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Commencement Address

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Introduction by Kevin Farrell, PhD, Chair of Faculty Assembly

It is my honor to introduce Sister Barbara Moore, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, an order noted for their mission of hospitality in the truest sense of the word, that is, hospitality lived out through "love of neighbor without distinction and unity of neighbor with neighbor."

I might not have known much about these Sisters, were it not for the fact that it is the same congregation to which our president, Sister Joan Lescinski, belongs. So St. Ambrose can claim one - and perhaps now, two - of these remarkable women as Ambrosians.

Although Sister Barbara is not an Ambrosian in a literal sense, her extraordinary life story and professional career could serve as a living personification of the St. Ambrose mission of enriching our own lives and the lives of others.

Sister Barbara grew up independent and intellectually curious. The St. Ambrose vision of commitment to academic excellence, the liberal arts, social justice, and service.

When she became the first African American to join the congregation of the Sisters of Carondelet in the mid-1950s, her life became rooted in a diocesan heritage and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.

Sister Barbara will tell you how her faith and her personal history merged in the spring of 1965, when she accompanied members of her order to Selma, Alabama, during a pivotal time in the civil rights movement and American history.

That group of brave women, who took a stand for equality and social justice, came to be known as "The Sisters of Selma." In the ensuing half century, Sister Barbara's life has not deviated from that just and service-minded path.

She has exemplified academic excellence, earning three graduate degrees both to her professional expertise, and to share her passion for healthcare and healthcare education with a new generation.

And when she felt the call to do more to serve the poor and the disenfranchised, Sister Barbara left academia to work on improving the health and well-being of women and children, and to reduce infant mortality.

Sister Barbara never has let race restrict or define her. Neither has she forgotten that race matters.

Here at St. Ambrose University, "Race Matters" was the title of our academic project this past year. We made the history of race relations and the ongoing impact of bias and prejudice the core topics of a series of more than 20 events and countless informal conversations.

In that context, our recognition of Sister Barbara as an "honorary" Ambrosian seems especially fitting. Her life and career epitomize our core values of Catholicity, integrity, liberal arts, life-long learning, and diversity.

As a living example of our Ambrosian ideals, Sister Barbara's presence today provides a wonderful conclusion to an academic year rich with challenge and opportunity celebrating diversity and social justice.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in welcoming our distinguished speaker, Sister Barbara Moore.

Commencement Address
by Sister Barbara Moore, PhD, CSJ

Bishop Amos, Sister Joan, Members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and staff, family and friends, and most of all, honored graduates, my first visit to St. Ambrose University was in 2007 for Sister Joan's inauguration as President. Through the years, I have had the opportunity to return several times and experience the growth and vitality of the St. Ambrose University community. I am grateful to be with you.

My remarks will include highlights of my roots; my experiences in Selma, Alabama; challenges we continue to face in our country; and my encouragement for you, dear graduates.

My parents were born in Mississippi. My parents moved to Birmingham, AL when my father received a better job opportunity. Each summer we visited relatives in Memphis and Mississippi. I grew up hearing the stories of my parents, aunts and uncles who braved Jim Crow and segregation. Also, I sat in the balcony of the movie theaters; rode in the car of the train reserved for colored; experienced the "moving" line of demarcation on the bus depending on how many Caucasians were on board; and drank from the public fountain marked "colored".

When I was six, we moved to St. Louis where race relations were better; however, the theaters, restaurants and hotels were still segregated.

My parents were resourceful Christians who knew who they were and whose they were. Even though they did not have much formal education, they were well read and valued education.

I attended a segregated elementary school staffed by excellent teachers who expected us to excel. My family converted to Catholicism when I was in the 8th grade. Upon graduation I attended a Catholic high school which was desegregated thanks to Cardinal Ritter who integrated the Catholic institutions long before the public schools were desegregated. He was a man of courage and integrity. He was criticized by many, including priests and religious for his decision. Several major donors threatened to withhold their financial support from the archdiocese. The Cardinal's response to the threat was that we will get along just fine without them. The power of ONE!

