“Celebrating Heritage, Creating Opportunities”
Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, President
Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY
October 17, 2008
Thank you, Chairman, John Donoghue, for conferring upon me the Presidential medallion of Mount Saint Mary College. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly accept the charge.
Distinguished guests, trustees, faculty, students, staff, and friends: welcome to this community celebration. I’m delighted to be at Mount Saint Mary College, overlooking the splendid Hudson River Valley in the great State of New York.
I’m thankful today/ for the supportive presence of past presidents William O’Hara and Sr. Ann Sakac, as well as members of the Board of Trustees, including past chairs Carl Meyer and John Mack. I invite all of them to stand for your applause.
I wish to acknowledge the presence of Senator William Larkin, City Manager Jean-Ann McGrane, and the various representatives of Colleges and Universities, in particular, the following presidents: David Conklin of Dutchess County Community College, Margaret Fitzpatrick of St. Thomas Aquinas College, Abraham Lackman of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities, Joseph Levesque of Niagara University, James Liguori of Iona College, Kevin Mullen of Siena College, my alma mater, Ann Marie Murray of Herkimer County Community College, Mary Eileen O’Brien of Dominican College, William Richards of Orange County Community College, Thomas Scanlan of Manhattan College, and Patrice Werner of Caldwell College. I invite all of these Presidents to stand for your applause.
I am also grateful to welcome Bishop Lagonegro, of the Archdiocese of New York, Bishop Hubbard, of the Diocese of Albany and an affiliate of the Franciscans, and Very Rev. John O’Connor, Provincial Minister of the Franciscan friars, Holy Name Province.
Thank you, all, for your presence at this college celebration.
Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzman/ were passionate about witnessing to Gospel values in the 13th century. In societies plagued by greed, poverty, war, ignorance and disease, the early Franciscans and Dominicans committed themselves to a joyful, simple, prayerful, evangelical life.
Today’s turbulent times call us to carefully revisit our mission and strategic goals so that we can put forth, with renewed vigor, our best abilities in service to students.
And so, I would like to speak briefly about our heritage and our opportunities.
But first, a few words about my own heritage: I was born in Brooklyn, one of four children. Our parents were a warmhearted couple, blessed with good Irish humor, a deep sense of God and each other, and a down to earth love for the people who always seemed to be filling our home.
My early education was at the hands of the Amityville Dominican Sisters at Good Shepherd parish. They were dedicated to Dominic’s tradition, and provided a thorough education in reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. Their whole lives revolved around teaching and nurturing in us/ virtues that are the foundation of a good life and a good society.
Then, providentially, I confided to a neighbor my desire to do something meaningful with my life, and this neighbor told me: "go to the Franciscans.”
Those were defining moments. I wound up joining the Franciscan friars. Our leaders then sent me into education, which has been a mainstay in my work and my life.
Catholic education opens up habits of heart and skills of mind. It promotes a careful nature that leads to solid scholarship, pursuit of a profession, and a well-rounded life , guided by good ethics while engaging in the challenges of the day.
That tradition, notes the late Monika Hellwig of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, is alive and well in colleges where there are good values and enduring principles that are "characteristically Catholic"while at the same time shared by many other religious traditions.
The appeal of Francis and Dominic reaches beyond Catholics to men and women of good will everywhere. This is not just because of the animals associated with Francis, or the cuddly dog at Dominic’s feet in statues. The 3rd century Greek philosopher Plotinus tells us that the “spiritual” belongs to that highest level of Mind where thinking coincides with being. It enables the soul to surpass discursive reasoning. Francis and Dominic beckon mind and soul to aim upward.
Research indicates that the current generation places high value on integrating spirituality into their lives, but that nearly half of them are disappointed with the opportunities for religious and spiritual reflection during their college years (Astin et al, 2004).
The Four Pillars of Dominican life -- Study, Prayer, Community and Service -- can be a powerhouse in this community at Mount Saint Mary College, where we encourage students to strengthen their character with moral and spiritual values which enable them to make good choices in personal and professional life.
“Character” does not mean personality, but something deeper, more inward.
Your personality expresses your spontaneous reaction to your environment and is something that puts you in a class or category shared by many others -- you are cheerful, or moody, or a Type A or a Type B personality. Your character, by contrast, is singular and defines who you are, not superficially, but at the core of your inmost self.Personality is an emotional reality rooted in the body. Character is an ethical reality rooted in the soul, in the good habits of mind and will.
This year, we welcomed the largest freshman class in the College’s history. Our hope is that their experience here will help form in them a good character, point them clearly in the direction of good values, provide a rich reservoir from which they can continue to draw as they struggle to make choices that define a worthy life.
In the decisions, small and great, that affect their work, career, family, even their leisure time, we hope that our students will have the courage to stand for what is true and good.
We hope that the professors and mentors of our students will be known for having helped shape the habits of mind and heart that lead to a quality life.
