Father Paul Taylor, O.S.B.
November 22, 2019
Good afternoon and welcome. Welcome all!
Along with our Board Chairman, Chris Donahue and Archabbot Douglas, I am honored to welcome all of you here today. Your presence is an affirmation of our educational mission. How fortunate we are to share your friendship.
It is a privilege to stand before you. As an alumnus of Saint Vincent myself it is an honor to be asked to serve with an outstanding faculty and administration in meeting the challenges before us. Together we will work to support the mission of Saint Vincent College by preparing our students to meet the challenges and opportunities in creating a world that embraces our deepest ethical and spiritual values.
For 173 years Saint Vincent College has been moving forward. Inspired by the leadership of our founder, Boniface Wimmer, whose vision has provided a strong foundation for our mission, we move forward today with a readiness to face the future.
None should doubt that these are critical times for colleges and universities. We face ever-changing needs for our students and alumni. Making higher education affordable and preparing our graduates for successful careers and lives of meaning and service to others are at the top of the list. With the wisdom and collaboration of a faculty and administration committed to addressing these challenges, together we will overcome these obstacles.
At the forefront of this effort is a strong and caring faculty deeply committed to guiding our students through the critical pathways of the liberal arts and sciences. It is by their dedication and commitment that our students are not simply prepared to join the workforce or attend graduate school, but to realize careers as leaders in their fields and meaningful lives rooted in sound moral and ethical guideposts so desperately needed in our divided and chaotic world.
Regardless of what title any person here may hold, we take it as our most basic mandate to be a teacher and mentor for our students, playing a critical role in the process of forming these young minds and hearts, and sending our graduates out to all parts of the world to make a difference in the lives of others. At Saint Vincent the students always come first.
The cultivation of the life of the mind is a noble endeavor! When we are at our best, colleges and universities shepherd students in the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. Yet, even before these institutions existed, the quest for understanding was burning in the human heart and mind. Young learners, millennia ago sat at the feet of philosophers and teachers. Schools emerged around the great ones like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato. In ancient Egypt, learning and research, especially in the sciences, was held in the highest esteem. Rabbis and scribes poured over Scripture their whole lives in the search for God and for a glimpse of the Messiah. Saint Benedict, in his monastery, created a “school for the Lord’s service,”1 and in doing so, preserved the wisdom of the ancient texts through the cultural abyss of the Dark Ages. Medieval centers of learning emerged around scholars and so formed the first of the great modern universities of Bologna, Salamanca, Paris and others. Yes, the cultivation of the life of the mind is a noble pursuit. It is, indeed, a fundamental component of human existence, an irresistible calling which the lure of the material world can never fully suppress.
Knowledge about our world is deepening and information is growing and multiplying faster than human minds can readily assess given the relentless sophistication of new technologies. As wonderful as the exponential expansion of our access to information may be, it carries a danger that the mind of a great liberal arts institution must avoid. We must never confuse information with wisdom, or more data for deeper truth. At Saint Vincent we are committed to providing the best of science and technology, business and communication, literature and culture, philosophy and theology through education, critical thinking and research.
It is of the highest priority that Saint Vincent College and her students and faculty pursue the life of the mind with in-depth study of specific academic disciplines in the broader context of study across the classical curriculum of the liberal arts and sciences.
While this academic pursuit is our primary task, if it were the only component of our mission, our vision would be tragically narrow and our lives less rich. We choose to pursue not only the life of the mind, but Life itself!2 Or as Saint Thomas Aquinas would call Being Itself. Who is – God. Saint Benedict makes it clear in his holy Rule that the purpose of living in the community is “to seek God.”3 It is more than a course of knowledge, it is the path of the soul.
A life of knowledge without the awareness of God, and without the personal humility that emboldens a student to stand before the Almighty, is a house built on sand. A house of knowledge without humility crumbles when the winds of time and culture wage against it.
Each year when the monastic community welcomes new members as novices, Archabbot Douglas addresses the novices – and the whole community – that this deliberate life of free association in this community is meant to dispel our illusions.
