Congratulations to Sister Raymunda who received an honorary Doctor of Divinity  Degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation of South Bend, Indiana on the occasion of their Golden Jubilee Celebrations.   

Sister was invited to give the Graduation Address on this very special occasion.

Graduation Address delivered by Sister Raymunda.

It is a source of great joy for me and indeed a great privilege to be invited by Dr. Morgan to give the Graduation Address on the illustrious occasion of The Golden Jubilee of the founding of the Graduate Theological Foundation and to join with you in celebrating your achievements in ministerial education within the Foundation. Standing here, I am reminded of a story of an American who was partial to a couple of pints of Guinness. For those of you who are not familiar with that brew, it is a drink that is brewed in Dublin, full of vitamins, I am told. Anyway, this lovely American man, Patrick, of Irish extraction, had a wish and his wish was, to one day go and visit the brewery in Dublin. At last he got the opportunity and had a tour of the brewery and was brought to a place where there was this wonderful vat of freshly brewed Guinness. In his enthusiasm, he leaned over too far and fell into the vat of Guinness. After the initial shock, he felt quite at home swimming around in this luscious drink and was very grateful to God for this unique experience. As he swam around, his prayer of gratitude was: “God grant me a mouth, worthy of this great opportunity!” in the presence of this assembly on this memorable occasion. My prayer is similar: God grant me a mouth worthy of this great opportunity!

What is it that a Dominican Sister can say on this wonderful occasion? That is the challenge! As many of you will know that people coming from Ireland do have what they call the gift of the gab! But on a serious note, I would like to say a few words on three thoughts that are with me at his time: 1. The Context in which the Graduate Theological Foundation was born. 2. The contribution which the Foundation has offered and is still offering to so many people in all areas of ministry, throughout the world. 3. I would also like to reflect briefly on the similarities of the common thrust for mission which the Foundation has inspired and encouraged, especially through its ongoing commitment to providing opportunities for the study of theology, spirituality and Scripture and the founding purpose of my own Order, The Dominican Order, which also has as its core value and Charism, study and the preaching of the good news..

The Golden Jubilee of The Graduate Theological Foundation, as you, know coincides, with another great Jubilee, that of Vatican 11 that great Council of the church which began in October 1962 and which had a transformative influence, not only on the church itself but on the entire world. Pope John XX111 wanted to open the doors and windows of the church to let in the fresh air of the Spirit. The more recent article in the NCR sums up the purpose and outcome of this Council in a few sentences: “It did not dwell on dogma or establish new lines on who’s in and out of the community. It did not announce the common anathemas; it did not condemn heresies as was the case with other Councils. Instead to state it broadly, it asked that we all go to the roots of who we are as people of God and to figure out what that means in the contemporary world.” This Council called the people of God to renewal and to a deeper searching for the richness of ecumenism and dialogue with other faiths. In the words of John XX111, as he lay dying in May 1963, “Today, more than ever before, we are called to serve the people of God as such and not merely those in the Catholic Church.”

There were many commissions and outcomes from the Council dealing with many aspects of the church and its relationships such as the role of the laity in the church, renewal of Religious Life. Humanae Vitae which has caused much rumbling in the church up to the present day; but for now perhaps out of the many documents emerging that certainly impacted change, though not total positive change, were: Unitatis Redintegratio: (the decree on Ecumenism,) Nostra Aetate: (The Church’s relations with other Faiths): Orientalium Ecclesiam, (the relationship with Catholic Oriental churches) and Lumen Gentium which speaks of all those who minister in the faith communities of the modern world and describes the church in the following terms: “The church, in its fullest sense, is made up of all people and many elements of truth can be found outside of her.” (Lumen Gentium No. 8). I cannot emphasise enough, the great excitement and hope that I and other novices in Religious Life and experienced during this time… The energy for renewal and the ecumenical thrust is captured in the words of Pope John Paul 11, when he said: “No Council has ever spoken so clearly about Christian unity, about dialogue with other faiths, about the dignity of each person’s conscience, about the principle of religious liberty, about the different cultural traditions within which the church carries out her missionary mandate.” (Tertio Millennio, Adveniente 1994: No. 19.)It is no wonder then, that in this new dawn in the church, creative and committed people all over the world were full of hope, excitement and enthusiasm about this new time. The desire for renewal, new learning, new and developing relationships, reflection and dialogue was in the very air.

It is not surprising then that in a climate such as this that The Graduate Theological Foundation at its very early stages as a fledging institution for community education in ministry, saw the light of day. The roots of the Foundation emerged through The Conference on Religious Development which was formed to provide theological and religious education programmes in the context of the newly emerging ecumenical relationships between, the various Protestant and Catholic communions. New ideas and creative ways of delivering ministry formation in consortia, and gatherings of all kinds, began to emerge to meet the needs of this new time. It was thus, that The Conference of Religious Development, with the inspiration of Cardinal Spellman, and under the direction of Father Robley Whitson, grew out of the spirit of the time as the worldwide church was searching for a new kind of dialogic language and interactive relationships among the differing religious bodies in Christianity. His work at Fordham and Princeton, uniquely equipped him for this task. The unique contribution of both Father Robley Whitson and Dr. Ewart Cousins to the development of the Foundation is legendary and you as graduates will be well aware of this.

The foundation for the first 20 years did exactly what it intended to do: it provided a continuing education institute for clergy and religious. But in the spirit of Vatican 11 and the church in the modern world, the Foundation continued to develop creative and flexible ways of ministry education, in a spirit of responsiveness to the perceived needs of those in ministry that the Foundation sought and still seeks to serve. 1982 was a momentous year in the history of the Foundation, as it was then that Father Whitson and the Board of Governors invited Dr. John Morgan to become President of the Foundation and again a new era for the Foundation dawned.

