. Anselm taught you about this Catholic faith? You may have learned a bit about Scriptural exegesis in Bib Theo or Intro to New Testament, you were introduced to Catholic philosophical thought, and some of the beauty of Catholic artwork in your Conversatio program. Yet this philosophical thought, this artwork, or Scriptural exegesis is useless, if you have not also been introduced into a personal relationship with the God Who loves you, who died that you might live, and who sends His Spirit that you might abide in freedom and in Truth. St. Paul, in prison, spoke of his personal love for Christ in these words, “It is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains” (Acts 28:20). It is the same with us; it is for the hope of Israel, that is, Christ Himself, that our Benedictine forbears founded this College 129 years ago. It is for the hope of Israel, that is, Christ Himself, that we continue to minister here.
“The Catholic, Benedictine tradition of the college provides a special dimension to the educational effort one experiences on this campus...If Saint Anselm College remains grounded in the faith of the Church, and the wisdom it provides, then the message of the Church, so desperately needed by the world today, will have been incorporated into the learning experience of all who come here, and will be carried with them into our wider society. You are graduating into a world which is hesitant to accept all that you have garnered here, and may even, at times, be hostile to it. Be prepared for that, and have the courage to stand up against the world in those places where it is clearly wrong.
Blessed John Henry Newman calls a Catholic university a “place which wins admiration…kindles the affections…and rivets fidelity.” He says a Catholic college should be “a seat of wisdom, a light of the world, a minister of the faith, an Alma Mater of the rising generation.” Have we been this for you? Have you been nourished and formed in your four years here? Are you more you, are you more alive? Have you deepened your faith, expanded and enlightened your intellect? In speaking with you, your classmates, your professors, family, and friends, I believe that indeed you have. Now comes the time to offer to others what you have gained here. Now is the time to go into the world and speak out using this new alphabet of ABCs, learned and cultivated here at a very special place, a place where you are, and always will be, cherished, and where we who remain behind look forward to your every return. God bless you class of 2018.