Inauguration of President Katie Conboy at Saint Mary’s College

Author Image

We gather this morning to pray for and with President Katie Conboy on this day of her inauguration as President of Saint Mary’s College. We give thanks to God that Katie said “yes” to serve as President. With faith in the Lord, she assumes this office with trust in Jesus and His grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And she does so with the loving support of her husband David and her three beloved daughters.

As you know, President Conboy came here from another Holy Cross institution, Stonehill College in Massachusetts. And, of course, she received a Holy Cross education across the street at Notre Dame where she earned her doctoral degree in English literature. President Conboy’s move from teaching English literature at Stonehill to becoming Provost at Stonehill College and now becoming President of Saint Mary’s reminds me of one of her renowned predecessor, Sister Madeleva, who also had a PhD in English. I imagine Sister Madeleva, who was president of Saint Mary’s for 27 years, is an inspiration to Katie. Sister Madeleva, a gifted poet, participated in the Catholic revival of the early 20th century, established a center of Christian culture and educational innovation here at Saint Mary’s and founded the School of Sacred Theology, the first in the world to offer graduate degrees in theology to women. Dr. Conboy has that spirit of innovation. Dr. Conboy now stands in the line of Sister Madeleva and the other presidents of Saint Mary’s College, dedicated Holy Cross Sisters and, more recently, dedicated lay women, all inspired by the vision of education of Blessed Basil Moreau.

Dr. Conboy is committed to the Church’s vision of Catholic higher education. A Catholic college, in the vision of the Church and of Blessed Basil Moreau, “pursues its objective through its formation of an authentic human community animated by the spirit of Christ” (Ex corde 21). President Conboy’s Christian witness and her commitment to leadership as service are vital for the life and Catholic identity of Saint Mary’s College. I am confident that she will lead and serve this college in its commitment to the service of the Church and of the human family and in its fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church. These are essential characteristics of an authentic Catholic college (Ex Corde # 13).

Dr. Conboy embraces the vision expressed by Father Moreau in these famous words: “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.” A Catholic vision of education includes the heart as well as the mind. Therefore, it includes formation in freedom – true freedom which is not the freedom to do whatever we want, but the freedom to do what we ought. It is freedom grounded in truth and goodness, the Truth and Goodness of God who revealed Himself in the Incarnation of His Son as love.

The loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-giving and leads our students on a sure path to peace and joy in their lives through their growth in virtue. When our Catholic institutions diverge from the path of the Gospel, rather than advancing freedom, they contribute to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual confusion so prevalent in our society today. I am grateful for President’s Conboy’s dedication to the Catholic identity and mission of Saint Mary’s College aimed at the authentic human flourishing of our students and ultimately, as Father Moreau said, to preparing them for heaven.

There is a beautiful quote from Sister Madeleva that expresses much of what I have been talking about. Sister Madeleva often saw her vocation as president of Saint Mary’s as a type of motherhood, and she saw the college as a mother (we even use this term when we speak of a college as alma mater). She spoke of young women here learning “the dignity of obedience, the nobility of sacrifice, the sanctity of selflessness, the wonder of beauty, the joy of goodness, the freedoms of truth, the securities of faith, the sanities of hope, the divinity of love.” What an amazing vision of Catholic education! Words for Dr. Conroy and all of us to ponder. When we think about all those characteristics of motherhood, we cannot help but think of the woman who perfectly models them all, the patron of this college, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

In our first reading today from the book of Sirach, we heard the words of Wisdom who in this passage is personified. In the Scriptures, the word “Wisdom” has a double reference: to the uncreated Wisdom in God (the Logos) and to the perfect response of creation to that wisdom, personified in the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Wisdom” is a feminine noun in both Hebrew and Greek. Mary gives the pure answer to God’s call of creation and election. Her whole existence is marked by the attitude of “Let it be done to me according to your word.” This is true wisdom. One of the titles of Mary in the Church’s liturgy and Tradition is “Seat of Wisdom.”  Mary is the epitome of the creation’s response to God, the perfect creaturely response to His Word, the perfect disciple, and the mother of all of us called to be disciples of the Word Incarnate, her Son.

Since Mary is the embodiment of wisdom, she is certainly a great patron for a Catholic college. Education is not just about imparting information or training in skills to get a job. Catholic education at every level, including college, is about “forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full, in short, it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator.” (Pope Benedict 2010) A Catholic college fosters the wisdom of intellectual humility. Mary identified herself humbly as the handmaid of the Lord. The virtue of humility “protects us from the pride that bars the way to truth” (Pope Benedict in Madrid). The pursuit of truth in a Catholic college follows the path of reason and faith, of humility, goodness and love. Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, shows us this path. It is the path of her Son, the way of the cross, the way of self-giving love, the road of salvation.

In the second reading today, St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “all creation groans and is in agony even until now” and that “we ourselves… groan inwardly as we await the redemption of our bodies. In hope we were saved.” We can face the difficulties of life, even the most difficult, only if our life leads to a goal and we are sure of it. This is the virtue of hope. Mary had this hope and she is the Mother of Hope.

Saint Mary’s College, like all Catholic colleges, are called to be schools of hope. The students who come to Saint Mary’s have many goals and many hopes. You help them to realize these goals and to fulfill these hopes – the hope for a good job and a satisfying profession, the hope for success in the world. And they all have the hope for a better world. In the end, however, even if all these goals are reached and these hopes realized, they will not be totally fulfilled. Neither are we. In fact, we can be quite empty and sad, even in the midst of success. The task of a Catholic college is not only to help students to realize these little hopes, but to embrace the great hope which surpasses all others and gives meaning and joy to our lives. Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following: “This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain… God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” Here at Saint Mary’s this hope is communicated by the witness of faith-filled faculty and staff. It is cultivated by prayer and nourished and strengthened by the sacraments. It is lived through service of others, especially of the poor and needy. In and through their service, students learn to be ministers of hope for others.

Another of the titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary is “Star of Hope.” Pope Benedict wrote in his encyclical on hope: “Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her ‘yes’ she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us…. When she hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see her cousin Elizabeth, she became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history.” She is indeed our Star of Hope. She is the patroness of Saint Mary’s College. She is truly, as we say in the Salve Regina, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

Katie, may our Blessed Mother watch over you and intercede for you every day as you lead this college that bears her holy name! May the Holy Spirit bless you with the gifts of wisdom, counsel, and fortitude so that that Saint Mary’s College may grow and flourish through fidelity to its holy mission!