On Thursday, February 4th, members the Emmanuel College community gathered in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall for the Founders' Week Address, a significant event in the life of the College commemorating the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND) by St. Julie Billiart in 1804, and the founding of Emmanuel College by the SNDs in 1919.
The Founders' Week Address is just one event in a weeklong series that includes opportunities for prayer, service and other discussions that reflect the how the Emmanuel community reflects the SND mission today.
This year's address was on the theme of "Celebrating the Ministries of Mercy of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur," and featured a panel of speakers including Sr. Ellen Dabrieo, SND, Support Coordinator for the East/West Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and Sr. Maria Delaney, SND, Co-Director of the U.S. Office of SND Sponsored Ministries, as well as students Laurie Paul '16 and Margaret Patton '17, who volunteer at SND-affiliated organizations.
Student Government Association President Catherine Graham '16 welcomed the audience and adjunct campus minister Sr. Bárbara Gutiérrez, SND, offered the invocation. 1804 Society President Rachel Piccirillo '16 welcomed President Sr. Janet Eisner, SND, who spoke on this year's theme of "mercy." In April 2015, Pope Francis formally proclaimed the extraordinary jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy, which officially began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and will last until the Feast of Christ the King on November 20th of this year. The Jubilee also marks 50 years since the conclusion of Vatican II.
Sr. Janet quoted Pope Francis' proclamation, saying that "Mercy is the beating heart of the Gospel" and that it "demands justice."
Sr. Ellen spoke on the two ministries in which she is currently involved - her role as support coordinator for the SNDs and her work with Brazilian communities in cities and parishes north of Boston. She described the work as being "different, but alike," because for all the dissimilarities between the populations she's serving, the act of simply "being present" is of equal importance to both.
While the work is often difficult, Sr. Ellen said she is sustained by the deep gratitude both ministries express even for the smallest things. She is also sustained by prayer, particularly for those who propagate fear or hatred toward immigrant populations due to the negative and often inaccurate messages perpetuated by the media and social media.
Sr. Maria spent several years on the SND Congregational Leadership Team (a group of five Sisters responsible for the international governance of the order) in Rome. Of her work abroad, she noted that she has seen both abject poverty and the effects that war, often civil war, has on its people. But she has also seen mercy through the extraordinary efforts of countries to improve the quality of life for its citizens.
"We need to have the courage not to condemn," she said, recognizing that it is easy to place blame on those who are suffering and to point fingers at those who may bring struggles upon themselves. "To show mercy is to walk alongside them anyway, nonjudgmentally."
She also quoted journalist Robert Mickens and his recent article on the Catholic Church's perceived threat of Pope Francis and his "obsession with mercy," which Mickens calls "a weapon more dangerous than bombs."
"That's because the practice of mercy requires that we forgive those who have hurt us, even in horrible ways..." Sr. Maria read. "Mercy and forgiveness are the exact opposite of retaliation, vindication or even retribution."
Two students who are involved with SND-affiliated organizations through the College's Office of Mission and Ministry also offered reflections.
Psychology major Laurie Paul '16 has been volunteering at the Notre Dame Education Center since February 2015, where she works as a tutor and a teacher's assistant, using her language skills to help Haitian Americans and women who she said "remind me so much of my mom." On campus, Paul also serves as a member of the President's Commission on Diversity and Inclusivity, which address issues of discrimination on campus and in higher education.
Political science and sociology double major Margaret Patton '17 began serving at Julie's Family Learning Program in June 2015, where she works with young mothers as a tutor in academics, life skills and nutrition. In her remarks, she relayed a story about how the simple act of baking a birthday cake for one of the mothers who was having a hard day turned into an unexpected act of mercy when she found out it was the first cake this woman had been given in all of her 23 birthdays.
The program closed with a musical reflection lead by Greg Paré, a final prayer from Fr. John Spencer, SJ, and a performance of the alma mater by a cappella group For Good Measure.