Inaugural Address

Oct 19, 2007


I feel privileged to have the opportunity to serve as the eleventh president of Marywood University. I am grateful to Father Schreiter for his wonderful analysis of the inherent connection between Catholic identity and global citizenship. Thank you for your eloquent reminder that values such as dignity, service, community, and empowerment -- that are foundational to the mission of Catholic higher education -- must be global in scope and given life through actions that promote dialogue, solidarity and commitment to the common good in an interdependent world.

The Catholic intellectual tradition is greatly enriched by a heritage of social teachings that emphasize the dignity of the human person, the importance of community and a spirituality of engagement with the world. As Marywood University enters her 93rd year and the inaugural year of a new presidency, I wish to lift up this bountiful heritage and celebrate it for its formative impact on Catholic higher education and most particularly on Marywood University .

Catholic identity is central to the richness of our past, to the dynamism of our present and to the vision that I passionately hold for our future. We are an institution on the move with a clear and compelling vision of becoming a premier Catholic university for the 21st century. Along with excellent academic programs, our campus culture and curricula are deeply infused with values. At Marywood we prepare students through hands-on experiences to impact the world, from our own neighborhoods to the far reaches of the globe. Our campus community is shaped by a core ideology of empowerment that is much needed in a world ruptured by divisions of every kind.

[picture of president quote]Both of these concepts -- core ideology and envisioned future -- are important to the Marywood story we celebrate today. Our ongoing success and effectiveness will depend on fidelity to our values and mission, as we move forward in realizing our dreams and aspirations. These ideals define the enduring nature of an organization -- the consistent identity that transcends time. They are the soul of an organization.

What is the core ideology of Marywood University, and what is its relevance to the needs and realities of Northeastern Pennsylvania, this nation, and the world?

The Core Ideology of Marywood University

The core ideology of this University flows from the mission of Jesus as expressed in the Gospel of John: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (Jn.10:10). This passage is exquisite in its simplicity. It tells us that God's love is copious and all encompassing. The mission of Jesus is for all times and all people. Jesus was sent to this world so that God's vision of abundance of life for all might be fulfilled. The mission of Jesus is about life -- life for each person, life for the entire global family and life for the world.

The quest to promote life in abundance was the impetus that prompted the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1915 to found Marywood, the first Catholic college for women in the state of Pennsylvania. The dreams and aspirations of the founding Sisters were shaped and enlivened by the spirituality of Alphonsus Liguori, an 18th century saint, Doctor of the Church, founder of the Redemptorists and a patron of the IHM Congregation.

Alphonsus, a remarkable man, is a role model for those committed to higher education. A canon and civil lawyer while still in his teens, Alphonsus was also a musician, painter, poet and theologian. He preached the Gospel in understandable terms and grappled with moral dilemmas arising in the everyday lives of the people to whom he brought the Word of Life in abundance. Along with a great intellect, Alphonsus was graced with pastoral sensitivity especially for the poor and abandoned. He had "eyes" to see obstacles blocking the development of God-given potential and a heart bold enough to spend his life affirming the dignity of the poor. There is a timeless quality to Alphonsus' attentiveness to those who struggle for life in the margins of society.

I walked in the footsteps of Alphonsus in the years that I lived in Italy. And I know that the legacy of Alphonsus Liguori permeates the mission of the IHM congregation and the mission and core values of Marywood University. It is in Marywood's spiritual genes and is expressed in a host of ways by and throughout the Marywood community. It is reflected in our Catholic identity, in our goals, curriculum, artistic expressions, service learning initiatives, professional training programs, and research endeavors. It is the invisible energy that fuels the collective soul of this University. To honor our Alphonsian legacy, the former Regina Chapel has been renovated and renamed "The Liguori Center" and the Inaugural Reception will be the first official event to take place there.

As I reflect on the spiritual tradition of Marywood, on our future and on what I would most like to say in this inaugural address, I am invigorated and challenged by what I see. Marywood has a distinctive capacity to create a learning community in which all who participate can shape meaningful lives that contribute to the making of a meaningful world.

[picture of president quote]In keeping with who we are and what we are meant to become, Marywood blends the pursuit of a life of wisdom with the development of human potential for the sake of the common good. Creating a faith community, educating for justice, contributing to the formation of moral decision-makers, and developing leaders for today and tomorrow are enduring goals related to our core ideology and to our envisioned future. The Marywood culture connects hopes and desires for the good life to life that is good for everyone. At Marywood University, we are given the chance to create links between faith and reason, ideals and realities, purpose and possibility. The Marywood experience breaks through barriers and empowers students to become leaders who inspire positive change.

How can Marywood and other Catholic universities contribute to the creation of a world in which there is right relationship between God and creation and between and among people as members of God's family? I would like to cite just a few of the many ways that are direct expressions of this mission, and which I think are of critical significance at this time.

Since the pursuit of truth is an essential component of Catholic higher education, Marywood must be a place for ongoing respectful dialogue on questions central to the life of the Church and world communities. Today it is especially important that Catholic universities such as Marywood offer opportunities for ethical conversations, essential for integrating knowledge, technologies, and moral principles.

It is also inherent to the mission of Catholic higher education at this time to enable study of the diverse religious and cultural traditions of the world. Through inter-religious and intra-cultural dialogue and education, mutual understanding that promotes joint efforts to strengthen global solidarity can displace the suspicion and ignorance that escalate disunity and conflict.

For many Americans and citizens of countries routinely impacted by tragic episodes of violence, fear has reinforced entrenchment in ideological camps. Wherever it is present, a climate of divisiveness is lethal to the human spirit. It generates uncertainty, volatility, and an inability to focus on the common good.

