by President Tom Mengler
November 9, 2012
Archbishop García-Sillar, Father Martin Solma, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Charles Barrett and other Trustees of this great University, our beloved Marianist sisters and brothers, Presidents or their representatives at universities from around the country, students and alumni, faculty and staff, family and friends. A word to the wise: Inviting your wife to offer a few reflections is risky business.
Today, I am filled with a lot of different emotions. I am humbled by the faith and confidence our Trustees and the Marianist Provincial Council have extended to Mona and me.
I feel proud to be associated with St. Mary’s University. Over the last five months, I have become ever more conscious of the many ways in which St. Mary’s University for 160 years has been a gateway for our students and the San Antonio community.
I feel pride in our dedicated faculty and staff who work tirelessly to ensure that St. Mary’s not only enrolls students from this region and elsewhere, but – if our students apply themselves and work hard – they graduate too, formed in faith and prepared to lead purposeful professional lives.
I want you also to know that I am confident. I am confident in our ability over the next 10 years to confront our challenges and to capitalize on opportunity, and I am bullish on St. Mary’s future.
I feel nostalgic too. Memories are all around me, because so many friends and family from all the stages of my life are here in the Bill Greehey Arena today.
A first cousin from Chicago who has known me from the time we were both soiling our diapers.
Two friends from my undergraduate days at Carleton College, one of whom is now a university president, the other my college roommate and now a distinguished geology professor.
I would remind you, Fred and Jim . . . our code of silence about our rambunctious college days remains in effect – especially today.
Others present today are a close colleague and his wife from my 17 years as a professor and dean at the University of Illinois; two attorney friends from my two years in the Texas Attorney’s General Office; and friends from our 10 years in Minnesota, including Father Peter Laird, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who is concelebrating this Mass today.
Three of our four children are here today; our youngest son – not present – is hopefully acing a calculus test today at Montana State.
Many of Mona’s family – all native Texans, including Mona’s parents – are also present for the purpose – I think – of verifying that after almost 26 years of marriage to Mona, we finally have moved back to Texas, and I have respectable employment too!
Permit me for a moment to recognize my mother and father, Rosalie and Ray Mengler, who passed away 10 and 20 years ago. My parents were members of the generation Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation; and it’s hard to quarrel with this characterization. Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation the courageous men and women who were raised by their parents with little or nothing in the Great Depression and became adults between 1941 and 1945 while fighting a just war to save civilization. Men and women who lived their lives – most, like my parents, honest and unadorned.
Fulfilling lives . . . grounded in, centered on faith in God, uncompromising dedication to parents, children and friends, and with an overwhelming sense of obligation – to God, to family, to community and to country.
When these men and women returned from war, they married, they had babies – I am one of those babies. And they worked together to build the greatest, most productive democratic society the world had ever seen.
They were not a perfect generation. No one’s perfect. My parents, like many of that era, held a few views that we have rightly rejected today.
But importantly for us they also embodied – and put into daily action – enduring values. Values that quite frankly are not popular today, against the grain, one might even say counter-cultural.
God and family first. Self-sacrifice for the greater good. Duty, integrity, courage, gratitude. Gratitude for all their blessings, despite or perhaps because of the many hardships of their lives.
For those of you who are part of St. Mary’s or one of the other Marianist institutions, you recognize these values of the Greatest Generation as several of our own Marianist values. I prove my point by focusing on that most Marianist scriptural passage, in the Gospel of John at the wedding at Cana. Pointing in the direction of her son Jesus, Mary gently prods the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” No half measures or tentative steps here. Mary’s message is not a prescription to “do much of what God calls us to do, but only if it advances our business plan.” Nor is it to “do whatever he tells you, if and when you feel like it.” I have to confess Mona and I have urged this salient point on our own children – not always with great result.
No, Mary, with grace and serenity urges us steadfastly to follow through completely, with our eyes always on the mission. To act with integrity and compassion, to sacrifice for the common good, to do all that we are obliged to do.
So what are the uncompromising responsibilities of those of us who make up the St. Mary’s University community? I believe we are obliged to do three things:
First, we have a duty to promote and expect excellence from all who are members of St. Mary’s – to hold ourselves and one another accountable for St. Mary’s future. When the servers at Cana followed Jesus’s directions, the wedding couple’s guests enjoyed not just more wine. The miracle at Cana involved the following of God’s call so responsibly that the servers were able to provide the day’s best wine.
