Sept. 5, 2012
Good afternoon and welcome to our sesquicentennial year. The year is meant to be a celebration and a series of opportunities and occasions to examine and deepen our heritage as a liberal arts, Catholic and Lasallian institution and family. Today’s Mass has provided us the opportunity to pray together as a community, as we have done for the last 150 years.
When we look back at Saint Mary’s College in those early years, when nine Brothers arrived in 1868 to take over a school with less than 40 students, we see that a remarkable transformation has taken place. Brother Matthew McDevitt tells us in his history of the first century of Saint Mary’s College that “The archbishop circulated a pastoral letter through California, Nevada and Utah, urging the clergy to give their fullest support to the new administration, and followed it with a prospectus that featured the advantages of the Christian education offered by Saint Mary’s.
The results were satisfying. Within three months the student body tripled to one hundred and twenty and the staff from two to nine. By the end of the scholastic year there was a full complement of two hundred boarders and over forty day students, despite the increase of the annual tuition from $200 to $250. The achievement was striking in that it was made in the face of a smallpox epidemic that raged for months and swept away hundreds of San Franciscans. Simultaneously a series of earthquakes rocked the city and closed the schools for a week.” (The First Century of St. Mary’s College, 61-62).
If you had asked one of the five Irish-born Brothers in 1868 how to get to Moraga, he would undoubtedly have said: “Oh, I wouldn’t start from here. You have to go somewhere else first.” So we did – to Oakland, and then to here.
From that small community of Brothers, boys and staff, we have certainly grown in size, stature, location, and curriculum, to the institution we are today. We have over 1,600 boarders, and more than 2,400 day and night students, both graduate and undergraduate. Our tuition has risen almost 150 times what it cost then. We have a beautiful campus, and faculty and staff total nearly 1,000. And our liberal arts curriculum has gained national recognition.
Today we have gathered to celebrate this community, nurtured and guided and unified by the Spirit. Today we are a diverse community of scholars, staff, and students. Today we have come together in this chapel, unified by this liturgy and surrounded by flags representing our diverse backgrounds, enclosed by the windows and art depicting the lives of Mary and Saint John Baptist de La Salle. We are from different ethnicities, countries, religions and social backgrounds. It is no accident that this beautiful chapel sits in the center of our campus. It is a physical reminder of our high purpose and our religious heritage. It is a place where we celebrate the liturgy that is the center and expression of our belief.
This year will provide many opportunities for our community to reflect on and celebrate all that we have inherited and all that we have become. Some of you have been committed to our mission for many years, and some are new.
Our common challenge as a college is to integrate our knowledge and experience into an understanding of the Christian person and the whole of creation. The Church’s guiding document on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, speaks to this integration of knowledge as a primary task of the university or college today:
In a Catholic University, research (and study) necessarily includes (a) the search for an integration of knowledge, (b) a dialogue between faith and reason, (c) an ethical concern, and (d) a theological perspective.
16. Integration of knowledge is a process, one which will always remain incomplete; moreover, the explosion of knowledge in recent decades, together with the rigid compartmentalization of knowledge within individual academic disciplines, makes the task increasingly difficult. But a University, and especially a Catholic University, "has to be a 'living union' of individual organisms dedicated to the search for truth ... It is necessary to work towards a higher synthesis of knowledge, in which alone lies the possibility of satisfying that thirst for truth which is profoundly inscribed on the heart of the human person."(Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 15-16 ).
The high ideals evoked in Ex Corde challenge us to be a “living union,” a community engaged in the search for truth, and living in profound respect for each individual in our community. These are ideals, arising from our liberal arts, Catholic and Lasallian traditions and which we all should strive to attain.
I certainly hope this year provides us the opportunity to celebrate our search for truth and our unity as an academic community.
Thank you all for attending today and I wish you the very best throughout this year.