Thursday January 12, 2017

To Know, Love and Serve

By Eric Spina

I took a moment this week to walk over to the chapel for a Mass celebrating the anniversary of the death of a remarkable woman who lived a life of faith and courage.

It’s quite an inspirational story that reminds me why I feel so at home leading this great university with its rich religious heritage, unwavering mission and welcoming spirit.

At the age of 19, in the aftermath of the bloody French Revolution, Adèle de Batz de Trenquelléon met a middle-aged priest and, together, they dedicated their lives to shining light on Mary's special role of bringing others to Christ.

“Two spiritual giants.” That’s the phrase Father Tom Schroer, S.M., used to describe Adèle, who started the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, and Father William Joseph Chaminade, who founded the Society of Mary. Both survived exile and societal turmoil to imagine a new way forward — in collaboration with small faith communities of lay people.  

“They founded new religious communities with a shared mission and vision for communal healing,” Father Tom said during the Jan. 10 homily. “They’re a model for us. Their collaboration, courage, faithfulness and shared commitment to community as a source of healing and growth (continue to inspire). We are sons and daughters of those spiritual giants.”

Given that history, I think it’s so meaningful that the Marianist sisters, brothers and priests are celebrating their bicentennials jointly. The theme, “To know, love and serve,” perfectly reflects their shared commitment to a timeless mission — to build community in a world striving to educate its youth and alleviate poverty and injustice.

Few things last 200 years these days in our rapidly changing world. Yet the Marianist charism has endured and thrived during an era when it seems we’re always busy chasing the next big idea, when faith and culture often clash, when electronic communication replaces, all too often, personal conversations.

From my very first encounters with the Marianists during the presidential interview process, I resonated with their focus on cultivating relationships, on using faith and knowledge to serve others. My family has never received a warmer, deeper embrace anywhere than from the Marianists, who made us feel welcome from the moment we stepped foot on campus.

Where but on a Marianist campus would the former president cook up a pot of beef stew for a houseful of people because it's his night to cook? That's what happened when Karen and I accepted an invitation this fall to celebrate Mass, share dinner and play a competitive game of Uno with the brothers and priests in the Stonemill/Kiefaber communities. Among rows of houses filled with college students, the Marianists are a beacon of humility, warmth and family spirit. Gentle and encouraging, they take great joy in helping students discern what's meaningful in life.

Even on days when I don't see a vowed religious on campus, I still clearly see a way of life that's Marianist — whether it's a group of students visiting families they've befriended in the hills of Appalachia or researchers working collaboratively to develop new sources of clean alternative energy.

Two centuries later, the Marianist mission lives in all of us, religious and lay. That's worth celebrating.

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