Remember too that the vision of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianists, was no small thing, no modest undertaking. Chaminade set out to achieve what Brother Tom Giardino, Executive Director of the American Marianist Universities, would call a “Big Hairy Idea.” Chaminade’s vision – at the beginning of the 19th century, was to re-Christianize France. High hopes, lofty aspirations.
Remember also that members of the Greatest Generation, my parents and your parents or your grandparents, didn’t look to the other guy to complete the mission. Together, of course, this community needs to develop a strategic vision and an action plan over the course of the next year – which I believe will position us to become the finest Catholic university in the Southwest.
Collectively and collaboratively, but also individually. Faculty and staff of St. Mary’s University, we need each and every one of you to reflect on what that specifically means for you, what duties our collective vision imposes on you, what God and Mary are calling you to do.
Students of St. Mary’s: You too must demand of yourselves more than you might think you can achieve. My colleagues and I expect you to dedicate yourselves – to work hard – to earn it, to earn the opportunity that your parents, your family, your grade school and high school teachers and St. Mary’s have provided to you. The faculty and staff of St. Mary’s have the greatest confidence in you: We believe that you have the minds and hearts, the spirit and mettle, to become the next Greatest Generation.
And graduates of St. Mary’s, now more than ever, we need your help, including your financial assistance. We need each of you to invest in our future. Not to expect the other guy to contribute, we need each of you. We need you to invest in St. Mary’s successful future – in our talented faculty, our programs and our facilities, and we need you to invest most of all in our students, so that they can receive the same opportunities the good Marianists provided to you.
Our second obligation at St. Mary’s University is to promote a robust and pervasive Catholicity and Marianist charism – not simply in our undergraduate programs, but in our graduate and professional programs as well. When the Greatest Generation returned from war in 1945 and some of these men enrolled at St. Mary’s, it wasn’t necessary for the President – Father Walter Golatka – to bold score St. Mary’s Catholic and Marianist identities. One Camino Santa Maria was abundantly Catholic and Marianist. If some of us like to refer to the gatherings of the legal bench and bar as being lousy with lawyers, it’s just as appropriately alliterative to describe St. Mary’s in the late 40s, 50s and 60s as made up of a magnificent multitude of Marianists.
This numerical abundance of professed religious was certainly true for my own Catholic school education, K through 12, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. Throughout my childhood, my mom and dad and siblings and I lived across the street from St. Vincent Ferrer Church and its grade school, in suburban Chicago.
In fact, our house directly faced the sister’s convent, overflowing with Dominican nuns who taught me from kindergarten to eighth grade. Consider for a moment how upsetting it is for a 13 year old boy to sense that 20 nuns in their full habits from head to toe are looking out their windows . . . watching your every move? Almost as psychologically traumatic as this same 13 year old boy seeing . . . the nun’s undergarments hung out to dry.
Well, I am thankful that those particular days are behind me without the need for psychotherapy.
Of greater concern is that at every Catholic university, the professed religious – sisters, brothers, and priests – are no longer numerous enough to take on the dominant role in the education, spiritual as well as intellectual and ethical, of our young men and women. At St. Mary’s, thankfully, we are still blessed by the presence and participation of a good number of our beloved Marianist brothers and sisters.
But increasingly the duty here too at St. Mary’s – to nurture and sustain our Catholic identity and Marianist charism – rests on the shoulders of our lay faculty and staff.
Allow me to visually demonstrate how I have become aware of my significant burden in this matter. Since my appointment in February, different members of the Society of Mary have provided me with some reading material on the Marianist charism and educational philosophy. President’s Ambassadors, would you briefly share in shouldering my weighty burden?
There are some duplicates here. In fact, I have received the same two short essays three times from one Marianist priest – our Provincial Father Marty Solma.
Well, what does this picture tell us, besides that I have quite a bit of reading to do?
That increasingly it falls on me and my lay colleagues to maintain St. Mary’s Catholicity and our Marianist character.
It falls on me and my lay colleagues, in John Paul II’s famous words, to fully support the Catholic University’s “privileged task . . . to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for the truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth.”
It falls increasingly on my lay colleagues and me to ensure that our students are instructed in the Catholic faith.
