In the past few weeks, we have celebrated Holy Week and Easter and observed how the cycles of the Church calendar connect to the natural world to celebrate renewal and rebirth. And there are certainly signs of spring at Saint Mary’s College! The willow trees have their early green edges; the bulbs are bursting forth in flower; the magnolias are at full bloom, and the ubiquitous forsythia add a golden glow all around the campus.
Today—just shy of 10 months into my presidency—I know Saint Mary’s is a place ready for transformation. Its root system stands firm, but its branches continue to expand their reach. It can pass through a dormant winter and prosper again in spring. Its twigs can stretch and blossom and leaf anew.
There are so many lessons from my first year in office. Just over one year ago, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. I was actually in South Bend that day, choosing finishes for the condo my husband and I would ultimately buy—and letting myself imagine what it would be like to join the Saint Mary’s community just a few months later. Like everyone else, I simply had no idea what lay ahead. In fact, before I could get back to Boston that week, the whole world was shutting down, and I didn’t even have a mask to wear on my flight back east. Fast forward and here we are, a full year later. It has been a painful and sobering year for our world; after all, the devastating impact of the coronavirus was unthinkable only a short time ago.
Every day, I am thankful that we kept the campus safe. In spite of the lonely and difficult demands of each moment, this has also been an extraordinary learning journey, not just for me but for all of us—full of problem-solving, experimentation, collaboration, risk management, and communication. I have grown in my own understanding and practice of leadership, and I am so grateful for the hard work and the community spirit of every single person on campus.
A famous poet (T. S. Eliot) once wrote: “April is the cruelest month.” But lately, I’ve been reading the wonderful contemporary Irish poet Kerry Hardie, and she has a different message. I find this short spring poem really speaks to the richness of the month and the season we’re in.
The lone bull
red on an emerald ground.
The ruined church,
through the gap-toothed wall.
bright with new grass, new lambs.
gone suddenly spacious and blue.
And the whitethorn breaking.
And the blackthorn making stars.
And one chestnut, standing holy,
its birth-wet buds
held to the high, wide sky.
This is a poem of regeneration! It opens with a lone bull and a church ruin and closes with the “birth-wet buds” on one chestnut tree sanctified in its very being. And the word that grounds the poem—solitary at the center of 13 lines—is “sky,” described as “spacious and blue,” and later as “high” and “wide.”
That’s the sky I see over Saint Mary’s too. Having weathered “the winter of our discontent” (Shakespeare, of course), we have journeyed toward the renewal, the renaissance, the resurrection of spring. We remember the power of life in a quiescent bulb, in a bare branch, in a buried root. Our sap runs with new energy and force.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.