Dr. Morgan’s tireless work and that of the Board and staff led to the Foundation moving, with greater confidence to a totally self-directed programme which is in keeping with its commitment to address the educational needs of ministry professionals in the 21st century, and indeed to receiving a corporate charter from The State of Indiana to conduct Graduate Programmes and award degrees to professionals already credentialed in a wide range of both faith based and secular oriented ministries The development of Professional and Academic Degrees in partnership with other Academic Institutions and the true ecumenical, interfaith intercultural nature of the Foundation, where people of all faiths, cultures and beliefs, have the opportunity to study in a community of learning, within a context for developing communion, is indeed a cause for celebration and rejoicing.

The contribution of The Foundation to ongoing study, formation, reflection and dialogue, and its contribution to promote renewal and the fulfilment of the hopes and inspiration of Vatican 11, is well known now throughout many areas of the world. The links with Oxford, The Centro pro Unione in Rome, The Dominican House of Study in Puerto Rico and the setting up of the programme of Islamic Studies, its connections with Judaism, together with the awarding of degrees at all levels and in many disciplines, can only be regarded as inspirational and innovative. I have read that since the opening of the Foundation’s Degree programmes to all those in ministry, that the student body is comprised of 43 different religious denominations and faith traditions.

I have had the privilege of studying with the Foundation myself and indeed of being part of offering some contributions to the Programmes on psychology and Spirituality and more especially to the Summer School in Oxford. And this brings me to the connection between my experience with the foundation and being a Dominican woman in the 21st century.

By way of context, I will conclude by saying a little about The Dominicans. In the C 13 St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, his first foundation being that of a monastery of contemplative nuns in 1206 and then the Dominican Friars. In simple language the purpose of his founding the Order was to announce the good news to all humanity but especially to the Albigensians who rejected the beauty of the body and the material world. The motto of The Order was to search for Truth and for its members to be bearers of truth especially through study. It was in the spirit of such study that the friars were very prominent in the study centres of Europe as well as in university settings. They travelled the roads by foot, preaching and teaching as they went. In the Dominican tradition, Lifelong study of Scripture and theology is at the core of every Dominican’s life.

In my own journey as a Dominican Sister it is Catherine of Siena, that great woman Dominican and the patron our Congregation, who is my inspiration. One of The Master’s of the Order, Amice to Fernandez said: “Into Catherine the whole soul of Dominic passed.” She was an unlettered person, we are told, who had what she had to say dictated for her in her inspirational book: The Dialogue and her Letters and prayers. In 1970, five years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, she was declared a Doctor of the Church, recognition and an ecclesial role that no woman had ever received before 1970. Catherine’ Theology cannot be said to be the result of long years of study and research. Her closeness to her God, her mysticism, oral sources, and her contact with the poor and marginalised, were the mainspring of her theology. In Number 167 of her Dialogue, she prays: “In your light, you enlighten me so that I am able to know your truth. You are the light above all light who illumines the light of my mind with such fullness and perfection, that you give clarity even to the light of faith.”

Catherine’s Europe was, like our world today, marked by violence and an uncertain future. The Church was in need of renewal, even more so, perhaps, than at the time of Vatican 11 as the then Pope Gregory XI was caught between the power of warring Italian princes and the power of the cardinals. He fled to Avignon and it was through the influence of Catherine that she eventually got him back to Rome. There is a wonderful marble carving in Rome, which depicts Catherine pointing the finger at Gregory X1 and encouraging him to do his job and get back to Rome from Avignon. . Catherine worked relentlessly for the reform of the Church during the Great Schism, when there were two Popes. Through her prayer and closeness to God she brought a contemplative dimension of study to the world as she and her followers worked and prayed for an end to the Schism. She became a great mystic, a contemplative in action and at the same time an important historical figure who worked indefatigably for the renewal of the church. One of her symbols of the church/the people of God is a boat, in which all are invited to sail on the waters of God’s love, mercy and compassion. She is often depicted as carrying that boat on her shoulders that boat in which all are invited to sail on the sea of God’s love. Throughout her writings, she often refers to this boat….definitely an inclusive boat! Catherine’ very active life for spreading the good news wherever she could was underpinned by contemplation, prayer and a very deep communion with her God. Her pastoral outreach involved the poor, lepers, prisoners, clergy, prelates, princes and Popes! In her Dialogue, she records what the Lord says to her, “I shall give thee such speech and wisdom that nobody shall be able to resist. I shall bring thee before pontiffs and the rulers of the Church.” In one of her letters, she tells of this prisoner who is to be executed and who asks her to be with him throughout his execution, which she does. Before the execution, she says: “I took him to hear Mass and he received Holy Communion which he had never done before. ‘stay with me and don’t leave me, then I shall be alright and die happy.” So I waited for him at the place of execution, held his head until it fell into my hands.

One of her famous sayings, quoting from The Dialogue is: “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring perseverance.” I am sure that each one of you agrees with that as you now graduate after much perseverance and hard work.

But for us who are in ministry, what is the real purpose of our study? What is the final goal of all our endeavours, our study, our achievements? What will be different about our contribution to the world, to humanity after we go forth from this graduation? Catherine’s words as quoted from her Dialogue might well have a massage for us: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” The other ongoing challenge for us, as believers in the love and mercy of God for all, is reflected in her saying made famous last year when used at the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

As we go forth, celebrating our graduation, let us continue to make our study a continuing part of our lives and ministry: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”