This same group of lay faculty and staff must accept a greater burden to assist our students, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, to be formed in faith. It falls on lay faculty and staff in the School of Law, in the science, technology, engineering and math programs, in the Bill Greehey School of Business, in our counseling programs, and in the humanities and social sciences to help our students begin to ask and reflect on the two most important questions of our lives:
First, for what great purpose is God calling me?
Second – in hearing God’s specific call to me – am I the same authentic person at home, at work and in the community that I seek to serve?
Our third obligation, in effect, follows from St. Mary’s Catholic and Marianist identities. Trustees, faculty and staff, students and alumni – we know that a core principle of St. Mary’s is that we grow and mature in community, through community and for community.
Blessed Chaminade’s profound insight is that we are relational beings – that we become more fully human, not in isolation, but in the experiences of life and in the rich variety of ways in which we serve God, family, workplace, community and country. My parent’s generation went to war as teenagers, as young adults. They returned as men and women of integrity, compassion, character.
They developed because of their experiences and through their relationships, from their mentors and roles models, and with each other. A young man grew up quickly whispering to another soldier in the close communion of the fox hole in Bastogne. A young woman matured while expressing her doubts and hopes and fears to Rosie the Riveter on the factory line in Toledo.
After the war, when these men and women married and started families and built homes, their houses faced outward – toward the other families on their block. In the evenings they sat on their porches to visit with one another, with watchful eyes on their kids playing in the street.
St. Mary’s residential college experience is an important key to becoming more fully human through community. Our students in residence at One Camino Santa Maria are surrounded by faculty, staff and fellow students who treat each other with dignity, respect, and an embracing care and concern.
Faculty, staff and students who pray and worship together, and who reach out beyond the boundaries of our campus to serve those who are most in need of our care.
Partners from the San Antonio business, health care, government, legal, science, and nonprofit communities who provide hands-on internships and facilitate civic engagement opportunities for our students.
But there’s a lot more that we can and should do. Chaminade’s insight about the importance of community speaks also to the ways in which students develop professional skills and values, the skills and values that employers are seeking in new employees. Employers we know are looking for the skills and values of the excellent professional – the hard skills of effective writing and speaking, critical thinking and problem solving. And the skills and values that make us more fully human, employers are especially looking for these – the skills and values of teamwork, respect for your fellow workers, listening, collaborating for the common ends of the organization, honesty, leadership and integrity.
In the next few years, my colleagues and I need to change and innovate. We need to work together to provide more experiential and mentorship opportunities for our students . . . inside the classroom as well as outside – so that they come to see first-hand what true professionalism is and the absorbing commitment that is required to become an outstanding professional.
We need, in effect, to prepare our students to succeed like so many St. Mary’s graduates who have come before them. Men and women such as nationally renowned space scientist James Burch of Southwest Research Institute; Texas Court of Appeals Judge Alma Lopez; Bill Greehey, Chairman of the Board of NuStar Energy; Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff; United States Senator John Cornyn; Mary Ellen Londrie, CEO of P3S Corporation; President Emeritus Charlie Cotrell; film and television actress Vanessa Martinez; and Father Rudy Vela, Vice President for Mission and Identity.
When our students leave One Camino Santa Maria, we need to ensure that they are formed in faith to lead purposeful lives and have developed the skills and values to achieve careers without boundaries, without ceilings – just like the distinguished graduates whom I have just mentioned.
In conclusion, I thank you all for being here today. Mona and I are honored by your presence, and I am proud to serve and lead you as St. Mary’s 13th President.
I pledge to fulfill to the best of my abilities and in memory of my parents these uncompromising obligations you have placed on my shoulders – and I – in turn – have placed on yours.
I ask you to join me in promoting excellence; to join me in nurturing at St. Mary’s a pervasive Catholic identity and Marianist spirit; and to join me, therefore, in maintaining a community in the spirit of Blessed Chaminade and in the service of Jesus Christ. A collaborative community that prepares our students to lead their organizations with excellence, integrity and compassion.
I believe that if we do these things together, we will become the finest Catholic university in the Southwest.
And I pray, and I ask you to join me in prayer, that the young men and women who are the students of St. Mary’s University will embrace our Catholic and Marianist values and become the next Greatest Generation.
Thank you for your kind consideration and God’s peace.