The Holy Cross Legacy of Service and Action
January 24, 2023
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
Last week we celebrated the Feast Day of Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, the founder of Holy Cross. This year is the 150th anniversary of his death. At Saint Mary’s, we have a practice of celebrating Fr. Moreau with a program and an “upscale” meal in the dining hall featuring French cuisine (in recognition of the Congregation’s origins in Le Mans, France).
Fr. Moreau’s Feast Day obviously falls near the date when Americans honor another inspiring leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year we combined our Moreau and MLK celebrations and encouraged students to recognize Fr. Moreau as a leader with a dream—a dream of building a congregation to bring together sisters, priests, and brothers in one purposeful community. While the Church did not allow for three “societies” to be joined as one religious institute, to this day the congregations of sisters, priests, and brothers founded by Moreau call themselves the “Holy Cross Family.” Fr. Moreau was, in his place and time, dedicated to inclusion, to radical hospitality, and to building a community of “educators in the faith” who educate the heart as well as the mind. We simultaneously encouraged students to see Dr. King as a man of Holy Cross, someone who embodied the 12 virtues Fr. Moreau promoted, including Zeal, Cross, Compassion, Community, Church, Hospitality, and Hope. Accordingly, we combined our traditional French dinner with American soul food in a New Orleans-inspired meal that the whole community was invited to enjoy!
All this focus on Fr. Moreau and Dr. King got me thinking about what it really means to be people of action and to promote action among our students. These men were visionaries who saw barriers to their dreams and forged ahead anyway. Although what they imagined is still work-in-progress, they stirred the hearts of others who continue the missions they began and continue to look to them for inspiration. Last week’s celebration on our campus was a moment both to remember them by elevating their legacies and to recognize that Saint Mary’s College is full of people committed to the kinds of action that transform our community day in and day out.
Last Thursday, I was reminded of this when I toured the South Bend branch of the YWCA of North Central Indiana. Focusing on the self-sufficiency skills that will help women to build bright futures, our local YWCA has the largest emergency shelter in the region for women and children experiencing domestic violence, and it features numerous educational programs for women and girls around substance use, racial justice, and relationship violence. As my tour paused in front of the office that runs their hotline and monitors their security, I recognized a Saint Mary’s student intern at work. And as we continued the tour, the shelter employees couldn’t say enough about the social work students they have from Saint Mary’s—how consistently gifted, well-prepared, committed, and compassionate they are.
This is just one important example of the broader impact Saint Mary’s has in the local community. Many faculty members incorporate a community-based learning component in their courses. These include: accounting students providing tax assistance to low-income members of the community; environmental studies students working with Unity Gardens to address local food insecurity; communication studies students working with women at the Center of the Homeless; gender and women’s studies students working at Saint Margaret’s House (a day shelter for women and children); literature and history students working through an NEH-funded digital humanities grant to capture the pandemic narratives of our local community and the work the Sisters of the Holy Cross have done with refugees; nursing students distributing vaccines. The power of this kind of service-oriented learning has inspired our plan to expand the opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills in even wider experiential contexts.
In addition to course-based service, our Mission Division has programming through Campus Ministry and the Office for the Common Good that connects students and faculty to the community. For example, student ministry assistants make and serve breakfast at Our Lady of the Road, a drop-in center for indigent members of the South Bend community that is operated by the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker. The long-standing “Beyond the Belle” program has more than 20 students either helping teachers at Darden Elementary (a Title I school just a few minutes from campus) or tutoring, with a focus on literacy, at the Notre Dame Center for Civic Innovation. Last year alone students served over 400 hours in the community through this program. Faculty, staff and students also contributed to the Office for the Common Good’s holiday “Adopt-A-Family” program, helping to raise funds to purchase gifts and gift cards and helping to sort, coordinate, wrap, and transport well over 300 gifts to families in the area.
While Martin Luther King Day is intended as a national day of service—a “day on,” not a “day off”—I see Saint Mary’s community members as shining examples of consistent action not just on one day of the year, but in regular quiet commitments that ask for no public recognition. I think we are succeeding with Fr. Moreau’s commitment to educating the heart as well as the mind! And I’m so proud to be leading in this kind of community, where the legacy of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is alive and well.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.