It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Opening Liturgy of the 2011-2012 academic year. What better way to begin than to unite in prayer to ask God's blessing on the academic year and on the many urgent needs of our world.
September 8 also is the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a very significant date to the IHM Congregation. Many sisters entered the Congregation on September 8, and it also has been the special date of many meaningful celebrations in Marywood's history. In fact, the Opening Liturgy is one of the oldest traditions we have at Marywood. It dates back to 1915 when Marywood's first students and faculty assembled on this very date for the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
Year after year, we gather as a community to celebrate God's presence in our lives, to recommit to the mission of Marywood, and to welcome our new students, faculty, staff, and administrators. While we come here from different places and diverse backgrounds, we are able to joyfully share in the continuity of this rich spiritual tradition.
I am reminded of the wisdom expressed by Peter during his visit to the home of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, in the Book of Acts: "...'I now really understand', he said, 'that God has no favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'" (Acts 10:34)
In other words, we are all God's children. Our love, generosity, care, and fellowship are not determined by a person's status, background, race, or wealth. So, we gather as a welcoming community of God's children.
In that spirit of hospitality, we welcome a total of 21 new faculty members who have become part of the Marywood community since July 1st. Our incoming class includes—997 students, which includes 640 undergraduate and 357 graduate students. At this point in time, we have an overall fall enrollment of 3,420 students, consisting of 2,258 undergraduate students and 1,145 graduate students. The official total of residents—at 1,085—is the largest on-campus student population in the University's history. Since 2007, Marywood's on-campus resident population has increased 81 percent.
This fall, the second phase of our renovations to the Center for Architectural Studies was completed, and a dedication of this section of the Center is set for October 22. The new Aquatics Center, dedicated this past spring, is open and ready for our students, faculty, and staff. Marywood's new Men's Golf team begins to compete this semester—bringing our varsity sports offerings to 17.
We are blessed in the fact that Marywood is a place for realizing potential and possibility. Today we celebrate with deep gratitude all of the new life on our vibrant campus. As a committed and enthusiastic academic community, we welcome each of you along with your dreams and aspirations—all that you are and all that you are still becoming. May your journey here at Marywood this year be one of growth and blessing!
We will have another opportunity to come together as a learning community for our Opening Convocation, the formal academic gathering that marks the start of our new year. The Convocation is set for Wednesday, September 21, at 11 a.m., at the Sette LaVerghetta Center. We will recognize the positive work being done by the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization founded by Eboo Patel, author of the book Acts of Faith, which is required reading for our University 100 classes this year.
While Eboo is unable to be with us that day, two IFYC representatives will join us: Katie Bringman Baxter and Hind Makki. I was fortunate enough to meet Eboo recently in Washington, D.C., when Sister Catherine Luxner and I traveled to represent Marywood in response to a non-partisan challenge issued by the White House to make interfaith cooperation and community service a priority in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Because this initiative resonates with our mission, core values, and already strong commitment to community service, Marywood University is one of 250 institutions out of 6,000 nationwide that will participate in the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, with special attention to addressing domestic poverty and educational opportunity.
The main goals of this project are:
I am delighted that Marywood University is taking such an active role in this initiative and that our focus will be addressing domestic poverty and educational opportunity.
These are not new concepts at Marywood; we will be building on our already strong mission and core values. Our plan will meet the President's Challenge in positive, meaningful ways. We are committed to creating culturally diverse and global educational experiences at Marywood, so that you, our students, can become positive forces for good in this complex world.
As we look forward to the Opening Convocation, I call your attention to an Interfaith Prayer Service that is planned for this weekend.
On Sunday, September 11, we will remember all 9/11 victims and families at both Sunday liturgies and at the evening prayer service, which will be held on the Memorial Commons (or, in case of rain—the Rotunda). The 7:30 p.m. Mass will be rescheduled to 4 p.m., with the prayer service to follow. In addition, the Interfaith Prayer Service will formally launch Marywood's participation in the yearlong President's Challenge.
Today the Church celebrates the birthday of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Our Gospel reading focuses on the birth of Jesus. Thinking of how this young Jewish woman, even before her birth, was called to be the bearer of the Greatest Gift ever given, I ask you to reflect on her quiet courage. Mary's entire life was a living "Yes" to God's call. Take time, also, to consider the trust and fidelity of Joseph in the face of fear and uncertainty. Ponder, as well, the gifts that God has given you and how God may be calling you to use those gifts.
Let me assure you: we want to give you every opportunity to serve and use your God-given gifts and talents to the fullest. To make this step even easier, following today's liturgy, students, faculty, and staff are invited to commit themselves to ongoing community service by signing "I will" pledge cards (similar to the electronic commitments on the 9/11 website). You will have this same opportunity at the prayer service on 9/11, at VIA meetings, and other venues, but I challenge you to be courageous, in the spirit of Mary and Joseph, and take that step to trust and serve today.
Another way that members of the Marywood community can help meet needs locally is by bringing healthy, non-perishable foods to the Interfaith Prayer Service on Sunday. This ongoing healthy food drive, initiated for the United Way Day of Caring, will continue throughout the year, with drop-off locations at the Human Resources Office, Campus Ministry, and other sites around campus. Food will be given monthly to agencies dedicated to reducing food insecurity in Lackawanna County.
As we move now to this sacred liturgy, may we open our hearts to approach life this year with expectancy, readiness, and a willingness to do what God calls us to do, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones! May we also hear the cry of the poor and respond as Jesus would.
Today's reading notes: "all things work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to God's purpose." (Romans 8:28-30 13:8)
As we gather today, I pray that in the wondrous journey of life each of us will, indeed, use our gifts according to God's purpose.
Now, let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with inspiration and to bless our celebration and our entire world as we lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving.