Thomas M. Mengler | President, St. Mary’s University
February 12, 2014 | Catholic Intellectual Tradition Lecture Series
The title of this year’s series of four lectures on Catholic Intellectual Tradition is “The Enterprise of Faith: A Bold Initiative.” Following the series’ name – I have titled my talk tonight, “The Catholic University as Faithful Enterprise.”
Associating the phrase “enterprise” with “faith” or “faithful” may seem odd, inappropriate, even shocking. For many, the word “enterprise” has a gigantic IBM, Big Blue corporate feel to it. Not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with IBM, but some of you may be thinking, Mengler, you might as well have titled your talk, “St. Mary’s University and Global Domination.” Indeed, one of the dictionary definitions of “enterprise” is “a large business organization.”
“Enterprise” also can have a more sinister meaning. An “enterprise” can be a fraudulent scheme or illegitimate enterprise. That’s in fact the meaning I first attributed to it. To tell this story, I need to take you back to my childhood in the 1950s and 60s. I grew up in two suburbs just west of the city of Chicago. This Chicago neighborhood where I grew up was, in one sense, the American dream come true.
Elmwood Park and River Forest were teaming with immigrants and their children and grandchildren. Our parents or grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Czech Republic. I was surrounded by hard-working, good and honest people.
Everybody was Catholic, I mean everybody. I never had a non-Catholic friend until I went away to college. All the parents were still married to each other, and they all had a lot of kids – tons of kids. The Conways, for example, who lived down the block, had 17 children. Mrs. Conway always projected a serene glow; Mr. Conway’s glow suggested he was about to spontaneously combust.
Lots of people, lots of kids, in the neighborhood. All except one household, which was just two doors down from the Menglers. An elderly woman, Marge Inciso, lived at 1520 Lathrop Avenue — by herself.
When I was 10 years old in 1963, I overheard my parents whispering – they must have believed outside my hearing – that Mr. Inciso was in the slammer, he was in jail, for income tax evasion.
That’s kind of an interesting image, isn’t it? Why were my parent’s whispering? What were they worried about – that I was going to have nightmares dreaming about Mr. Inciso? He was in jail after all, not rousting about two houses away. And for income tax evasion, not for causing grievous bodily harm.
Well actually, that wasn’t true. . . . Mr. Inciso wasn’t in jail for tax fraud. Nineteen years later – in 1982, when I was a 29 year-old attorney in Washington D.C., I received an assignment to research the meaning of the legal term “enterprise” in the RICO statute, which is the federal racketeering and organized crime statute. And I stumbled upon an appellate opinion titled, United States v. Inciso – and read a law case with more interest than ever before and, quite frankly, ever since.
Angelo Inciso, Mrs. Inciso’s husband, had indeed been locked away in the federal pen, but not for income tax evasion. Angelo Inciso was a mobster, a thug. He was the Mafia boss of a local union; and in the 1950s, Angelo Inciso had engaged in bribery, extortion and embezzlement of over $500,000. Mr. Inciso had been engaged in a racketeering enterprise, and he was convicted under the RICO statute, not under the federal income tax laws.
I also learned around that time that Mr. Inciso was a close associate of Tony Big Tuna Accardo, the head of organized crime for the whole city of Chicago. Tony Accordo was not in jail. In fact, in 1963 when I was 10, Tony the Tuna and his wife lived exactly one block away from the Menglers on Ashland Avenue (in other words, I had plenty of reasons to have nightmares even without making the acquaintance of Mr. Inciso).
But no nightmares for me, because Mrs. Accordo handed out to each Halloween trick or treater an entire box of Crackerjack. That was a big deal then, a whole box of Crackerjack. I have always had a warm spot in my heart for Mrs. Accardo.
Our neighbors also included Paul the Waiter Ricca and Sam the Cigar Giancana, who was gunned down in his basement in 1975 while cooking Italian sausage and peppers.
Another neighbor was Jackie the Lackey Cerone, whose son Tom took my older sister Mary Ellen to her very first dance when they were both in 8th grade.
(I know what you’re thinking: Did the Chicago Mafia run out of sun glasses?)
By the way, these neighbors of ours – the Accardos, Riccas, Giancanas and Cerones – were all Catholic too – and hard working.