Fast forward to March 1965. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading the efforts for voter registration in Alabama. After what is known as Bloody Sunday, a call went out from the National Catholic Interracial Council to people of all faiths and ethnicities for support and witness. Peaceful demonstrators had been attacked by police, dogs and hoses. The atrocities were captured on television and spread quickly throughout the world.

I was asked by our Provincial Superior if I wanted to join the delegation from Kansas City that was going to Selma. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I had been reared to speak up and to stand up for my beliefs and I believed none should be denied the right to vote based on race or ethnicity. The delegation of 22 included clergy, several women religious, a Presbyterian minister and one of his parishioners who was the other African American in our group.

I recently learned that Father Duncan and four St. Ambrose students were in Selma at approximately the same time. The experience was profound and a major turning point in my life. I was strengthened in my resolve and ability to continue to speak up and stand for justice. I was part of a moral movement which was professional, well organized and led largely by ministers with the support of many college students. The witness of such diversity, courage and solidarity was overwhelming. A few memorable events in Selma included:

  • The hospitality of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester who hosted us at Good Samaritan Hospital and of the Edmundite priests and brothers was magnanimous. They also took care of the beaten and wounded. Archbishop Toolen of Mobile-Birmingham forbade the clergy and women religious in Alabama to participate in any demonstrations because he feared losing the support of White Southern Catholics.
  • The non-violent education and strategy in Brown Chapel was intense and spirit-filled. No matter what happened we were to remain with linked arms and not retaliate. One young man asked what if I have to fight? The response was, "Then you don't march." I and the Presbyterian lady were told that if we were arrested we would not be jailed with the other sisters and asked if we still wanted to march. We both said yes. 

It was scary facing state troopers who were in full riot gear when we marched to the Selma courthouse. When our eyes met, they seemed to be as nervous as we were. Upon returning for the 35th and 40th anniversaries, the state troopers were there to protect us - a welcomed change.

We have a sister physician and two nurse practitioners who continue to serve in Alabama. Sister Jane, one of the nurse practitioners, is with us today. She lives in Selma and has been ministering in Alabama since 1972.

Much has changed in our nation; however the challenges of all the phobias, discrimination, oppression and the "isms" that divide us persist. Fr. Bryan Massingale who spoke here in March wrote about the culture of racism and the Church's deafening silence about its evils in his book, "Racial Justice and the Catholic Church." He wrote, "The stain of racism in American society is our most perduring and intransigent social injustice."

Our society is becoming more diverse. Instead of embracing this diversity, many are threatened and fearful. They do not recognize the potential we have to learn and prosper when the gifts and contributions of all are welcomed. Graduates, we are members of a global community in need of healing, peace, and respect for the dignity of all humankind and the environment.

St. Ambrose, our Patron and example, reached a major juncture when he was appointed Archbishop of Milan. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated Bishop of Milan. Obviously, much has changed in the Church since the 4th century. Ambrose adopted an ascetic lifestyle and donated his money and land to assist the poor. His humility and simplicity remind us of Pope Francis. St. Ambrose is one of four official patron saints of the species of bees domesticated for the honey they produce.

Our sports' teams are known as the Fighting Bees and the Queen Bees. We can learn from the bees. They have a long association with Christianity, as they symbolize the virtues of cooperation and diligence. According to St. John Chrysostom, "The bee is more honored than other animals, not because it labors, but because it labors for others." (NCR, Feb '13).

Graduates, during your years at St. Ambrose, you have been enabled to develop as a whole person that you may enrich your life and the lives of others. You have been supported by a faithful community of family, friends, faculty and staff who have assisted and comforted you during the years you have toiled to reach this juncture in your life.

From the beginning of time, God has called not only sages but ordinary people like you to be, see, feel, heal and to love. You will have many choices as you continue on your life's journey. Choices have consequences. I leave you with the advice given by one of the speakers at a workshop I attended as a new member of our Congregational Leadership Team years ago. Sr. Andre said, "For pity's sake, sisters, don't be stupid." None of us had to ask what she meant.

Graduates, for pity's sake, don't be stupid. Choose what is lifegiving. "Be wise, be compassionate, be kind, be loving." That is my prayer for you.

Congratulations!