Illusions about the Church
Illusions about ourselves
Illusions about God.
The pursuit of the life of the mind and the pursuit of life itself at Saint Vincent College is precisely to seek truth. That is the goal for all of us. We embrace that goal for, as Albert Einstein said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.”4
Regarding the pursuit of truth in higher education, Pope Saint John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, noted:
[. . . ] a specific part of a Catholic University’s task is to promote dialogue between faith and reason, so that it can be seen more profoundly how faith and reason bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth. While each academic discipline retains its own integrity and has its own methods, this dialogue demonstrates that methodical research within every branch of learning, when carried out in a truly scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, can never truly conflict with faith. For the things of the earth and the concerns of faith derive from the same God.5
Pope Saint John Paul II again stressed the complementarity of science and religion when he wrote that
“Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”6
In his first discourse in the book, “The Idea of a University” the newly canonized Saint, John Henry Newman, writes that a University, to have integrity as a University, cannot omit the science of Theology or Religion, because it would be ignoring a part of the universe it is studying. The search for truth cannot exclude the quest our souls need to undertake:
with confidence that truth can be found; and
that the best of the human spirit will be realized in the relentless search for truth.7
It is in the experience of the search for truth that our lives become more complete and less filled with fear.
We are grateful for the national recognition given to the academic success of Saint Vincent College:
One citation, most recently: The New York Times identified Saint Vincent College as one of the top performing colleges in the nation for retention and graduation of students from all economic and social backgrounds.8
One of the key factors cited in this article contributing to the strength of Saint Vincent is connectedness. This caring, of course, is the legacy of Saint Vincent and is rooted in the connectedness between each student and his or her teachers. As Fred Rogers said, “Where would any of us be without teachers—without people who have passion for their art or their science or their craft and love it right in front of us? What would any of us do without teachers passing on to us what they know is essential about life?”9
Equally important to us, our friends trust us.
Boniface Wimmer said it best in 1854: “To all who knock, the door is opened.”10 Remember, Wimmer said “all.” Saint Benedict also said it in his holy Rule, Chapter 53.11 Welcome all persons as Christ himself.
Together we study, together we work, and together we grow.
Together we fall, and together we rise again.
Together through the sad times, and the difficult times.
And together with Joy.
At Saint Vincent, when you walk with us, you belong; our community is strong.
In this world of shattered relationships and fractured society, “belonging” is a treasure. Our Benedictine and Catholic mission prioritizes the sacred nature of the human person and the importance of the connectedness of that person to our community. The issues that face young people today are complex. Bullying, isolation, hatred and fear. How can a student learn when confronted by all of that?
In your program book today, you will find a Jubilee medal of Saint Benedict. I suggest that you do not leave the medal in the book, but rather “hold on to it.” The text that is abbreviated in the letters of this medal is a prayer against evil. So when you and I are confronted by those evils of today we can grasp this medal as a reminder that we are connected to this community and to God, and that we can be strong, together.
Once you have the foundation of belonging, there are no hurdles too high, and no obstacles too big to keep you from success in this world - - and eternal happiness in the next.
This is the heart of the Saint Vincent difference.
“We all belong.”
1 Cf. Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue, Verses 45-50
2 ST Ia 13.2
3 Benedict of Nursia, Rule of St. Benedict, 516, chapter 2.
4 Albert Einstein, from a letter to Adrianna Enriques, 1921.
5 Pope John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (“On Catholic Universities,” Apostolic Constitution, 15 August 1990) §17
6 Pope John Paul II, Philosophy and Theology, 1988, op. cit., M13
7 John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990)
8 David Leonhardt and Sahil Chinoy, “The College Dropout.” The New York Times, May 23, 2019
9 Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers, page 94
10 To Him Who Knocks, The Door Is Opened, Saint Vincent Archabbey Public Relations, Boniface Wimmer to Karl Von Reisach, Letters of an American Abbot, St. Vincent, Aug. 7, 1854.
11 Benedict of Nursia, Rule of Saint Benedict, 516.