Homily for Alumni of Stonehill
June 09, 2010
by Rev. John Phalen C.S.C. '70
Vigil of Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
GEN 14:18-20; 1 COR 11: 23-26; LK 9: 11b-17
How do you feel coming back to the place of your College days? Joyful over seeing old friends? Worried that maybe they won't recognize you? Nostalgic about the days when Stonehill was a College in its infancy, with little to offer compared to the present-day buildings, library, faculty and staff and reputation? I remember - and here I feel a bit like the old priest, Melchisadek of the first reading - when the Green Hornet movies at the Hemingway Auditorium were the only place to socialize on a weekend!
The early days were just made for pioneers here at Stonehill. A small but competent staff got together and offered a whole education, complete with sports and extra-curriculars, which gave the impression much like that of the Gospel: taking very little - including some students ill-prepared to be here - and through hard work and inspiration making something great of it: something nourishing!
The Gospel today has many fascinating details. One is that Jesus asked the apostles to divide the crowd into groups of 50 and have them recline on the grass in these groups. In a way we could say that Stonehill was and is like this group of 50: a small neighborhood; a large family. A group small enough to know well and large enough to keep things interesting. A group for whom we might be willing to take some responsibility - and by whom we might be understood, accepted, challenged and loved.
Stonehill is versatile in its size and spirit. I remember a group of us English majors getting together and dreaming up seminars on various authors: Ernest Hemingway; Thomas Hardy; John Updike. None of these were courses offered in the catalogue. But we had gotten to know professors and explained our interest and in some cases the seminars were offered at the professor's home. Larger institutions could not mold themselves to the student's interests in this way. Stonehill could feed us with what we already hungered for.
When Latin went out as a requirement for all seminarians no one did more celebrating than I. It was then that Fr. John Lucey C.S.C., of happy memory, cornered me and encouraged me to take another language before I graduated if I wanted a well-rounded education. He knew I had been a poor Latin student but the challenge was still there. And I respected him so much as the Classics professor he became once Latin ceased to get in the way. His courses in Greek Tragedy and Mythology, given in understandable English, were fascinating.
I took Spanish from Ms. Mahoney and Ms. Collins, and in spite of myself I learned the structure of the language well. Once I graduated I spent some months in Latin America and started actually using the language to communicate. I've used it as a pastor, prison chaplain and in my present ministry at the Fr. Peyton Center encouraging families around the world to pray the Rosary together. This little College - this group of 50-brought a poor language student to fluency in Spanish, for which I am forever grateful. It opened up a whole new world for me. It probably did the same for you.
You have your stories too - of the influence of this small but powerful institution. Stonehill over the years has multiplied the little it had over and over again like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
And in the end which is really the beginning, the commencement - at graduation day - we were charged to go forth and "give them some food yourselves." While still students we volunteered our time and talents to help others in education, sports, or aiding those with disabilities.
The approach was in smaller groups-like the groups of 50. And when we left Stonehill we might have felt we had little to offer. But what we had learned here had a multiplier effect. It could be applied to different people in different situations. Our education opened new worlds to us, where we have functioned with greater competency than we would have thought possible. We have been nourishing others to some degree since we left here.
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, said the blessing, broke them and gave them to the disciples to be distributed among the people. It fed 5,000 with 12 baskets left over.
Stonehill took its few buildings and compact faculty and staff, blessed them, broke them on occasion by giving them too many jobs, and distributed their wisdom among the students. Those students took what little they'd comprehended and in the crucible of life on their own blessed it, broke it, and distributed it among so many who found it to be nourishing: from family to co-workers to employees to yet more students.
Our God takes us in our littleness, blesses us with spouses and children and friends and a good education; breaks us at times with sad and sorrowful experiences which draw us closer to others and make us more compassionate as Jesus was compassionate; and then sends us forth to the world nourished by his word and sacrament to "give them some food yourselves!" And the result is abundance overflowing!
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