Most Reverend, Edward Kmiec, Bishop of Buffalo, muy querido Ministro General y hermano, José Rodríguez Carballo y miembros del su consejo, carissimi descendenti della famiglia Pietrobattista, treasured members of the Devereux family, inspirational artist and world renown tenor Kenneth Riegel, respected and esteemed members of the university community of St. Bonaventure, Sr. Margaret Carney, trustees and benefactors, faculty, students, administrators, and staff, dear brothers and sisters of the Franciscan family and all invited guests:
saluti e benvenuti,
saludos y bien-venidos,
greetings and welcome.
I come before you today as one representative of the embodied fulfillment of dreams as well as the consequences of those dreams, some intended and others unintended. The dreams of which I speak are those of the dreamers we remember today: Father Pamphilo da Magliano, O.F.M., Bishop John Timon, Nicholas Devereux and Mary Dolber Butler Devereux.
By ethnicity, I am the granddaughter of Italian and Irish immigrants. By religious profession, I am a Sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, a congregation founded by Fr. Pamphilo and Mother Alfred Moes in 1865. By academic training and inspired by my initial studies of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition at the Franciscan Institute, I am a theologian and professor of missiology. By invitation, I am your Convocation speaker, humbled by the confidence placed in me by the president of this university to share with you a few thoughts on all that has brought us to where we find ourselves today.
As we consider the past, the present and the future of St. Bonaventure University, on the occasion of this first among many commemorations to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding, I have chosen to introduce my brief comments on the vision, mission and vocation of the university with a provocative passage from the writings of St. Bonaventure.
In my estimation, Bonaventure’s words illuminate the challenges we face as stake-holders, power-brokers, and moral agents, as trustees and benefactors, as administrators and staff, as professors and mentors, as students and alumni/ae, as teachers and learners all, whose identity, integrity and indignation1 are informed and influenced by the reinvention, the reappropriation and the reemergence of the Franciscan tradition – intellectual, spiritual and humanistic – in the academy, in the church and in the world of the 21st century.
In the Prologue to The Soul’s Journey into God, St. Bonaventure invites his readers to do three things:
first – to pray
second – to keep their eyes fixed on the Crucified One
and third – to learn; to learn two things: the value of their souls and the effects of their
After this invitation, Bonaventure continues with what I would suggest is his understanding of the vision, mission and vocation of those involved and invested in ‘higher learning.’ He writes: “[Do] not believe that reading is sufficient without unction [anointing], speculation without devotion, investigation without wonder, observation without joy, work without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, endeavor without divine grace, reflection as a mirror without divinely inspired wisdom.”3
As stewards of this Franciscan university and beneficiaries of its legacy, we are invited to share in the call of Francis to give praise to God always and everywhere. Mindful of its Catholic and Christian heritage, we are called to never lose sight of the message and the memory of the Crucified One. As members of a 'values-based’ university community committed to ‘higher learning,’ we are called to uphold the absolute value of every human soul and humanity’s pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.
At the same, we are called to assume our ethical responsibility for remaining vigilant regarding humanity’s capacity to turn from Good to evil, from Truth to deception, from Beauty to horror.
Whether or not one responds to Bonaventure’s exhortation to pray, the chapel bells that serve as a reminder
of the Franciscan call to prayer will continue to ring. Whether or not one embraces the Catholic Christian faith, the icon of the Crucifix of San Damiano will continue to convey visually the message heard by Francis of Assisi: ‘Go, rebuild the Church.’
However, when it comes to learning about the human spirit and the dehumanizing realities of our world, can we claim with the same degree of sensory certainty that the ethical values we endeavor to communicate are so self-evident that they will be transmitted whether or not we transmit them? I am inclined to think not. And it is precisely, this third aspect of ‘higher learning’ that I would like to address.
In 1944, the dean of Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Howard Mumford Jones, delivered the keynote address at the inauguration of the Academy of American Franciscan History. Reflecting upon the catastrophic state in which a world at war found itself, he questioned what had gone so wrong that the ‘higher learning’ associated with the universities of Italy and Germany was “inadequate to protect these nations.”4
Why was it that so “little scholarship could contend against a perversion of history and a distortion of moral judgments?”5 Dean Jones’ thesis was unambiguous; the universities had forgotten, over-looked, or censored the observations of the controversial Franciscan Friar, Roger Bacon.
In his Opus maius, Roger Bacon notes “four obstacles to the apprehension of truth – sources of error that have suppressed knowledge of the utmost beauty and value.”6
- “‘Adherence to flawed and unworthy authority’ by which the ignorant are doomed
- …the persistence of custom which consistently favors the false over the true.
- …popular prejudice which produces obstinacy and confirms men [sic] in their error.