I leave you with three questions to keep you amused – should the rest of my lecture not be as scintillating as my opening remarks.
- First question, what kind of man is your President and why didn’t the Board of Trustees do a better background check on me?
- Second question, what was Angelo Inciso’s nickname?
- Third question, what was my nickname when I was growing up in this Mafia-infested neighborhood?
But enough about me and my shady background.
Tonight I want to convey to you – to underscore the importance of thinking about St. Mary’s University’s faith mission as fundamentally an enterprise. Enterprise, we know, can also signify “purposeful, organized systematic activity.”
I will have a lot more to say about how the Catholic University is and should be an enterprise of faith – but let me simply assert for now that if St. Mary’s University is to fulfill its mission as a Catholic Marianist University, we need to view all of our many activities and services – academic and non-academic – as an integrated – purposeful – whole. Living our Catholic Marianist mission must involve “purposeful, organized systematic activity.” In this sense of the term, the Catholic Marianist University, in all of its many functions, should be an enterprise.
It should be an enterprise centered on the formation in faith of young men and women becoming extraordinary leaders, whose lives, personal and professional, are about serving God by serving neighbor. That mission, especially in these times of diminishing numbers of professed religious, requires a renewed, focused commitment.
And that’s why the word “enterprise” when we are referring to St. Mary’s faith mission is exactly the right term.
As part of my contribution to St. Mary’s University’s lecture series on Catholic Intellectual Tradition . . . tonight, I intend to achieve two goals. First, I will identify what I consider the core themes of Catholic Intellectual Tradition and why they are so key to a Catholic University as a faithful enterprise. To illuminate these themes, I will be presenting to you a handful of the more than 160 transformative illuminations from our Heritage Edition of the St. John’s Bible.
And, second, I will highlight some of the ways St. Mary’s is advancing these key themes of Catholic Intellectual Tradition at St. Mary’s University right now. I plan also to mention some steps we will be taking in the next decade to promote an even more vibrant Catholic and Marianist presence.
Tonight, I will respectfully submit to you that the most distinctive and vital characteristic of this University is the way in which we embody and integrate the core themes of Catholic Intellectual Tradition with everything we do. This is our most important work. This is what makes a Catholic university Catholic.
What is Catholic Intellectual Tradition?
So, what is Catholic Intellectual Tradition? The first and most important point is that we are speaking not about the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, as if we were talking about a single unified philosophy, thesis, or theory.
That’s not what we mean. No, the best way to think about Catholic Intellectual Tradition is as the ongoing engagement of the Catholic Church – inspired by the Gospel message – with the world, our many cultures, for the past 2000 years. Catholic Intellectual Tradition began when the first Christians reflected on the Gospels and the meaning of the life of Christ, and it continues today.
Catholic Intellectual Tradition, therefore, includes the formal documents of the Popes and Magisterium, and also the writings of centuries of great Catholic and Christian theologians and philosophers – many of whom disagree with each other. Not just theologians and philosophers, however. The Tradition also embraces the men and women from every discipline, profession, and field of study – science, literature, law, business, the social sciences – as well as art, music, and theater. Men and women seeking truth . . . and interpreting, illuminating, and applying the Gospel message – bringing the Catholic Christian vision – to the most pressing social, economic, and cultural issues.
Men and women such as Michelangelo, St. Augustine, Dorothy Day, Thomas Aquinas, Bernard Lonergan, JRR Tolkein, Flannery O’Connor, Blessed Chaminade, Dante, Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila, Johann Sebastian Bach, Dayton Professor Miguel Diaz, Marianist Priest Fr. James Heft, Mother Teresa, our own Brother Cletus, Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Men Walking – and now, Pope Francis.
So the many voices in Catholic Intellectual Tradition are distinct, and they span the centuries.
That said, there are nevertheless common, core themes that describe our uniquely Catholic vision. Before I present these to you, I should point out that there’s no general agreement about how many there are, or how they should be articulated. In fact, in preparing for this lecture, one source I consulted with listed 10 themes. University of Dayton identifies 14. You will be happy to know that I’ve got, not 14, but four core themes.
