The Catholic University of America

125th Anniversary Speech
John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America
Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center
April 10, 2012
 

  Garvey on Founders Day
  University President John Garvey speaks to students, faculty, staff, and alumni who gathered to celebrate Catholic University's 125th anniversary.

Happy 125th anniversary, Catholic University! I am delighted to welcome you to this special anniversary Founders Day celebration, and I am honored and proud to hold the position of President as we look ahead to another 125 years. When I set about deciding what to say on this momentous occasion, I found I had too many good options. I could speak about the depth and richness of our history; the prolific scholarly contributions of our faculty; the successes our alumni who have gone on to illustrious careers in academia, politics, theater, music, and the sciences. I could talk about the hundreds of missionaries, priests, bishops, cardinals, and religious sisters trained in our lecture halls who have dedicated their lives to service in the church. Or I could point out the stunning beauty of many of our buildings on campus, including our beloved National Shrine, and note the astonishing generosity of our alumni and benefactors who have helped us build this glorious place.

But I want to talk instead about what links us to those who have gone before us. What do we share with the magnificent figures who have walked these halls – Cardinal James Gibbons, our first chancellor; Fulton Sheen, John Tracy Ellis, Cardinal Avery Dulles, and Bishop O’Connell? For what reason did the bishops found this great university? What do the beautiful, sacred structures we see and inhabit every day signify?

I’ll begin with a story. You have probably heard it before. We had a rule in our house that we would not read bedtime stories that weren’t at least a hundred years old. So we read a lot of Alcott and Dickens; Hawthorne, Stevenson, Melville, Poe, and London. This was partly a reaction against the popularity of trash like Judy Blume, the Berenstain Bears, and the Babysitters Club. It was also just a useful selection criterion. If a book was still in print after a century, it probably had a lot to recommend it.

There were a few exceptions, mostly for the young kids. Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon was one. The Velveteen Rabbit was another. It’s 90 years old this year. Like most good stories written for children it is both simple and wise. It’s the story of a new toy rabbit who befriends an old skin horse. The skin horse, we are told, “was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath . . . .” These were the effects of his loving and being loved by a child. In exchange for his shabby and well worn appearance, the old skin horse gained wisdom and knowledge.

The little rabbit learned this for himself when, one day, after years of being loved by a child, “. . . so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty . . . .” The message we hoped our children would take from the story of the little toy rabbit was this: The choices you make about what to do will influence how you think of yourself, and others, and the world. A life filled with love is the foundation for wisdom and understanding.

When the American bishops set about founding a University in 1887 they had not heard this story (it lay 35 years in the future). But the central theme – that love and wisdom go together, that how we live shapes our pursuit of knowledge – was at the center of their view of Catholic education. They wanted to offer a world-class intellectual formation, but also to form students to become good, holy people.

Today we want the same thing for our students. In fact we believe, as our founders did, that the cultivation of virtue will perfect our intellectual life. “Virtue,” Aristotle tells us, “makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means.” If he is right, as I believe he is, then what we do has everything to do with whether we become wise or foolish. That is why we opted to make our Cardinal Service Commitment the hallmark event of our 125th anniversary. It is also the reason why I urge you to continue your commitment to cultivating the virtue of charity during your years at Catholic University and throughout your lifetime. During these past 11 months

  • You fed the hungry by delivering meals to the homeless in downtown D.C.
     
  • You gave drink to the thirsty by handing out cups of water to runners at the Race for Hope, to benefit the National Brain Tumor Society.
     
  • You welcomed strangers, when you stayed up all night providing hospitality to students who traveled to Washington to participate in the March for Life.
     
  • You provided clothing and warmth to those in need, by knitting hats, scarves, and blankets for people who live out in the cold.
     
  • You cared for the sick, by giving free nursing services to uninsured people at The Shepherd’s Clinic in Baltimore.
     
  • You visited the imprisoned, by visiting inmates at Loudon County Adult Detention Center in Virginia.

In your efforts you far exceeded the ambitious 125,000 hour goal we set for the University. In fact, the students, staff, faculty and alumni of Catholic University performed 352,627 hours of service since we began collecting hours last May. I am both astonished by and proud of this show of gratitude and generosity.

With the close of the Cardinal Service Commitment, and as we move forward into our next 125 years, my prayer is that you and the students who follow will become the sort of people this University was founded to educate. Guided by the virtues, a spirit of generosity, and above all a love for God, I hope you and they will grow in understanding and wisdom. God bless you, and The Catholic University of America.