Sister Maryalice Jacquinot, Graduate Commencement Address 2014

May 31, 2014

Sister Maryalice Jacquinot, IHM,

President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Center

Graduate Commencement Address

The University of Scranton

May 31, 2014



University President Reverend Kevin Quinn; Board Chair, Christopher Kip Condron and members of the Board of Trustees; Dean Jeff Welsh; Interim Provost Patricia Harrington; members of the administration, faculty, staff and Jesuit community; candidates for graduate degrees of the Class of 2014; proud family and friends; and to the broader community of The University of Scranton.


How delighted I am to be with you today. The choice of a commencement speaker has become big news, sometimes newsworthy or controversial. Some graduates hear from notable authors, politicians, celebrities, and so on. As you know, in life there are many tradeoffs, you are not so fortunate to have a commencement speaker known outside of this Scranton community, but you are most fortunate to be receiving a University of Scranton diploma and, therefore, all of the honors and privileges to which you are entitled. In pursuit of your master’s and doctoral degrees, you have had the opportunity to grow in knowledge through your study and research, to benefit from the wisdom of your distinguished faculty and draw inspiration from one another as students, colleagues and friends. So you have much to contemplate in the days and years. Thanks to Google and You Tube, you can easily access several million commencement addresses. (No matter the speaker, the most well heard words are: ‘in conclusion.’)


Instead, you have a commencement speaker who is deeply humbled by this generous and thoughtful recognition on behalf of your University. I grew up in South Scranton, not far from the campus, and witnessed its growth, in physical size, as well as its impact on the culture and character of the broader community. I am grateful to be acknowledged by The University of Scranton with this honorary degree and receive it in my own name as well as recognition for the work of Saint Joseph’s Center and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.


You know in Scranton, it was the tradition in the past for many families that the women went to Marywood and the men to the “U.”  Of course, since the 1970’s when both became coeducational that pattern changed. Now, I think it makes you more completely Scrantonian if you have a degree from both Universities. So, I am proud to be counted among those.


It is especially significant to be honored by The University of Scranton in this anniversary year. The University of Scranton traces it roots to 1888. In that same year, the ministry we know today as Saint Joseph’s Center also began.


The foundation story of St. Joseph’s is really quite humble and beautiful. I would like to tell you a bit about it, consider some of the common features shared with The University of Scranton and draw out a few life lessons, which might be worthwhile for all of us.


On November 20, 1888, eight women attended a meeting conducted by Mother M. Francis Henry, IHM, the Mother Superior of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Their purpose was to respond to a recent news article that reported the state of poverty was so dire that some parents were abandoning their infant children in hopes that charitable people would provide for them. It is hard for us who live in this time to imagine poverty so great that this was the only or best option for these despairing parents and vulnerable children.


At their initial meeting, they organized “The Saint Joseph’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Aged Persons” as a volunteer organization under the supervision of the IHM Sisters and with the blessing of the Bishop of Scranton, Bishop William O’Hara. The meeting was held in St. Cecilia’s Hall. (Also located in the 300 block of Wyoming Avenue, where the foundation of the University, St. Thomas College was opened.)  


The Saint Joseph’s Society members immediately began providing care for children and eventually established The St. Joseph’s Foundling Home to provide for infants. By 1900, an ambitious goal was realized as the Saint Joseph’s Children’s and Maternity Hospital was opened at 2010 Adams Avenue, the same location for some of our services today.


In 1950, a new chapter in our history was launched as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requested that Saint Joseph’s develop a long-term residential and therapeutic program for children born with disabilities.


Today, Saint Joseph’s Center provides an array of services for individuals with intellectual and/or physical disabilities and their families. These include community-based programs as well as residential options. In fidelity to its founding mission, Saint Joseph’s continues to offer resources for parents and vulnerable children.


Saint Joseph’s Center has been blessed throughout its 125 years to receive charitable support from this community and beyond. We are the beneficiaries of tremendous generosity and goodness. More than 500 staff are dedicated to our mission and bring compassion and love to the individuals entrusted to our care. Many academic programs at The University of Scranton relate directly to services we provide. We are fortunate to benefit from the involvement of students, faculty and staff through volunteerism, service learning and internships.


