Convocation Speech 2014

Nelson Mandela, the world renowned South African who led the fight to end apartheid in his nation, once stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” But what manner of education do we seek from our students at Stonehill College? A little story illustrates a profound answer. Many years ago a young intern, who graduated a few years earlier from Stonehill College, was resting in his lower East side Manhattan flat after a long day at the hospital. He received a knock at his front door.  He opened the door and a little girl said, “I understand you are a doctor.  Could you please come and see my little brother who is very sick?”  The young intern immediately threw on a light jacket, the only thing he could readily find, grabbed his medical bag, and followed the young girl.  After several minutes tramping through the snow they arrived at a dirty, dingy, and small one-room tenement apartment.  The family was huddled around a little boy who was obviously quite sick.  The intern immediately got to work. But despite his valiant efforts, the child died right before him.  Almost immediately the intern began to shiver, not only because the child had died, but because there was no heat in the apartment.  Immediately the father of the boy took off his tattered and rather dirty jacket and placed it over the shoulders of the intern.  “Here, take my jacket, you are cold.  Thanks for trying to save my son,” the man said.  The young doctor was embarrassed, but realized that this might be the only way the family had to show its gratitude so he swallowed his pride and accepted the tattered jacket as a gift.  Years passed and the young intern became a famous and wealthy physician.  But the doctor kept that jacket and proudly wears it twice each year – the anniversaries of the boy’s death and his graduation from medical school – for it helps him know what is truly important in life, values he learned some years earlier in North Easton, Massachusetts.[1]

This story from the annals of the College’s history illustrates quite well, I believe, what makes a Stonehill education different; it says we educate young men and women to understand what is most important in life. Not surprising, I hope, to anyone – but especially to the students present today – education at a Catholic institution of higher education, like Stonehill, must be different than what is offered at secular non-faith based institutions. We live in a highly secularized First World environment in the United States and the marks of what general society considers important are clear: power, wealth, and prestige. These have been and always will be the three great temptations of our world. It was the same in a time of the Roman Empire in Palestine, but Jesus, as St. Matthew (4:1-11) describes it best, offered something different. Rather than bending to these temptations, Jesus offered virtue. It is the mission of Catholic higher education collectively and Stonehill College specifically to say that while the general goal of education – namely to prepare young men and women to live productive lives in our society – is central, we can and must do more.  Indeed, what makes a Catholic college or university education different is its call to center education in a faith-based perspective. This certainly does not mean that all who participate in the endeavor need to be Roman Catholic, but fostering the mission is essential.  Stonehill and similar institutions of higher learning call students to ask deep and profound questions about ourselves and our world.  A Stonehill education calls us to go beyond what secular society says is most meaningful or relevant. David M. O’Connell, Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey, and former President of The Catholic University of America put it this way: “Catholic schools are places, as the saying goes ‘where faith and knowledge meet,’ but unless that meeting inspires, unless that meeting engages, unless that meeting lights a fire, unless that meeting changes lives, our schools are simply that: just ‘schools.’”[2] Indeed as the Jesuit priest William Rehg states, “The distinctiveness of Catholic higher education will lie in how its catholicity impinges on the understanding and carrying out of its academic mission.”[3]

Catholic education has a long and proud history in this country. Catholic higher education specifically has made great strides, especially in the post-Vatican II era (after 1965) when the vast majority of Catholic colleges and universities, including Stonehill in 1972, welcomed laymen and lay women to share in every avenue of this educational endeavor, but especially as administrators and professors. Their contributions have been invaluable in transforming Catholic education, allowing it to compete and stand equal to or in many cases above similar non-faith based institutions. One of the primary architects of this revolution in Catholic higher education was Father Theodore Hesburgh, a Holy Cross priest who served as President of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. In 1967, Hesburgh gathered a group of Catholic higher education administrators for a conference at Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. The statement published at that meeting suggests that Catholic schools, like Stonehill, are to be the best they can be in providing a proper education for students today. It is very important to note in addition, however, that this statement speaks of the difference Catholic education must make: “Distinctively … the Catholic University must be an institution, a community of learners or a community of scholars in which Catholicism is perceptively present and effectively operative.” [4] Catholic education must come, as the 1990 document Ex corde ecclesiae states, “from the heart of the Church. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., even more recently explained, “On a Catholic campus, the faith should be woven into every fabric of university life. That is the only way the university can help the student engage the culture from a uniquely Catholic perspective.”[5]

