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Imagining new beginnings

3:24 PM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Daniel J. Curran, President

Some call Blessed William Joseph Chaminade a “pragmatic visionary.”

Others, like Brother John Samaha, S.M., view the founder of the Society of Mary as a humble priest whose “peaceful life turned into the stuff from which the plots of adventure movies are developed.”

For me, he’s a fellow sociologist.

As the University of Dayton celebrates the 250th anniversary of Chaminade’s birth throughout 2011, I’m inspired by how his life story continues to fuel the University’s upward momentum.

When Father Chaminade escaped the bloody French Revolution and went into exile in Spain, he imagined a new beginning for the embattled Catholic Church in France.  This was a time of radical social, economic and political upheaval in his homeland. The monarchy had collapsed. During the Reign of Terror, priests and other church leaders were harassed, imprisoned or killed. Society was in chaos.

Yet Chaminade saw a path forward — a way that would re-energize the church and create a new religious movement empowered by the laity. When he returned to Bordeaux, he brought together an eclectic group of merchants, priests, teachers, chimney sweeps, former soldiers and others from all walks of life who drew their inspiration from Mary, the mother of 
Jesus. A community of believers, they treated each other as equals and shared a deep sense of mission.

Father Chaminade viewed the world with a sociological eye. He saw that in the midst of social change, which can be radical and disruptive, institutions can remain vibrant and grow. New times, he believed, called for new methods.

That philosophy guides us every day as we live out the Marianist mission on campus. As a community, we read the signs of the times and act boldly and imaginatively.

That’s why we purchased NCR’s former world headquarters and are transforming it into a riverfront center for research, graduate studies, continuing education and alumni outreach.

It’s highly unusual for a corporate giant such as General Electric to build a $51 million research facility on a college campus (Pg. 5), but we see that move as the future for leading research universities. When the University made its first large land purchase from NCR in 2005, we worked with regional leaders to secure the federal and state funds necessary to make that land, largely a brownfield, vibrant again. We envisioned attracting strong companies that could spur 
additional research, serve as real-world classrooms and spark economic development for the region. Today, that vision 
is coming to fruition.

As we look outward, the University of Dayton will welcome a more diverse and academically prepared student body from all socioeconomic walks of life and from all over the world. Our academic reputation as a top-tier Catholic research university will gain greater recognition. More alumni and friends will invest in our shared future.

We will make a deeper mark on the world while remaining true to Chaminade’s ageless philosophy.

We educate for adaptation and change. We develop technology that benefits mankind. In a fragmented world, we encourage dialogue between faith and culture. We foster community, and we remain deeply committed to the common good.

An 18th-century priest still imparts lessons for a modern-day university. That’s worth celebrating.

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