You may have had a similar experience in your own life. Many times, we find that the most vulnerable, those we seek to assist, bring tremendous meaning and understanding into our lives. They demonstrate courage, trust, fidelity and acceptance in such a positive way that they become the ones providing the greater good and life lessons. They are our inspiration and able to change all of us for the better.


As I reflect with awe on the significance of this shared anniversary, it occurs to me that there are quite a few similarities between these two very different organizations.


Both were begun in 1888 on the 300 block of Wyoming Avenue. With a mostly immigrant population, there was a great deal of poverty and hardship to be endured. The nature of work was very challenging- manufacturing, railroads, coal mines, and iron works demanded a lot of its workers and could even take one’s life. Bishop William O’Hara, Bishop of Scranton, recognized the need for a Catholic college, so that families could create better opportunities for their sons, for the next generation; a dream of every generation.


At the same time, a small group of women recognized the need to make life better for children whose parents couldn’t provide for them. Both organizations were born out of poverty and hardship in response to a societal need. Courageous men and women had a vision for the response because they were aware of the need. That is a lesson for us today. We must live with awareness of the needs of others. We are blessed with a spirit of vocation when we use our God-given gifts and talents to fulfill a world need. It gives passion to our days and joy to our years.


Most likely, both were begun with a hope and prayer, not necessarily a needs assessment, financial or strategic plan. In today’s world, those are essential for the successful launch of a new endeavor. But let us not forgot to bring to our efforts – for new or renewing ventures – the commitment and vision which made both the University and St. Joe’s come into being. Both have stood the test of time – 125 years is a good run- and we are only just beginning. It shows that what we have to offer is still needed and valued. We have remained faithful to the founding vision and, yet, flexible to the signs of the times and changing needs of each generation.


In Scranton, we sort of make a sport out of the pursuit of “who do you know that I know.” As you become Scranton alums, you will go forward with an expanding base by which to play this. In preparation for today, I considered the mutual impact that the U of S and St. Joe’s has with its local community. The people of Scranton support our endeavors (they like our progress more after the ribbon cutting than before the first shovel hits the ground). We create jobs and opportunities and add value. By our presence, Scranton is more culturally rich, knowledgeable and compassionate.


Since our foundations, The University of Scranton and St. Joseph’s Center have relied on the generosity of others to achieve our goals and purpose. Let me remind the graduates to stay connected to your alma mater including through charitable support. Your accomplishments add to the University’s success just as much as the University’s success enhances the value of the diploma you receive today.


As for me, I stop at every lemonade stand. Young entrepreneurs need our encouragement. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some business graduates today started their careers as lemonade stand proprietors.)  Because children like to help children, every so often, I find a lemonade stand for the benefit of St. Joe’s. Dimes and quarters do add up, but more important is their interest and investment in what we do.


Among the most interesting commonalities is the color purple used in our logos. Purple symbolizes mystery, spirituality, creativity, dignity and royalty. To be worthy of this color, we are called to lead highly ethical lives where we find our own dignity in treating the other as royalty.


“A Catholic education in the Jesuit tradition” … “A ministry of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” …  These are more than footnotes on letterhead. They are ways to express the involvement of religious congregations in the life of each institution. The Society of Jesus and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary readily and generously share the riches of their communities. This comes in the form of spirituality, values, experience and leadership. As IHM’s, we participate in the redeeming mission of Jesus by celebrating and proclaiming the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all people. Jesuits bring the charism of Ignatian spirituality to “love and serve in all things.” As religious, we serve faithfully stewarding the mission entrusted to us, holding it lightly knowing it belongs to the People of God.


The highest achievement of both organizations is the privilege we have to assist others as they become their best self, accomplished through education in its many stages- from simple tasks like walking or eating through higher education like earning a master’s or doctoral degree. At St. Joseph’s, we speak about person-centered care, ensuring the uniqueness of each person is recognized and valued. At the University, the term cura personalis is used to describe what Ignatius called a style of education that molds itself to each individual. The essence of this is that each discovers who they are, what good they can accomplish and their value as a person, created in God’s image and likeness.


In conclusion, there is much for which we can be grateful. May God bless St. Joseph’s Center, The University of Scranton and, most especially this day, the graduates of the class of 2014.




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