First: A Sacred Integrated Vision of Truth
Catholic intellectual tradition sees the universe as God’s creation and as a gift of God. Everything, everyone begins because of God’s loving grace and presence. In creation, we can see – in our search for truth – not only an ultimate purpose and meaning, but God’s goodness and beauty too.
In this glorious illumination from the St. John’s Bible, we are presented with Genesis’ first creation story in Chapter 1. Note the seven panels for the seven days. Gold, which represents the divine presence throughout the St. John’s Bible, appears as a thin line even during the first day of the formless void – and God is present in every panel and throughout creation.
A number of points follow. Since God is present in and throughout the world, there is a sacred dimension to nature, a sacred dimension to all things, in all peoples. All genuine searches for truth – whether in the sciences, through art, music, and literature as well as in philosophy and theology – can lead us incrementally to divine truth, goodness, and beauty. The Catholic intellectual view of the universe hence presupposes an underlying unity among the various disciplines – whether they involve inquiries about the material, natural, social, aesthetic, or spiritual dimension of reality. The Tradition presupposes, in effect, that each discipline can contribute to a larger understanding of the nature of things and of God’s role.
In this illumination, for example, we see the harmony of religion and science, the ancient and the modern. Panel 3, the separation of Earth from Seas, is made from satellite photos of the Ganges Delta.
And consider the symbolism here – Donald Jackson, the Queen’s Scribe and Artistic Director of the St. John’s Bible project, chose the Ganges River, the most sacred river to the Hindus, for his third panel. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition, at its finest, engages and draws upon the learning, the understanding, not only of Catholic and Christian scholars, writers, artists, musicians . . . but of other religious traditions, other cultures, and the secular world.
The most prominent example took place in Paris in the 13th century. The great Dominican Thomas Aquinas – and author of Summa Theologica – drew substantially on the works of the Greek pagan philosopher Aristotle, the Jewish thinker Maimonides, and the Muslims Averroes and Avicenna.
By the way, Pope Francis recently made this point – that God has no boundaries, God has no limitations in his love and grace. In an interview with the atheist editor of an Italian newspaper, Francis said to the editor:
“And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Do you think we are very far apart?”
Panel 4, God’s creation on the fourth day, of the sun and the stars in the sky, also underscores that our Catholic Tradition embraces integration of the many fields of human inquiry, in this case of science and religion. Panel 4 is based on an image from the Hubble Space Telescope.
In Panel 6, we see the creation of man and woman, and these men and women look nothing like the Adam and Eve I recall seeing in grade school at St. Vincent Ferrer. They don’t bear the slightest resemblance to Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson. Donald Jackson uses images from aboriginal rock paintings in Australia.
In the second creation story, Genesis Chapter 2, we see that the St. John’s Bible illumination makes a more explicit connection between the religion of Scriptures and modern science. Adam and Eve – again neither blond-haired nor blue-eyed –are inspired by photographs of the Karo tribe of the Omo River in southwest Ethiopia, which reflects the most current theories that humans evolved from our predecessors in the heart of Africa.
In sum, Catholic Intellectual Tradition holds that there is truth. There is goodness, righteousness, and justice. There is beauty. And all searches for truth – whether conducted in a laboratory, a library, an art studio, or a chapel – are ultimately one. As our colleague Professor Chip Hughes has argued in his book Transcendence and History – all human seeking, all human yearning for understanding is ultimately a search for ultimate meaning and purpose, a search for the divine, for transcendence.
What does a sacred, integrated vision of truth tell us about the nature of a great and faithful Catholic university? As others have said before, I believe it suggests, first, the kind of liberal arts education St. Mary’s University has provided for decades. Along with the kind of core curriculum we require of all our undergraduate students, integrated and interdisciplinary. Again, in the words of our own Professor Chip Hughes, Catholic universities exist to promote the exploration, openly and vigorously, “of all the things that are.”
Our faculty and staff are here literally to open the minds of our students … open their minds to learning about nature, human achievement and human failure, artistic, literary, musical, and theatrical creation, human virtue and vice, and ultimately to God.
If one goal of a Catholic university is to open our students’ hearts and minds to God’ truth, goodness, and beauty – and all the things that are – then we should introduce our students to the breadth and depth of the arts and sciences, especially through the lens of Catholic Christian Tradition.