The contemporary world context is challenging universities such as Marywood to exercise enormous imagination to bring forth greater unity through education, particularly in areas of peacemaking and conflict-resolution. In a diverse world, a Catholic university must embrace the challenge of providing its members with a distinctive Catholic intellectual vision -- while also creating a learning environment that celebrates difference and enables all to grow in understanding the complex nature of the cultures of the world.

Bernard Lee, SM from St. Mary's University characterized the "style" of a university educated person as one who is literate, critical, articulate, and committed to wholeness. For Lee, commitment to wholeness is reflected by addressing the question: "What kind of a world should we be making for ourselves and for our children?" His answer is to be found in collaborating with Jesus' mission of bringing forth the Reign of God.

As Lee noted, Catholic universities educate the whole person in solidarity with the world: "We are not here first and foremost to contemplate, but to work together to build a world, to make history that is faithful to God's intentions or, in less religious language, faithful to the need of the kind of world we believe we should be making" ("The Mission of an American Catholic University," 4).

Marywood and other Catholic universities are dynamic resources for transforming minds and hearts, and for strengthening global solidarity. In today's social context, some of the most poignant consequences of poverty, violence and injustice are the impact they have on children of this world. Consider the powerful words of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "...the child's sob in silence curses deeper than the strong man in his wrath" (The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "The Cry of the Children," 158).

Catholic higher education is a sign of hope for the future. Marywood University gives life and expression to this hope by educating students to be critical, self-reflective thinkers who can imagine a better world and engage in meaningful and productive ways with their own God-given potential, with one another and with the global community.

The core ideology that sustains Marywood University and will shape its future is clearly rooted in a mission of meaning-making borne of faith, tradition and courage. As Marywood moves forward toward its centennial celebration, our mission must remain true to these compelling insights of the great Redemptorist theologian, Bernard Haring:

"Freedom grows with our courageous "yes" to the real conditions of life and in full awareness of the complexity of the present situation, including its many possibilities and limitations.... It is the courage to be, while sensing the need to become ... the courage to bear, along with one's own burden, a part of the burden of one's neighbor... (Hope is the Remedy, 180-1).

When we own what Father Haring calls "the courage to be" by bearing "a part of the burden of one's neighbor" in addition to our own, we build toward the global understanding that is integral to Marywood's mission -- and, indeed, to our lives as people of hope.

A Time for Solidarity

[picture of president quote]We live in an age that is too often described as cynical and self-serving. I am encouraged by the involvement and commitment to service that I see in Marywood faculty and students. I am also heartened by recent research that indicates a re-birth of commitment to volunteerism and civic participation in our country. Descriptions of Generation Y, for example, suggest that this cohort of 76 million young Americans surpass previous generations in their desire to spend time in meaningful and useful ways.

This world needs a critical mass of people who can extend community beyond national borders and make this century a century of global solidarity. The choices that we make shape us. In an interdependent world we need to see the connection between "the good life" and "life that is good for all." The Roman philosopher, Cicero suggested that there are three divisions of moral goodness: "The first is the ability to distinguish truth from falsity..... The the ability to restrain the passions.... And the third is to behave considerately and understandingly in our associations with other people" (On the Good Life, 128). All of these elements are present in the mission of Marywood. Their actualization in the lives of our students is a goal to which we must be ardently committed. Marywood University has a great deal to contribute to cultivating moral capital for the life of the world.

A Thirst for Meaning

In the past several years I have had wonderful opportunities to encounter young people in various parts of the world and to listen to their dreams. I have sat with street children in Uganda and Tanzania who lived out of a shelter and came to school in hopes that they would one day be able to become teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers and social workers in order to help their people.

I have heard the cries of young women in Thailand, Nigeria and Italy who longed to be freed from the enslavement of human trafficking. I have seen the hunger for education in the villages of Peru, Honduras and India and in youth groups in Eastern Europe. And I have been moved by the spirituality of young adults -- both here at Marywood and elsewhere -- and by their desire to grow in self-understanding and authenticity as well as to contribute to the making of a better world.

These encounters convince me that meaningful education involves "knowing" not only through logic and the senses but also through empathy, intuition, compassion and faith. Fundamental life questions have a place in the learning culture of Marywood University because of our focus on justice, compassion and hope as a community. The process of education entails learning and growing. It fosters the ongoing intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic and moral development of persons and encourages commitment to shaping a more just, humane and loving society.

I believe that every person has dreams and desires about the best way to live a life of fulfillment. I also believe that Marywood University and other colleges and universities have an extraordinary opportunity to provide space and stimulus for young adults to pursue their search to discover their personal answers to the question that the poet, Mary Oliver framed so well: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"(New and Selected Poems, "The Summer Day," 94).

On this day, some words of theologian Martin Buber are part of the message that I wish to share with you: "Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you" (The Way of Response, 136).

As I look out at the Marywood students who are present among us today, I urge you to engage fully with the world around you. Each of you has a unique contribution to make to imagining and realizing alternative visions for a world that is conducive to abundant life.

Lean into all of the opportunities that a Marywood education will afford you to expand that "one wild and precious life" you have and to discern how to spend it wisely.

You have a right and duty to dream.

You have a right and duty to hope.

You have a right and duty to envision possibilities for a better world.

You have a right and duty to make them happen.

The world is waiting to be hallowed by you!

I charge you today to be courageous and hopeful. Become global citizens. Choose life. Claim your goodness and convert your dreams to deeds.


Works Cited

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

Buber, Martin. The Way of Response. New York: Schocken Books, 1966.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius and Michael Grant (tr.). On the Good Life. New
York: Penguin Classics, 1971.

Haring, Bernard. Hope Is the Remedy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Lee, Bernard J. "The Mission of an American Catholic University."
Presentation to Faculty, Board Members, Staff, Students, St. Thomas
University, Miami, 2003.

Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.