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Responsibility, justice and glimmers of grace … Ask a Marianist

9:25 AM  Jun 15th, 2012
by Thomas M. Columbus

Readers had more questions for Father Marty Solma, S.M. ’71, provincial of the Marianist Province of the United States, than we had space in the Big Questions section of the Summer 2012 issue of  University of Dayton Magazine. Here are additional questions with answers from Father Solma:

How do you see your role in ensuring that Marianist college faculty convey respect for human life and the teaching authority of the Church in ethics and philosophy classes and in other situations, even where teachers and students may not be Catholic? —Marcia Schiele, Solon, Ohio, parent of four UD students

The question you ask is an especially important one for us these days. The University of Dayton, by virtue of its Catholic character and Marianist educational tradition, must endorse and publicly support the Catholic doctrinal and ethical teaching of the magisterium. The office of the vice president for mission and rector is more formally charged with overseeing compliance, along with the ultimate responsibility vested in the president and the board of trustees, of which I am a member. The board itself has two supervisory committees, one dealing with the mission and identity of the university and the other with the ethics involved with university research. We stay in close contact with the archbishop of Cincinnati to ensure his support and endorsement. When issues arise, we address them from our Catholic and Marianist commitment. This is of particular importance around the many life issues, including abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and respect for human life from conception until natural death.

When you are dark, when you are weary, when hope seems silly and greed and violence the coin of the realm, where do you go to be restored, resurrected, refreshed? What brings you back up to joy and defiant courage? —Brian Doyle, Editor, Portland Magazine

I rarely feel dark and weary. Frustrated, sad, discouraged — yes, at times. But that is part and parcel of doing anything worthwhile. I like people and, as Anne Frank said in her diary, “Despite everything, I still believe that people are basically good.” That doesn’t discount weakness, stupidity or sinfulness; but a deep respect for each person is what sustains a lot of my day-to-day activity. On a deeper level, if we take the resurrection seriously, the redemption has already happened and the Spirit has been given. The theological task today is to become what we already are through the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s Karl Rahner, by the way. That’s the core of my life, something that doesn’t easily give way to “dark and weary.”

The greatest female Catholic writer in American history: Flannery O’Connor or Annie Dillard? —Brian Doyle, Editor, Portland Magazine

I’m less familiar with the work of Annie Dillard although I’ve liked what I’ve read of her. I really like Flannery O’Connor: an honest, gutsy, determined believer and Christian.

What do you consider to be the most challenging and rewarding aspect of your present position? —Father Norbert Burns, S.M. ’45, Dayton

The Society of Mary in the United States is clearly getting older and more lean. At the same time, we have a number of very fine young men joining our mission and committing themselves by vow to the charism of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade. But, we have to be smart and have to make choices that promote both our religious life and our mission for the future. We cannot do things the way we did them even 40 years ago. But, this is the time and place in which the Lord has called us to fidelity and to faithful service.

As a member of the board of trustees, what gives you the most hope in terms of UD’s Catholic and Marianist mission and identity? What are the challenges from your perspective? —Joan Wagner, Dayton

At one time, professed members of the Society of Mary were numerous on the campus of UD, serving in administrative post and teaching in classrooms. The Catholic and Marianist identity was embodied in these men. The situation today is much different. Professed Marianists are fewer and older. But, this is not something to be discouraged about. When Father Chaminade returned to France from his exile in Saragossa, Spain, after the initial years of the French Revolution, he found a Church and society that was devastated. He set about rebuilding the Christian faith and the Church by forming communities of lay people who progressively grew in their faith and commitment. These “sodalities” were the fertile ground out of which grew the Marianist Sisters in 1816 and the Society of Mary in 1817. Father Chaminade was hailed as the “Apostle of the Laity” when he was beatified in 2000 by Blessed John Paul II. We continue his tradition of partnering with lay members of the Marianist Family and with other lay collaborators. Together, we have been entrusted with the Marianist charism and this partnering will continue to keep alive the Marianist spirit at the University of Dayton. Of special note is the presence of the Marianist Educational Associates (MEA) who have taken on a focused and committed role in promoting and sustaining the Marianist spirit at UD. The same is true at the two other Marianist-sponsored universities. We see this as a harkening back to our original foundation and to the original initiative of Blessed Chaminade. We do this together as a Marianist Family. This is a change of perspective for us, but one consistent with our charism and tradition.