The Second: Faith and Reason as Both Key to the Search for Truth
Our dominant secular culture – on the one hand – rejects as irrelevant what cannot be verified. On the other hand, here in the United States, we have fundamental religions which embrace a mindless faith – organized religions that place little or no value on reasoned understanding.
A second core theme of Catholic Intellectual Tradition rejects them both. For many years now, I have viewed this second theme as Catholicism’s most profound insight, which is quite frankly why I am Catholic. Humans beings, made in the image of God, have the intellectual capacity to discern truth, meaning and purpose – and thereby come closer to God – by using both their reasoning faculties and the grace and blessings of faith. Faith and reason are not at war with each other. If we open our spirits, they can work together to bring us closer to God, closer to understanding God’s individual call to each of us.
Yet reason alone we know is not enough. While our reasoning powers can open windows to the divine, God’s being, God’s grace and providence are mysteries. As Paul says in First Corinthians, “For now, we see through a glass darkly.”
And my own sinfulness and weakness drag me away from God’s purposes for me. Look again at the illumination of the second creation story. On the left, Creation is colorful, abundant, fertile, beautiful. But – after the Fall, the world is also dangerous, dazzling and alluring … but distracting – note the colorful coral snake surrounding Eve. Both Adam and Eve have painted faces. Adam presents a haunting foreboding appearance in dark shadow, even a deathly pallor. Eve smiles, laughs, taunts, mocks, or teases – which is it? – in vibrant orange and yellow.
No … reason is necessary, but not sufficient. To move closer to God, prayer and faith – God’s grace – are required. The Catholic vision is that reason challenges our faith to explain itself. Faith challenges reason to go beyond itself.
Catholic Intellectual Tradition, therefore, rejects Mark Twain’s quip, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Similarly, the Tradition does not accept George Bernard Shaw’s harrumph – that the idea of a Catholic university is a “contradiction in terms,” an oxymoron if you will.
For myself, when I was the age of most of our students here tonight – my 20s – this tenet of our Catholic faith was the most difficult for me to grasp and to accept. I wanted rational answers that made sense. My views were Mark Twain’s, Shaw’s, and our secular society. I wanted to believe only that which I could prove for myself. I wanted certainty.
Over the years, I think I have grown beyond these reckless days of my youth. I have become grateful for all my blessings, including the integrated role that reason aligned with faith can play.
The older I get the more I realize that almost every important decision in life – all the important choices we make – involve a mix of reason, empirical data, rational justification on the one hand and, on the other hand, a heavy dose of hope, trust, and faith. My reliance on my loving wife Mona, my children, my friends, my colleagues is rational to be sure. I have plenty of reasons to trust Mona (Don’t you know it?). I have plenty of justification to rely on my team of colleagues at St. Mary’s to do good work.
But reliance on people also involves a commitment of the heart. And a related point. The important strategic decisions about the future of St. Mary’s University are and should be empirically-based to be sure. But they also involve a good deal of hope, instinct, trust, and prayer.
So in my gray haired (I wish I had more), bald-headed days, I have come to appreciate that the integrative process of faith and reason in the search for meaning and purpose is not significantly different than the processes we employ in our daily lives. The processes of inquiry, judgment, and insight into the tangible and the intangible are the same. In effect, God’s loving gift to me of faith and my rational talents, of my heart and spirit, as well as my mind, are gifts that I use every day of my life. They reinforce. And they define who I am. . . . They make me more human.
How does a Catholic Marianist university help our students integrate the gifts of reason and faith to discern God’s call to them? How do we help our students develop their abilities to reason, to grow in their faith, and to rely on both.
Here too we begin with our core curriculum and its breadth – which, in our small class settings – also facilitates the development of students’ critical analytical thinking, their oral and written communication skills, their self-understanding, the pure joy of discovery, the need throughout our lives for questioning, pondering, doubting.
As painful as the mantra “Question authority” was for my parents in the 60s and the 70s, it’s how we grow and mature.
Many of you have heard me comment on the importance of helping our students develop these reasoning and communication skills as well as other interpersonal skills – not only for their personal growth but for their professional development. How wonderful the coincidence that those skills, values, blessings that we believe are so key to our students finding purpose and meaning in their lives are also the skills and values that employers seek in young professionals.
There is yet another role for reason – for critical thinking – at a Catholic Marianist university. It has often been said that the Catholic Church does its thinking at Catholic universities.
The great philosophers and theologians of the Church – who have often disagreed vigorously with each other – have done their work at universities – I earlier mentioned Thomas Aquinas. In more contemporary times, we should include Bernard Lonergan, John Courtney Murray, Alasdair MacIntyre and hundreds of others. Faculty and students at Catholic universities around the world seek to interpret and apply Christ’s message to our culture, and the social justice and economic issues of the day. Every position is to be entertained and weighed in the search for truth.
The faith lives too of our students, faculty, and staff are enhanced in a number of ways. University ministry promotes and supports the prayer and worship not only of our Catholics through the Sacraments, but also of members of other traditions as well. University ministry’s presence in the Residence halls, as well as the engagement of our RAs or resident assistants and student peer ministers supports the spiritual development of our resident students on campus.
There are many other ways – actions, for example, in, with, and for our communities – in which God’s grace and God’s blessings of faith become more vibrant among us. Most significant to human flourishing – to becoming more human – is community, living in community, serving and embracing community, and ultimately transforming community.
As St. Francis may or may not have said (but it is now universally attributed to him), “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” And as Blessed Chaminade similarly stated about the best Marianist teachers: Teach a “Christian lesson by every word, gesture, and look.”
The last two core themes of Catholic Intellectual Tradition – The Word Made Flesh and The Dignity and Relational Nature of the Human Person – will underscore that God’s gift and sacrifice of his only Son for our salvation reveals the gateway to human flourishing and salvation.
Third: The Word Made Flesh
About 10 years ago, at my last place of employment, the University of St. Thomas, I sat in a roomful with faculty and staff listening to a talk about Catholic Intellectual Tradition. Not once, in explaining Catholic Intellectual Tradition, did the speaker mention Jesus Christ.
Let’s call this an oversight. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 65, emphatically corrects this oversight in powerful terms:
“Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s only perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him, God has said everything; there will be no other word than this one.”
Pope Francis in his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or in English The Joy of the Gospel, has reminded us to focus on the core of our Christian faith, and not to be unduly consumed by “those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.” “What shines forth,” Francis says, “is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.” Francis further explains, “What counts above all else is “faith working through love” and the greatest of all the virtues is “mercy.”
The St. John’s Bible beautifully presents what Pope Francis describes as the core of our faith in the illumination of Matthew Chapter 5 in the Sermon:
“When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain. Then he began to speak and taught them” – in a poetic verse we now call the Beatitudes:
And Jesus told us that the blessed include the “poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers” – all these we are told will gain the kingdom of heaven.
Fourth: The Dignity and Relational Nature of Each Person
The fourth and final core theme of Catholic Intellectual Tradition, in a few words, captures the gist of the Beatitudes – as well as the meaning, the revelation of Jesus Christ as God and human. In paging through the St. John’s Bible, how do we see Jesus?
Not of course as an earthly king, but as son of a carpenter and humble teenage girl. Jesus, a guy who hung with the poor and vulnerable, women, lepers, the despised, the Untouchables.
Note this illumination – in two frames – from John Chapter 7 and 8 – the Woman Caught in Adultery. In the top frame, a temple official literally holds the Hebrew word for adultery in his right hand. Sadly, the law appears as a weapon, as much a weapon as the stone in his left hand. The word adultery extends beyond the frame – and hence beyond the immediate scene – to us – to implicate you and me in unforgiving judgment.
To his left, a second temple official also stands scrutinizing you and me. He’s focused unsympathetically on you and me. The women’s expression and hands communicate fear, anxiety, and despair.
But in the bottom frame, the woman’s face is filled with repentance and gratitude. She is veiled. Jesus has opened the curtain for her – for anyone to enter. But God’s mercy imposes expectations, requirements. There’s no handout here. Jesus’s mercy – like Catholic Relief Service’s partnerships in Haiti and around the world – is empowering. His respect for the adulteress’s dignity as a human person leads him to invite her to proceed into the gold hallway – There’s the color Gold again, the divine hue – but she is to sin no more, she is commanded to follow him, and to begin her journey to a life well-lived.
