"Many of you know that today’s Mass was the final program in our week of celebration surrounding the Feast of Saint Francis. I am impressed by how thoughtful the programming has been, and by the great care the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph have taken to help our lay leadership sustain Franciscanism.
• The Peace Walk
• The Employee Service Recognition Awards
• The Transitus Commemoration
• The Blessing of the Animals
• The Blanketing of Buffalo
• The St. Francis and the Wolf program
• And, one of my favorites, the Heritage Tour led bySister Sharon.
Throughout the programming we were reminded of our core Franciscan values: Service, Respect, Compassion, Peace, Hope, Joy, Integrity, and Vision.
We were reminded of St. Francis’s belief that everything in God’s creation is sacred. We prayed together for God “to enrich us with a feeling of community with the creation around us, and an authentic sense of responsibility for earth’s well-being.”
These prayers were reminders of how relevant Franciscanism is today, more than 800 years since its founding. Over the last week we were also reminded of the central questions, inspired by St. Francis, that guide us in our daily lives:
• What changes can I make in my life to find inner peace?
• Do I accept and respect the differences in others including race, religion, culture, opinion, and lifestyle?
• Whom do I need to forgive and with whom do I need to reconcile in order to find peace in life?
Again, this sustained theme is that everything in God’s creation is sacred. Everything, including relationships.
Late in the 19th Century Sister Collette Hilbert came from Poland and began to develop relationships in Pittsburgh, in Trenton, and then here in Buffalo at the Corpus Christi parish. Working relationships that addressed real human needs for education, spiritual mentorship, and being lifted out of poverty.
Ninety years ago, the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph came to this site in the Southtowns, at that point only corn fields and apple orchards, to nurture their young congregation. The FSSJ turned the fields and orchards into a thriving community from which thousands of lives were enriched by the tireless effort the Sisters devoted to education and human services over the next century.
What was once called Immaculata College became Hilbert College under the leadership of Sister Edwina Bogel and Sister Edmunette Paczesny. Over a decade ago the Sisters entrusted Hilbert to lay leadership. First with my esteemed predecessor, Dr. Cynthia Zane, and now myself. With that trust comes the responsibility, that I share with all of you, to sustain the Franciscan charism in a higher education sector that is rapidly changing.
Nearly a year ago, I invited the faculty and staff to write to me on the challenges and opportunities that our institution needs to embrace as we begin this new era. Their letters are all here in this Blue File.
This is what the Hilbert community shared with me:
• We have great passion for our College.
• We believe we need to sustain the Franciscan charism as we strengthen the College.
• We strive to improve what we do for students to ensure that we are competitive in the marketplace.
• We need truth, kindness, and transparency.
• We need to add new academic programs, offer online and international programs, improve athletic recruitment, build a fundraising program, and engage the Western New York Community.
These letters provided a broad spectrum of opinions. Some were joyful. Some were inspiring. Some were unvarnished, to be sure. And some were cranky. But they were always about how we need to work together to strengthen Hilbert.
Please know I have heard you. I keep this Blue File on my desk as a reminder of what we need to focus on. I am thankful for what I learned from all of you over the last year. From that experience I offer that there are two main things for all of us to focus on:
First, we have both the honor and the responsibility to sustain and deepen our Franciscan charism for all we serve.
Second, we have the opportunity to adopt and embrace a 21st Century higher education business model. One that will ensure the vitality of our College for decades to come.
This will not be easy. We hail from different faith backgrounds, but we come to campus each day to sustain our Catholic educational mission. And within that mission we are now forging a transformative story.
One that is true, one that inspires, one that builds upon the past in such a way as to assure a relevant future. There will be challenges, but, as is evidenced by our distinguished gathering today, there is a deep reserve of wisdom here in Western New York that cares about us, and that we can turn to and learn from.
Lots of wisdom. But I would offer there is none more important than the wisdom across the way. And by that I mean right across South Park Avenue at Saint Francis Park. In those times of discernment, and there will be many, all we have to do is cross the road and visit with the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph. Their wisdom about Hilbert’s past, the decisions they had to make to adapt to the times, and their laser focus on serving those in need. They are our inspiration."