Our Marianist charism is said to be both a gift and a task. What are the life-giving gift and the responsibility of the charism for you? —Maureen O’Rourke ’05, Dayton

For Blessed Chaminade, the place of Mary in the history of redemption was of primary importance. She was the channel through which the Word of God entered human history. As presented by St. John in his Gospel, she is the woman who stands at the foot of the cross and becomes the Mother of all the disciples of Jesus, his brothers and sisters, sharing the same mother. Pondering Mary’s mission was central to the life and ministry of Chaminade. As sharers in this charism, we need to do the same: like the Beloved Disciples, to take Mary into our lives and, with her, to foster the Christ-life in others. Understanding this, living it, sharing it is what Marianists do, whether religious or lay.

Please give us an update on the school in Kenya. —Maureen McGrail ’67, East Lansing, Mich.

Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School in the Mukuru slums of Nairobi just celebrated its 20th anniversary at the end of February. Begun by the Sisters of Mercy in 1992 to offer some basic math and language skills to slum children, the school has been administered by the Society of Mary since 1997. This year, it has an enrollment of 2,000 students and placed  No. 5 in the district in the recent national exams. Not bad for a slum school! Through the kindness of donors in the UK and in Dayton, every child in the school now gets a hot breakfast of “uji” every morning, a porridge made from high-nutrient flour. Providing a good breakfast (and lunch) every day to 2,000 children in the middle of the slums is no small achievement. The Kenyan Marianists, under the leadership of Brother Chola Mulenga and Brother Joseph Maricky Okoth, continue providing a quality Marianist education to these children.

The following are the questions and answers — some in a longer form — that appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of University of Dayton Magazine.

A provincial seems like an admirable but often rather thankless task; so much of your work must not provide much instant gratification, and to even see results must often be the measurement of years. What are the subtle gentle rewards and kicks of being provincial? And I don’t mean the Jaguar and the superb wines. —Brian Doyle, Editor, Portland Magazine

Right, try a Ford Taurus and Crane Lake wine! Reinhold Niebuhr said that nothing of lasting value can be accomplished in a single lifetime, so we live with faith and hope. Of course, parents also know this in raising their children, and teachers in educating them. It’s the same with this responsibility: walking with people, leading, trying to make wise decisions for the future, relying on the help and insight of others. There are so many glimmers of grace in this job: Brothers who witness extraordinary generosity and self-sacrifice; experiences of forgiveness; goals reached and differences made; working with some incredibly good people on my Council and on the boards of the three Marianist-sponsored universities; walking with Brothers during their final journey to God. I have been deeply touched by the confidence that Brothers have placed in me and by their expressions of gratitude and support. Much better, to my mind, than a Jaguar or superb wines.

What message do you wish to give to the thousands of UD alumni? —Father Norbert Burns, S.M. ’45, Dayton

I had decided to attend UD even before I joined the Society of Mary in 1966. What a marvelous place! Under the really fine leadership of Brother Ray Fitz, now of Dr. Dan Curran, the school has grown to national prominence, increasing its offerings and strengthening its academic program. But, it’s the “feel” of the campus that is most enduring. Our founder, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, spoke about “family spirit” and that is very much in evidence on the campus and in the interactions of students, faculty, staff and administrators. This is much more than a “feel good” environment. It is rooted in our Catholic faith, in the Marianist charism and the Marianist characteristics of education, and in the person of Mary who stands at the very center of our Marianist life. She is the woman who formed Jesus, and she is the woman who continues to form us in His likeness. UD is a special place. I am also highly impressed that the very same sense is evidenced at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and at Chaminade University in Honolulu, both sister schools to UD and sponsored by the Society of Mary.

