Inauguration of the Billiart Center for Social Justice

Cap and Gown Convocation, September 28, 2013

Sr. Camilla Burns, SND, ’60

Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies

The Sisters of Notre Dame were founded in 1804 by the French woman Julie Billiart. Julie had two innate convictions that seem to have been with her from her earliest life and continued to be the beacons that guided her and motivated her through the vicissitudes of life.

The first was her unshakeable conviction that God was good. Her writings are filled with the phrase “How Good is the Good God!”, “Ah! Qu’il est bon le bon Dieu.”  It was a mantra for her. That saying is inscribed on the cross the Sisters of Notre Dame wear.

From the conviction of the Goodness of God came the deep desire to communicate that realization to others. She lived in a time of religious and social upheaval and concluded that the most effective way to transform society and communicate the goodness of God was through education. She was a natural at teaching, starting at an early age by going to the wheat fields at noon and instructing the agricultural workers.

She gave us this grand legacy and encouraged us to continue the work throughout the world with “deep union with God, liberty of spirit, and courage.” We are now in five continents and 20 countries.

Sister Julia McGroarty was a Sister of Notre Dame who was inspired by this legacy and exhibited great courage and liberty of spirit in founding Trinity College in 1897.

Our responsibility in 2013 is to interpret our inheritance for the present moment. In our Constitutions we commit ourselves to continue to search for appropriate expressions of our legacy in each time and place. Julia McGroarty exhibited this translation of our bequest to the present moment when she said “We are following our old tradition, enlarging our lives to suit the times.”

At this moment in the history of Trinity, we are inaugurating the founding of the Billiart Center for Social Justice. The Center will explore contemporary local, national and international social and economic issues which affect the lives of women, particularly in the religious and political spheres. We are under no illusion that this is a new experience for Trinity. We see multiple examples already existing in the curricula of many programs and we know that it takes place in numerous ways in various classrooms and extracurricular activities. This Center is a central place that gathers and encourages what is already being done and offers assistance in developing more programs and ideas. Sr. Mary Johnson will now present some of the ways we have begun to concretize the Billiart Center for Social Justice.

Sr. Mary Johnson, SND

Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology

The Julie Billiart Center for Social Justice rests on four pillars: scholarship, spirituality and religiosity, and service – pillars on which the identity of Trinity rests as well.

The devotion of Trinity faculty to teaching and scholarship is evident everyday on this campus. The religious and spiritual sensibilities of the majority of Trinity students is also abundantly clear. (Evidence of that was presented a few minutes ago in the wonderful remarks of Shenaye Holmes, senior class president.) The commitment of the entire university community to service in a multitude of forms is so apparent.

Programming for the new center will build upon these strengths of the Trinity community. Lectures, films, discussion and reflection will revolve around the four pillars undergirding the Center. Faculty and student input for future programming will be solicited so that the co-curricular work of the Center will enhance what already exists.

Today, as you leave this building, you will each receive a flyer which lists programs for this fall semester. All events are open. You will be receiving an email asking you to rsvp to those events which are of interest to you.

Details of dates and times for the fall events are available on the flyer, but let me give you a taste of what Sr. Camilla and I, in consultation this semester with two faculty members, Prof. James Stocker and Prof. Shelly Tomkin, and Sr. Mary Ellen Dow from campus ministry, have planned for the inaugural semester of the Billiart Center for Social Justice.

First, Sr. Marge Clark of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby, will speak on poverty in the US. NETWORK has sponsored the Nuns on the Bus campaign which has received much media attention. It has developed a curriculum on poverty which is available through its website. As many of you know, the idea of NETWORK was conceptualized here at Trinity over 40 years ago and Sr. Mary Hayes was one of NETWORK’s founding mothers.

Sr. Jean Stoner, SND, serves at the SND NGO at the United Nations. She will meet with students, faculty and the Model UN. The Sisters of Notre Dame have held NGO status for several years. A discussion of UN resources available to the Trinity community will also be part of Sr. Jean’s presentations.

I will offer a lecture on the sociology of the papacy in light of Pope Francis’ unique role on the international stage. The film “I AM” will be presented as part of a lunchtime brown bag, and Soup with the Sisters which provides opportunities for spiritual input and reflection will continue to be offered. Issues of peacemaking and environmental justice will constitute part of the offerings for second semester.

We look forward to hearing your ideas and working with you to make this Center a vibrant part of the life of Trinity, and a support for all of the work for social justice that takes place here every day. Thank you.