- …the tendency to cloak ignorance in a show of wisdom.”7
As the historian David Lindberg observes, for Bacon, this final source of error “is not only dangerous in itself, but contributes to the other three, for it leads us to rely on weak authority, to convert our own achievements into custom (if we can), and to disseminate our madness as popular prejudice.”8
In considering the implications and imperatives of Bacon’s analysis, I would like to suggest that we also might benefit greatly from pondering Bonaventure’s heartfelt conviction, that ‘higher learning’ is insufficient to the degree that it does not lead to a learning that is deeper, a learning that is longer, a learning that is broader, a learning that seen through the lens of anthropological faith sets itself at the service of full humanization, a learning that seen through the lens of theological faith sets itself at the service of the Reign of God.
In either case, an ethics of virtue emerges that binds itself to the fundamental humanism of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
Such virtue is what we celebrate today as we remember the example of Father Pamphilo, Bishop Timon, John and Mary Devereux.
There is no doubt that reading, speculation, investigation, observation, work, knowledge, understanding and endeavor characterized their lives. But let us not fail to recall how their lives also were transformed
- by anointing, understood as that sense of vocation that distinguishes itself from self-promotion
- by devotion, understood as that sense of commitment that distinguishes itself from self-absorption
- by wonder, understood as that sense of awe that distinguishes itself from disinterest
- by joy, understood as that sense of knowing love is stronger then death, that distinguishes itself from fatalism
- by piety, understood as that sense of reverence that distinguishes itself from contempt
- by love, understood as that sense of connectedness that distinguishes itself from indifference
- by humility, understood as that sense of modesty that distinguishes itself from pretentiousness
- by divine grace, understood as that sense of God’s presence that distinguishes itself from loss of meaning, and finally,
- by divinely inspired wisdom, understood as that sense of illumination that distinguishes itself from lack of vision.
We are here today because seven generations ago, those whom we remember dared to dream about us and for us. They dared to live lives of virtue that were strengthened by an affection for justice and emboldened by a sense of mutuality and the stewardship of resources. As descendents of theirs, by blood, by vow, by appointment, by affection, by inspiration, we realize their dream according to the measure of our virtue and graciousness.
So, as we honor these founders of ours today, let us not lose sight of the fact that their dream is part of a larger dream that does not begin or end only with the narratives of immigrant virtue. It is also bound to the dreams and narratives of the seven generations that preceded our founders: including, and perhaps most poignantly, the First Nation People of the Great Hill [Onondowahgah], the Keepers of the Western Door, whose ancient Wisdom centered on honoring and respecting the original instructions of the Creator, that all might live in peace and harmony.
Vibrating from the hills and mountains that surround us, a question posed to them by their spiritual leader long ago echoes still today: “Where are the peacemakers?”10
Yes, where are the peacemakers?
If, as Dean Jones suggested, they were not to be found – at least not in sufficient numbers – in the universities of the past, in previous ages of empire, terror, torture, and catastrophe, will peacemakers be found in the universities of the future? Will they be found and formed in this university? And upon what kind of mentoring and upon what kind of learning and upon what kind of community will this depend?
When Bonaventure wrote The Soul’s Journey into God, he says at the outset that he was moved to do so because he was in search of peace, the way of peace that is of God, the peace proclaimed and given by Jesus, the peace preached again and again by Francis.11 So he went to La Verna, the mountain hermitage of St. Francis and his early companions.
Perhaps, we can take from his example a life lesson regarding the need to seek out a vantage point for pursuing peace, the peace that is at the heart of a learning that is not only higher, but deeper, longer and broader.
In closing, I urge you during this special year to pursue peace, to journey to the metaphorical mountains of your lives, so that there you may find what you need:
- a 360 degree perspective on the external world that surrounds you,
- a horizon that goes beyond what the eye can see to the internal world of what the mind can imagine and the heart can dream,
- a realism about your own vulnerability, inter-dependency, and capacity for corruption,
- an idealism that inspires in you the courage and creativity necessary to risk your lives for the sake of love, and
- an evolving consciousness of the Divine Energy that will make of you instruments of peace, contributors to the harmony of goodness, and stewards of this Franciscan legacy entrusted to your care.
1 See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Indignation (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2004), pp. 58-59.
2 Bonaventure, The Soul's Journey into God in Bonaventure: The Soul's Journey into God - The Tree of Life - The Life of St. Francis, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 55
3 Bonaventure, The Soul's Journey into God, pp. 55-56.
4 Howard Mumford Jones, "Idea of a Franciscan Academy," The Americas, 1:2 (Oct., 1944): 162.
5 Jones, "Idea of a Franciscan Academy," p. 162.
6 David C. Lindberg, "Science as Handmaiden: Roger Bacon and the Patristic Tradition," Isis 78:4 (1987): 528.
7 Lindberg, "Science as Handmaiden," p. 528. See also article footnote, no. 37. Cf. The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, ed. John Henry Bridges, 3 vols. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1900), Vol. 111, 1.1, pp. 2-3; 1.2-3, pp. 4-8.
9 Kanatiiosh, "Onodowahgah (The People of the Great Hill)"
10 See Oren Lyons, "The Ice Is Melting," Twenty-fourth Annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, October 2004, www.schumachersociety.lorg/publications/lyons_04.html
11 Bonaventure, "Prologue.1," The Soul's Journey into God, p. 53.