Inauguration of President Katie Conboy at Saint Mary’s College

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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