Benedictine College in Atchison is a gem among Catholic institutions of higher learning in the US. In its guide to “Choosing a Catholic College,” the Cardinal Newman Society said of Benedictine, “All the elements of a vibrant Catholic spiritual life are present at BC . . . While many Catholic colleges have de-emphasized their ties to religious orders, Benedictine College celebrates its Benedictine Heritage.”
Those are distinctions which haven’t gone unnoticed on high. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, made the same observations when he was treasured celebrant and guest at the school’s opening Mass of the Holy Spirit and Convocation on September 1.
Bishop Robert W. Finn, Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and recently installed Omaha Archbishop George Lucas joined other bishops and numerous priests and religious alumni of Benedictine in opening the school year. The entire Freshmen class and hundreds of upper-classmen and women packed the Abbey Church to overflowing and welcomed the Nuncio displaying exuberant school spirit.
In his homily, Archbishop Sambi gave an extensive reflection on the role of Catholic Colleges as “places of encounter with the Word, with the Good News, with Jesus Christ.” The Archbishop taught on Pope Benedict’s vision of the “liberating mission of a Catholic education, especially within societies where a secularist ideology separates truth and faith,” and of the Holy Father’s “desire to see that [the Church’s] schools at all levels maintain a strong Catholic identity.”
“Ultimately,” Archbishop Sambi said, “the success of Catholic education is something that cannot be measured in standardized tests or with academic statistics. Its success, according to Pope Benedict, rests in its ability to integrate faith and intellectual formation. . . Today, we pray in thanksgiving for one institution in particular: Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.”
Archbishop Sambi turned to praise Benedictine saying the college “celebrates a vibrant sacramental life and supports an active pastoral ministry. Confession, spiritual direction, Eucharistic adoration, retreats and campus ministry activities are readily available.” The Nuncio noted that 30 graduates have entered the seminary or discerned a vocation to religious life since 2000 and a new Benedictine novice has entered the Abbey each year since 2000.
“This, again, is the hope of the Church, as stated in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” he said.
The Nuncio also reflected on the specific Benedictine charism of the school with its emphasis on prayer, work and peace. “Just as this ‘indwelling of the Holy Trinity’ this ‘coming upon us’ of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, brings peace to the soul, so too the Lord’s ‘indwelling’ on the campus of Benedictine College nurtures the faith and promotes the sure path to peace, now, as he has done for over 150 years,” Archbishop Sambi said.
Per tradition, the Freshmen at Benedictine wear a beanie with the school colors during the first week of school. They are able to remove it at convocation when they become “full members” of the community. Straying from his prepared homily, Archbishop Sambi said, “I would like to tell you that I am a little jealous – because your cap is better than mine.” At the convocation, following Mass, the Nuncio was presented with his very own Benedictine beanie which he proudly wore.
Archbishop Sambi was also keynote speaker at the convocation held in the school’s student center. Sister Anne Shepard, Prioress of the Benedictines of Mount Saint Scholastica led the opening prayer for the convocation and Abbot Barnabas Senecal sang the benediction. President Stephen D. Minnis introduced the Nuncio. Shepard, Senecal and Minnis are themselves graduates of Benedictine.
In his Convocation Address, Archbishop Sambi spoke of his lengthy prior service in the Holy Land, including eight years as Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Palestine. The Holy Land “is not a foreign place for us,” he said. It is “the privileged place where the Mystery of Salvation unfolded. For Christians, it is the Land of the patriarchs and the Prophets as well as that of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and the birthplace of the Church.”
The Nuncio gave vivid descriptions of his personal experience of the Holy Places. “Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, reading the Gospel and meditating upon the mysteries of faith that are manifested in this these holy places, brings one to an even more personal encounter with the Lord, to a depth of one’s faith, and to a truly Christian perspective of life, so that one can see life, clearly and with joy, as a gift and a mission.”
He then turned his attention to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land who now represent only two percent of the population. The absence of real prospects for peace, economic instability, unemployment and poor access to housing are among the reasons Christians leave, Archbishop Sambi said. In addition, “The Israeli control on Palestinian youth makes them feel like prisoners in their own land,” he said.
The Nuncio urged Benedictine students to support Christians in the Holy Land by praying for them, encouraging pilgrimages and assisting them materially. But, “the greatest help that we can give to the Christian community, which would also benefit Jews and Moslems, is that of political pressure on the parties in conflict for a stable peace, accomplished by establishing two states – one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, both living as neighbors with a spirit of collaboration,” he said.
Following the convocation, students posed for pictures with bishops from their home dioceses and all then joined the Nuncio for lunch.
Follow link bit.ly/JVJa8 for the complete texts of Archbishop Sambi’s homily and Convocation Address and for more pictures from the event.
Photos by Laura Wadle:
Top - (l-r) Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Bishop Robert Finn, Archbishop Joseph Nauman
Middle – Archbishop Sambi gives the Convocation Address
Bottom – Bishop Finn poses with Benedictine students and alumni from the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph