Sunday, May 22, 2011

"The Kingdom, Our True Home"

Amid the darkest hour this place has known in nearly two centuries, it's been a brilliant, historic day for the River City church....

Even if it's the Third Weekend of May, though, the traditional ordination-date merely happened to coincide with it. Just another sign of the sea-change afoot in our midst.

Ergo, live from Commencement Sunday under Our Lady's Golden Dome, here's the citation that conferred the Laetare Medal on two of our own for the first time in the 130-year line of American Catholicism's most venerable and prestigious award.

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At the 166th Commencement

The May Exercises

Sister and Madam,

Dorothy Day, who preceded you by two score years in the honor we bestow today, once wrote that “we have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Her words, and more conspicuously, her life, sharpened and gave witness to that yearning, most notably in the loving hospitality which became a central feature of the Catholic Worker movement she founded.

She also inspired two daughters of the “City of Brotherly Love” whom we now celebrate. You both, like her, have felt the pangs of that long loneliness and have admirably contended with it at least since 1989, when you opened a temporary winter shelter for some 50 homeless men in the locker room of one of Philadelphia’s municipal swimming pools.

It was rough going at first: Your guests, turned away from the city’s other shelters, entered early in the evening and left early in the morning; you managed to improvise the hot meals you served them by means of an overworked microwave oven; and in the absence of a kitchen sink you used a washing machine hose to clean the dishes. You and your work subsisted on companionship and sporadic generosity, as friends offered what they could: a couple of bucks here and there, a meal or two, or a few hours of their time.

But they had begun to catch on to something that was irresistible in the plainspoken articulation of your shared vision: “None of us is at home until all of us are home.”

Since those days that vision, animated by your love and labor, and supported by the thousands of Philadelphians your example has summoned, has given rise to Project H.O.M.E., an organization devoted to ending homelessness in Philadelphia.

What began so precariously as a makeshift shelter now includes 480 units of housing and two businesses which provide employment to formerly homeless people. Of the more than 8,000 men and women participating in Project H.O.M.E. programs, 95 percent have not returned to the streets, and Philadelphia’s homeless population has been reduced by half. Now a national model for community development, the project is engaged in the renovation of inner city vacant lots, home-ownership initiatives for working poor families, and education and employment programs for youths and adults. It also has leveraged more than $80 million toward housing and economic development.

Project H.O.M.E. – begotten by your conviction, commitment, and compassion – has transformed the “City of Brotherly Love” from a mere sobriquet to a glimpse of that Kingdom which is our true home, in celebration of which the University of Notre Dame rejoices to confer upon you both its highest honor, the Laetare Medal,


Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

...and, well, Thanks be to God.

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Slightly edited at the last minute, Sr Mary's remarks to come.

The first joint winners of the Medal who aren't a married couple, while the Laetare laureates took center stage alongside the day's main speaker, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, American Catholicism's marquee college conferred a dozen honorary degrees in all during the morning exercises, including on the Iranian rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi; Coach Lou Holtz, who oversaw the Fighting Irish squad's last national championship run in 1988, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, a longtime friend of the Dome, whose diocese recently announced that three of its parish schools would be the first in the country to be fully operated by Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education, an initiative to strengthen the church's teaching work, with a focus on bolstering struggling schools.

University of Notre Dame