The last illumination is from Mark – the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. Jesus, wearing Wrangler blue jeans and a K Mart work shirt, is the Sower; and because he sows the Word, Jesus is also the seed. He is both the Sower and the Seed.
And note the seeds extend beyond the panel. In the St. John’s Bible, some of them actually land on a few of the apostle’s names in the adjoining text. So the apostles are also Sowers. They are also called to evangelize.
And since the seeds extend outside the boundaries of the panel – in effect, into our world – we too are called upon to be Sowers. To be fully human – the Parable of the Sower and the Seed teaches us – is to extend our love and kindness to others.
Jesus is the “first and greatest evangelizer,” Pope Francis states in his apostolic exhortation; and Pope Francis also says that “Mary is Mother of the Church” – she of the unqualified Yes, Lord: “And without her,” Francis says, “we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.” (All evidence to the contrary, I think our new Pope is a Marianist, don’t you?)
So we too are called – faculty, staff, and students – to partner with Jesus and with our Mother Mary – to participate together in this new evangelization, to be missionaries – and in so doing, to become more fully human.
Chaminade too expressed our missionary roles: “Our work is sublime; it is magnificent …. It is because we are missionaries of Mary, who has told us to ‘do whatever He tells you.’ Yes, we are missionaries because to each one the Blessed Virgin has delivered a mandate to work at the salvation of our brethren.”
What does this mean for St. Mary’s University? What should this mean for those of us – faculty, staff, and Trustees – who are engaged in and passionate about St. Mary’s University? I think embracing the core themes of Catholic Intellectual Tradition should require us to revitalize and expand three elements of what makes a great Catholic University greatly Catholic, what allows a great Marianist University – following in the footsteps of Chaminade – to continue our missionary work.
First, I believe it should lead us to promote the understanding and engagement with Catholic intellectual tradition in all its many dimensions within the fences of the St. Mary’s community, but also throughout the Archdiocese, the Southwest, and the nation.Already, as most of you know, St. Mary’s has been actively involved in this project. This four-lecture annual series on Catholic Intellectual Tradition – led by Father Rudy Vela — is and will always be a cornerstone.
The St. Mary’s Core Curriculum engages Catholic Intellectual Tradition too – under the leadership of Professor Megan Mustain, who is here tonight. Megan?
St. Mary’s Core engages all of our undergraduate students over the course of their studies in those questions which are at the core of our Tradition: Who are we as human beings? Why are we here? The Core focuses students on their own self-identities – what it means to be fully human. And it, therefore, also introduces our students in separate courses, to the human person’s relationship to God, to nature, to neighbor, and to the wider social order. What are our responsibilities? What does God call us to do?
So there is abundant evidence of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at St. Mary’s University now. Since I have been here, I am delighted that we have taken additional steps.
Some examples: Last year, Ed Speed, one of our Trustees, and his wife Linda established two separate endowments to support faculty research. One provides support for the research initiative of our theology and philosophy faculty. The second endowment supports humanities and social sciences faculty who produce scholarship on issues of peace and social justice. Both endowments will empower our St. Mary’s faculty to undertake a research agenda centered around Catholic intellectual and social thought: issues dealing with the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of human life; peacemaking and peacekeeping (which faculty under the leadership of Dean Aaron Tyler are already doing); health care, aging, and disability; the professions as vocations or callings; immigration; the stewardship of nature; ethical leadership in political life; to name just a few of the many issues which will be explored.
Ed, will you stand and be recognized?
Another new initiative: Through the generosity of John and Sue Morrison, friends of ours in Minnesota, we have acquired the magnificent Heritage Edition of the St. John’s Bible – two volumes of which are on my right and left.
But the Heritage Edition is not just a set of seven pretty volumes to be hidden away in our Special Collections room. They are here to inspire at St. Mary’s and throughout the San Antonio Archdiocese. To further this effort, Ruben Escobedo, a Trustee, and his wife Veronica have established – with a generous gift of $500,000 the Ruben and Veronica Escobedo St. John’s Bible Scripture Series – an interdisciplinary lecture series on the Old and New Testaments. Ruben and Veronica, would you stand or wave and be recognized? Already, under the leadership of Professor Bob O’Connor (who is also here), the Director of the St. John’s Bible project, we have brought speakers to campus and brought the magnificence of the St. John’s Bible to the local Catholic and Christian community. In two weeks, the Bible travels to Houston.
And recently, we have launched an exciting religious art project, inspired by our own Art Professor and 2012 San Antonio Artist of the year Brian St. John. An art auction, under the leadership of Lionel and Kathy Sosa, will take place at my house next October, and will bring together 8 to 12 of the finest artists in this region. These prominent artists – who will include Brian St. John and the Sosas – will be creating works of religious art, inspired by the St. John’s Bible. Also included will be high school teachers and art students from the local Catholic high schools, and our own students at St. Mary’s.
In year one of what we hope will become an annual event, the artists will illuminate a single line from Genesis – Let There Be Light. To my left is new work by Brian St. John’s, which is an interpretation of our art auction theme – Let There Be Light.
Finally and still on the horizon will be the establishment of a Southwest Center for Catholic Studies. This Center will expand the efforts I have just discussed. The Center will be interdisciplinary, bringing together faculty from all our schools – and new faculty whom we recruit with endowed chairs from other outstanding Catholic universities. It’s about time – don’t you think? – for St. Mary’s to poach in the fields of Notre Dame, Boston College, and, yes, even Dayton.
Through outreach like the work Bob O’Connor has begun with the St. John’s Bible, the Center will be a spiritual gateway, not just for St. Mary’s students, faculty and staff, but for Catholics and people of faith in the Archdiocese and throughout the Southwest. Eventually, we also hope to develop a major in Catholic Studies, graduate degree offerings, and continuing education opportunities for Catholic men and women in the Southwest.
The Center, a multi-million dollar project, is a strategic and fundraising goal of our Gateway plan. When fully funded, I also envision the establishment of Reinbolt Hall as the physical location for this Center. When we undertake the fundraising necessary to renovate this historic building as we have done with St. Louis Hall, Reinbolt Hall will play an even more significant role as spiritual core – the heart and soul – of St. Mary’s University.
Just as vital, a second goal in the coming years must be to expand our efforts outside the classroom – to touch the hearts and spirits of our resident undergraduate students, as well as of our graduate and professional students. As Chaminade said so well almost two hundred years ago:
“Religion is not taught; it is communicated. Religion is instilled more deeply in the spirits and hearts of the students through the atmosphere that permeates the school rather than through teaching.”
It’s the gesture, the look, the hospitality, the humble action of our faculty and staff, who joyfully communicate to our students what Pope Francis, now called by some the Pope of Mercy, has termed “faith working through love.” In the 18 months that Mona and I have been on this campus, we have delighted in the joy, the laughter, the sense of vocation that so many of our faculty and staff feel about their roles at St. Mary’s. In their words, gestures, and daily kindnesses, our faculty and staff have established a community that is life giving.
And then there are our students, and for most of us, the roles get reversed every day. The teacher becomes the student, the mentor is mentored, as we watch and admire our students moving forward with a sense of purpose and spirit of generosity.
So much good takes place outside the fences of St. Mary’s, and I am fully committed to supporting all that we do to reach out to the neighborhood. The Center for Civic Engagement, under the leadership of Amy Diepenbrock and Jordan Humphrey, encourages our students to engage in service projects, but also to partner in more transformative initiatives.
The St. Mary’s community extends itself not because of some vague sense – that service is an obligation of good citizenship, which you find at most universities – like paying our taxes or staying within the speed limit (which, by the way, I don’t see very many drivers doing in San Antonio).
No, our faculty and staff – especially our Marianist religious men and women – instill in our students a missionary zeal to change the world in God’s glory: Through their example, our faculty and staff communicate to our students the lesson of Micah, “He has told you O mortal what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
What more can we do? Well Mona and I, as most of you know, have four children, who themselves are 20-somethings. We know – and so do you – that the best people to communicate to our students are often their peers, other students who are farther along in their journeys.