There has been a lot of talk in the political news about Social Justice lately. What is the definition of Social Justice to a Marianist and how does it fit into the Marianist mission? —Jerry Walsh ’87, Alexandria, Va.

Rooted in Catholic Social Teaching is the notion that justice is not just an individual concern but a social one as well. We are not simply focused on the good of the individual but on the common good: What makes for human flourishing and development for every human person? Our vision must include both fair wages and humane working conditions for the men and women who care for the grounds at UD but also the promotion of respect for and among students and faculty, part and parcel of the “Call to Community” initiative. As well, it means that we are committed to respect for the environment and challenging students to live in such a way that this becomes a lived value for them. It means providing opportunities for students to serve in Appalachia with University of Dayton Summer Appalachia Program, as engineers in the ETHOS [Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-learning] program, as interns with the Fitz Center. It means keeping a wide perspective on the world, on issues of peace and justice and on the policies and laws that either promote or hinder a world that is more peaceful and just. These are the issues that must form a big part of the Common Academic Program, imbuing students with a deep sense of their Catholic tradition and their responsibility for the world with which God has entrusted us. Marianist education is holistic.

Do the Marianists, and does the University, have a responsibility to share with the Church, bishops, clergy, religious and lay people, their honest assessment of how to make Christ present to all people in this time and this place? Or is our responsibility simply to communicate to lay Catholics and the public what the pope and the bishops present as essential Catholic teaching? In short do we or do we not share responsibility for the current life and future prospects of the Church in the United States? — David O’Brien, O’Brien recently completed a three-year term as University Professor of Faith and Culture.

Grounded in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium and its “Universal Call to Holiness,” we are all called to a vibrant living of the Christian life and to a sharing in the building up of the Body of Christ. That is our pledge and our responsibility by baptism. But, as St. Paul says, each part of the body must contribute what it can. There are roles of teaching and leading, but there are also prophets, preachers, healers, those who care of the needy, and many other roles of service. In the best Marianist tradition, we build a sense of community where all are invited to share their gifts for the benefit of the whole. The university community has a special place in all of this. It is the arena where faith and culture meet, where science and theology together seek for truth, where the Catholic faith forms the bedrock for the education of the whole person and touches every part of the university culture. Magisterial teaching is important and has its place, obviously. But that teaching needs to be understood, explored and appropriated in a human and deeply religious manner. The university is a place where the deepest human questions can be met by the wisdom that comes from the Catholic tradition.

Will the Society of Mary continue sponsorship of high schools in the future and, if so, how will the order keep the Marianist charism alive with no or very few vowed Marianists staffing the schools? —Myron Achbach ’58, Dayton

The province is in the process of developing a sponsorship model for all of these schools. Rather than simply withdrawing from them or closing them, is there a way to maintain a Marianist spirit and ethos in the high schools and middle schools? We think so. A sponsorship relationship would entail certain benefits and obligations on the part of these institutions in the Marianist educational tradition. On our side, we need to determine what is required in order to put the name “Marianist” on a school: in spirit, in governance, in commitment. It will require the Marianist Province of the USA to devote considerable time and resources to the process of “formation,” sharing with lay partners the meaning and dynamism of the Marianist charism. We have recently initiated an Office of Formation for Mission that will serve these Province needs. This, along with whatever Office of Sponsorship we eventually establish, will hopefully ensure the continuance of the Marianist spirit in schools for a long time to come. Far from a diminishment, this new way of our doing ministry can extend the Marianist influence far beyond what we alone can do today.

For our autumn issue, ask CAROL RAMEY ’68, director of the North American Center for Marianist Studies, about what the Marianist founders offer today’s world, about Mary as inspiration and role model, about community, about what Marianists bring to the table today.


One Response to Responsibility, justice and glimmers of grace … Ask a Marianist

  1. […]  Provincial Marty Solma (Maryland Avenue, St. Louis) was featured in the University of Dayton Magazine. Read “Responsibility, justice and glimmers of grace … Ask a Marianist.” […]

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