Today's generation must carry the torch ignited by our founders
Educational institutions the world over develop traditions that endure for years. Benedictine University is no exception.
As with many institutions, every fall a convocation ceremony takes place in which the community is "called together" (Latin meaning for "convocation") to renew their dedication to one another, greet new members and continue the mission and vision for which the institution was founded.
As a Catholic institution, the convocation is marked by a liturgy in which our new members are welcomed into the community and alumni who died the previous year are remembered.
This ceremony often has provided me the opportunity to think about Benedictine and the ways we as an institution have traversed.
In the early days, it was the monks who were the lifeblood of the college. These dedicated men gave their whole being so their students might enjoy the benefits of a Catholic and Benedictine education. Some men were administrators, others were faculty, and others worked the farm -- all doing what they needed to do to make the place successful.
From the day of their initial vows to their death, each monk knew his life would be spent on this campus. In fact, each knew that even after death he would continue to be on the campus interred at St. Procopius Cemetery.
What a wonderful gift the monks were to Benedictine -- individuals who gave their entire being to this institution. It was their ministry, their life. Through their blood, sweat and tears, countless numbers of young men (and later women) would reap the benefits of their dedication.
As the years progressed, the number of monks dwindled and it became necessary to add more lay people.
The diminishing number of monks and the increasing number of lay people in professional positions brought about a paradigm shift for the institution.
Where once the monks were the sole resource for the institution, lay people and a growing army of alumni assumed the responsibility for the well-being of the institution so that the passing on of a Catholic and Benedictine education might continue. Where once continuity was assured by the total dedication of the monks, that assurance has disappeared.
The light that was first ignited by St. Benedict and passed to the monks from Germany to Latrobe (Pa.), to Chicago and finally to Lisle was a powerful flame that burnt for centuries.
However, as with many things in the Catholic Church, the Spirit is giving new direction to the people to assume roles once held by the clergy. Where once monks presided at Benedictine, lay people now preside. What about the intense flame through which the monks ignited their ministries? Has it been diminished by their decline?
I started this piece with the convocation ceremony that marks the beginning of a new academic year. I noted that at the heart of the ceremony is a Mass at the end of which I read the names of alumni who died the previous year.
I do this for two reasons -- to remember those who came before and who gave so much so that the institution might be, and to challenge anew the Benedictines sitting before me to shoulder the burden so wonderfully carried by their predecessors.
While I am reading the names of the deceased, the Abbot lights the Pascal Candle and shares the light with the new members of the university community. This simple ceremony symbolizes that the flame once carried by the deceased alumni is being passed to the newest members of the community.
It is important to note that their fire has not been extinguished; it has passed on to the next generation. This "Passing of the Light" has come to symbolize the new role that members of the community now accept as their own. It symbolizes the life of the community.
The monks taught us how to be Catholic and Benedictine. They were, in a very real sense, so that we could also be. While their flame burned brightly and intensely, they taught us and secured for us an institution with global arms. While they continue to work with us, the flame has been passed to new generations of lay people who are challenged to keep the flame burning brightly.
When the monks were many, the flame burnt with intensity. Has the flame diminished since it has been passed? I think not. While individual flames may not burn with the same fervor they did when carried by our founding fathers, they compensate in numbers. The flame no longer has a single source, but has a source in every person who walks this campus.
If there are to be future generations of Benedictine University students, today's students (and future alumni) must accept and carry the light. Just as monks made so many of us successful, we make current students successful by living a life characterized by the Benedictine values.
The generations that came before make the current generation possible. Through the passing of the light, the work of those who came before continues.