Dominican values and principles have shaped Mount Saint Mary College’s character and history.
But what does it mean to be a Catholic college in the United States in the 21st century?
The late Louis Dupre of Yale University wrote that the Catholic university, and for that matter, a university which grants theology a place of honor, represents most fully the ancient ideal of learning. The challenge with this ideal in a modern setting is /how to enable the principles of theology and philosophy to penetrate the entire curriculum and to subordinate all its parts to a moral and religious ideal.
I believe the great intellectual tradition in our international Catholic community offers a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the legacy handed down to us. Our learning community can encourage students to make their lives a service whatever the profession: health, education, business, and more. Here are but a few examples of Dominican scholars: St. Albert the Great was a student of natural sciences. “The whole world is theology for us,” discerned Albert, “because the heavens proclaim the glory of God.”
Thomas Aquinas made a case for the “reasonableness of faith.” Pope Benedict XVI cites Aquinas’ studies to indicate that faith and reason are not exclusionary principles. "When human beings limit their thoughts to only material objects . . . they close themselves to the great questions about life, themselves and God," Pope Benedict said.
Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, wrote a profound book on "The Dialogue of Divine Providence." She was a prolific reformer and politician, who studied religious texts and helped the ill and the poor.
Cardinal Yves Congar, one of the most influential Dominican theologians of the 20th century, was active in reaching out to other traditions in the ecumenical movement and published on wide ranging historical topics, including his experiences during the Second Vatican Council.
We are also heir to Franciscan scholarship: Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio and John Duns Scotus in the arts, Roger Bacon in sciences, Luca Pacioli in business, and so forth.
A study of such vibrant scholars articulates well the ideal of education at Mount Saint Mary College: an education for life. St. Thomas More, an English lawyer, author and scholar, tells us: “Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities - that's training or instruction - but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed.” To paraphrase Scripture: it is not always granted for the sower to see the harvest of those seeds.And that points to the value of our dynamic community at Mount Saint Mary College: where we learn to link mind and heart, body and spirit.
Our primary goal is to educate persons, not simply issue degrees.
The goal of a liberal arts education is to form and develop "a whole person" ready to take his or her place articulately and responsibly in the larger world. The aim, then, is strengthening those abilities apart from which knowledge, no matter how technically advanced, becomes self-absorbed.
A rigorous liberal arts education includes, by definition, a commitment to moral education, where people are educated not only for careers, but for leadership and service.
A thorough education encourages virtues that make one a good and not merely an accomplished person: virtues such as, self discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, hard work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, civility, respect, and faith in God.Our Catholic intellectual life is a living tradition that further advances knowledge. We pull from the diverse elements of that tradition to find the best way to respond to the situation in which we live, work, teach and learn.
It is particularly vital that a Catholic college be a place where, whatever our religious background, faith in a personal and provident God is not set aside as peripheral to the educational quest, but is taken seriously as an intelligent, morally responsible value for contemporary people.
As a community engaged in a vigorous search for the truth, we need to remind ourselves that morality is essentially defined by the attainment of goodness--a community marked by excellence and reverence and joy.The Dominicans have had an educational presence at this site since 1883. Here at Mount Saint Mary College, education is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a window to God’s work in the world, and we are students, professors, and collaborators in that work.
We celebrate that tradition, and we also now stretch our vision to see how we may create new opportunities for students, as we approach the beginning of the college’s second half century.
Job one must be to continually improve the quality of our undergraduate courses in the arts, sciences and business. Our general curriculum should give students an in-depth immersion in intellectual, cultural and religious roots.
Our new Mathematics Science and Technology Center, a state of the art facility supported by the Answering the Call capital campaign, is an important asset in this endeavor.
As an educational community, we want to use a strategic planning process to address needs such as faculty development and undergraduate research, facilities, enrollment, and resources including scholarships and grants.
Excellent education, in concert with families and businesses and civic representatives, is a key to improving communities and our country.
It will be our critical task to help provide access to quality education: to continue to contribute to our nation’s need for excellent teachers, dedicated health care professionals to stem the nursing shortage, business students who will bring their honesty and integrity into those careers.
Let me conclude by offering you this insight from John Henry Newman, whose collected works call the university to higher purpose. Newman said:
“A cultivated intellect, because it is a good in itself, brings with it a power and a grace to every work and occupation which it undertakes, and enables us to be more useful to a greater number of people. The cultivation of the intellect is a duty we owe to human society as such, to the state to which we belong, to the sphere in which we move, to the individuals towards whom we are variously related, and whom we successively encounter in life….”
Again, it is my privilege to serve with you. I offer you my best efforts, and I trust each of you will contribute, as best you can, your talents, ideas, and energies.
I look forward to being an integral part, with all of you, of this great teaching vocation of “Educating for Life” young men and women at Mount Saint Mary College as it begins its second half century.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this College.