 I have spoken in generalities, but it is more important that I address our mission here at Stonehill and why this difference that Catholic education brings is important for every facet of our learning community, but especially for our students without whom the college would not exist. The mission statement of Stonehill states that we are “a community of scholarship and faith.” The statement closes by reminding us, “Stonehill College educates the whole person so that each Stonehill graduate thinks, acts, and leads with courage toward the creation of a more just and compassionate world.”[6]

Stonehill’s mission is directed and comes from a history that begins with the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Basil Moreau.  From the very outset of the community in France, beginning in 1837, Moreau centered the Congregation’s mission in education. Secondary schools and then colleges, beginning with Notre Dame, have now expanded until today there are six colleges and universities sponsored by the Congregation in the United States, including Stonehill.  Moreau understood education to have a two-fold purpose. He wrote, “We shall never forget that virtue … is the spice that preserves science. We shall always place education side-by-side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven.”[7] Lest one think that Moreau spoke more as a priest then an educator, he also wrote, “Even though we base our philosophy course on the data of faith, no one need fear that we will confine our teaching within narrow and unscientific boundaries. No, we wish to accept science without prejudice and in a manner adapted to the needs of our times. We do not want our students to be ignorant of anything they should know. To this end, we shall shrink from no sacrifice.”[8]

What we do at Stonehill College, therefore, is to continue the tradition of Catholic higher education, both as expressed generally and more specifically in the Holy Cross tradition. We seek, as Father Moreau indicates, to educate the mind and the heart. James Connerton, a Holy Cross priest who was the first president of our sister school, Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, once said a Holy Cross education teaches students, “not only how to make a living, but how to live.”[9] Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, when speaking of this added dimension of a Catholic education wrote, “Another temptation is to prefer head values to heart values. That should not be the case. Only the heart unifies and integrates. Intellect without a sense of piety tends to divide.”[10]

All of us, whether administrators, faculty, staff, and especially students must challenge ourselves to live the two-fold dimension of education, the lesson that the young intern learned from his days at Stonehill, the lesson proclaimed by Catholic educators, past and present: we need to educate the head but not at the expense of the heart. This is not an easy task, but then the most satisfying and greatest accomplishments of our lives were accomplished through hard work, discipline and usually a sense of going beyond ourselves to accomplish what seemed difficult or even unachievable. Speaking specifically to the students – both those returning and, with more emphasis, to those here for the first time – seek what you need at Stonehill to be the person you are called to be. If you get involved in student activities, if you press your professors to give you the best they have, if you seek opportunities to serve others, not as secular humanists, but as inspired by the Christian tradition, you must never give less than 100% in any endeavor. Seek the added dimension of education that this institution provides.  It is there, but YOU must capture it. Then a Stonehill College education will provide you not only the tools to be successful in life from the perspective of the world, but equally if not more importantly to make the world a better place by living and exercising the values most important in life – those the young intern learned here, those found not exclusively but very prominently in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

We have come here to Stonehill—administrators, faculty, and students— for various reasons but our personal needs, goals and possible accomplishments must work toward the common good. We have a common purpose and mission. It can be described in this way: “A Catholic education in the Holy Cross tradition transforms minds and hearts with zeal into communities of hope.”[11] May academic year 2014-15 which begins tomorrow find us as individuals and a group working to learn and live what is most important in life – to carry out the colleges motto "lux et spes," to bring light to an often dark and clouded world and hope to a world community too often found in despair. This is our challenge and goal. Let us achieve it together!


[1] Tape Recording, Stonehill Graduate Session, Fall 1995.

[2] David O’Connell, C.M., “Catholic Schools, Our Hope—Keynote Address” Catholic Education: A Jounral of Inquiry and Practice 16(1) (September 2012): 160.

[3] William Rehg, S.J., “Catholic Education in the Public Sphere” in Trying Times: Essays on Catholic Higher Education in the 20th Century, eds. William M. Shea and David van Slyke. (Atlanta: Schiolars Press, 1999), 185.

[4] “Land O’Lakes Statement: The Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” in American Catholic Higher Education: Essential Documents, 1967-1990, ed Alica Gallin, OSU (Notre Dame, IND: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 7.

[5] Donald Wuerl. Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith (Huntington, IND: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), 135.


[7] Basil Moreau, C.S.C., Circular Letter #36.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Holy Cross and Christian Education, Published Pamphlet, 21-22.

[10] Pope Francis, “The Faith that Fires Us,” In Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus (New York: Crossroad, 2014), 27.

[11] Statement of Holy Cross, May 25, 2013.