The Marianist Leadership Program, under the direction of Brian Buchmeyer (who is here tonight), and the Student Peer Ministry program, under the leadership of Brother Jose (also here), are two wonderful programs that do this: undergraduate resident students talking and laughing, leading and serving, playing and praying together.
Since I have been here, we have increased the Marianist Director position from part-time to full-time. And I am pleased to announce that Ruben and Veronica Escobedo have also pledged to endow the Marianist Leadership Program Director – with a second gift of $500,000. The Escobedos gift will ensure that the MLP program remains an essential Marianist student formation program in the years ahead.
And on Friday, Brian Buchmeyer, Brother Jose Matos-Auffant, and I will be driving to Houston to meet with a Catholic foundation for the purpose of receiving a grant to expand and increase both the Marianist Leadership and the Student Peer Ministry programs. We are going to offer the foundation Trustees a deal they can’t refuse – an advocacy style I picked up on the streets of my Chicago neighborhood. Thank you, Tony Big Tuna Accardo.
Third and finally, going forward, we must continue to ensure that all of our hiring of faculty and staff is to mission. And importantly, we need to ensure that faculty and staff commitment to our mission is not like dinner at Luby’s Cafeteria. You can’t sign on to St. Mary’s solely to dine on the green jello and chocolate cream pie.
Our mission is an integrated holistic commitment to do all of the following: To foster the formation of people in faith. And to educate leaders for the common good through community, integrated liberal arts and professional education, and academic excellence.
If we are truly serious about mission, we need to hire faculty and staff who are committed to our entire mission. Men and women of faith – not just Catholics and Christians – who by their words, deeds, and example – touch the hearts, minds and spirits of our students.
Most of us come to St. Mary’s without a deep or even shallow understanding of Catholic Intellectual Tradition or of our Marianist spirituality. With respect to our Marianist charism, that would certainly be true for me and Mona. And so, I understand why I received no fewer than 30 volumes on the Marianist charism as I arrived, including multiple copies of the same two essays from Father Marty Solma, the United States Provincial. For the record, Father Marty, I’ve read them, more than once.
But the education is not just for me. Ongoing formation of our faculty and staff in Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Marianist Charism is essential if we can truthfully represent that we are a Catholic Marianist University and if we are to become the finest Catholic University in the Southwest. Hiring to mission is critical; but just as vital is the formation and education of faculty and staff after they arrive and throughout their careers here.
I am delighted to announce that in December we received a significant gift of $1.5 million to enhance the formation of our faculty in Catholic Intellectual Tradition, particularly through the lens and wisdom of arguably the most important American Catholic theologian of modern times – Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan.
This endowment will establish the St. Mary’s University Distinguished Chair in Catholic Philosophy. It will be awarded to an outstanding philosophy professor who understands the work of Lonergan and can integrate Lonergan’s work into the larger project of Catholic intellectual and social thought. One significant role of the holder of this Chair will be to conduct workshops and seminars with faculty from all the disciplines on campus – science and engineering, law and business, as well as humanities and the social sciences.
I credit and we should recognize Father Franz Schorp for having the wisdom to encourage me and our benefactors to take this important step – as we look forward to establishing St. Mary’s University as the finest Catholic University in the Southwest and one of the finest Catholic Universities in this country.
Well, I have spoken for a long time – certainly long enough. There are other points I’d like to make. I would have liked to speak longer about service and civic engagement and the role of community in the formation of our students in faith – and why it is, therefore, so vital that St. Mary’s remain a residential college for undergraduates. I would have liked to build even more on Pope Francis’s exhortation – especially his caustic critique that there are “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Pope Francis gets it – St. Mary’s should always be a joyful, laughing, spirited place to study, to teach, to work, and to worship together.
But it’s time for me to conclude. And let me end by simply pointing out that you and I are on a holy, sacred mission. St. Mary’s University should never be simply another fine regional university that provides knowledge and training to young adults. St. Mary’s is a Gateway, a faithful enterprise, and we are missionaries.
As missionaries of higher education, we are embarked on the holy task of forming faithful young men and women to become extraordinary leaders, men and women whose lives, personal and professional, are about serving God by serving neighbor.
Thank you for your kind consideration and God Bless you and your families.