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Embrace unique value, importance of Saint Gregory’s University

April 2, 2017

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

The following is the homily given by Archbishop Coakley for Mass on the occasion of the inauguration of Michael Scaperlanda as the 16th president of Saint Gregory’s University on March 21, 2017.

Abbot Lawrence, Archbishop Beltran, members of the monastic and university communities, my brother priests, deacons, consecrated women and men, friends and distinguished guests of Saint Gregory’s Abbey and University, my brothers and sisters in Christ, today we rejoice with Benedictines around the world as we celebrate the liturgical feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

The mystery we commemorate on this occasion is the crossing over of Saint Benedict from this world to the next, his death and entrance into heavenly glory. Though today’s uniquely Benedictine observance may seem like an interruption of our Lenten rhythm, it is certainly a fitting anticipation of the celebration of the paschal mystery and the renewal of our baptismal promises that takes place during the Paschal Triduum a few weeks from now.

Through Baptism, we die and rise with Christ. We are reborn by water and the Holy Spirit as adopted children of God. We are beloved sons and daughters. The new life received in Baptism, developed to maturity through a lifetime of discipleship, comes to its full fruition in the glory of heaven.

We are called to be holy. We are called to become saints. This is our dignity. This is our hope and our vocation. As we hear in today’s Gospel, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on 12 thrones.” Today’s feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict summons us to lift up our hearts and set our sights on heaven.

Today, we are honoring Saint Benedict, enthroned in glory, and celebrating his legacy of holiness and mission here at Saint Gregory’s Abbey and University. This is holy ground. This is a place of unique importance for the Church in Oklahoma, because it was through the Benedictines who first established themselves at Sacred Heart Mission and later relocated to this site, that the Catholic Church first gained a foothold in Indian Territory and spread throughout Oklahoma. Those intrepid missionary monks helped establish some of the first Catholic institutions of this territory. They served as evangelists, pastors, educators and witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, we are honoring that heritage and celebrating that legacy. Even as we express our gratitude to God for those who gave their lives in service here and have gone to their eternal reward, like Saint Benedict himself, we turn our attention to a new chapter in the life of this venerable institution, which is certainly one of the most precious gifts that the sons of Saint Benedict have bequeathed to the Church in Oklahoma. This afternoon we will witness the formal inauguration of Dr. Michael Scaperlanda as the 16th president of Saint Gregory’s University.

It often has been acknowledged that Saint Gregory’s University is the only Catholic institution of higher learning in Oklahoma. We all get that. What has perhaps never been adequately acknowledged and embraced is the unique value and importance of what Saint Gregory’s offers within the educational landscape of Oklahoma.

While the dominant thrust in higher education everywhere has been toward ever-increasing specialization, technical expertise and professional training, the tradition of liberal education, which is to say a broad balanced education in the liberal arts and the humanities, has been overlooked and undervalued. This often has had the unfortunate consequence of producing too many well-trained specialists who lack vision and heart, and even an adequate sense of their own humanity.

The Catholic Church always has valued the liberal arts, and in establishing the world’s first universities made the liberal arts the foundational curriculum for all students.

The goal of good education is more than technical expertise. Is it not a prior goal of education to form students to think and to act as well-rounded, mature, virtuous and engaged human beings? As persons of character?

In his insightful book, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” Archbishop Charles Chaput cites an economist at a leading American university, who oversees the doctoral program in his field. When asked what he valued most in candidates for their doctoral program, he said, “an undergraduate degree in Classics.” What do Homer, Virgil and the classics have to do with economic theory? He reasons that since economics is a human science, it’s practitioners ought to first know how to be authentic human beings before learning their specialized skills.

An education and formation in the liberal arts, that is in literature, poetry, philosophy and theology, history, art, science and mathematics and any of the humanities is an immersion in beauty, goodness and truth. They are called liberal arts as opposed to servile arts. An education in the liberal arts at a Catholic university has no utilitarian purpose more important than enlarging and ennobling the soul and awakening a sense of wonder at the world outside of oneself and of the Creator who orders and holds it all in being.

This is not to say that technical and professional training and education is unimportant. It certainly is! It has its place in a liberal arts education. It is merely a matter of acknowledging the priority of establishing a solid foundation before building the edifice.

As we formally inaugurate this new chapter in the history of Saint Gregory’s University, we give thanks to God for those who have laid the foundation upon which we build today, especially the Benedictines of Saint Gregory’s Abbey. We pray for Dr. Michael Scaperlanda as he undertakes his ecclesial mission of leading Saint Gregory’s University from the heart of the Church.

We pray as well for the students, faculty, administration, staff, board and benefactors who participate in this critically important ministry that contributes so much to the flourishing of both Church and society. May God who has begun this good work bring it to fulfillment.