Interim President Rob Vischer sent the following note to faculty and staff on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio has shaped my own vision of leadership perhaps more than any other person. He has described the Church as “a field hospital for the wounded,” exhorting Christians to go to the margins of society to minister to those in need. He calls us to “shoulder responsibility for the world as it is” – not as we wish it was, as it is. While American universities sometimes seem like they’re trying to build a bubble that separates themselves from the world, Jorge Bergoglio has shown us that, as a Catholic university, the path of separation is not available to us. We must encounter the world as it is, and we must encounter each other as we are. Jorge Bergoglio is better known as Pope Francis, and he has provided a compelling vision of what St. Thomas can be.
This is Hispanic Heritage Month (Sep. 15 to Oct. 15), and we celebrate the countless ways in which the Latino community has contributed to our university, our state, and our nation.
The first Latino resident of Minnesota arrived in 1886, one year after St. Thomas opened its doors. Growth in our state’s Latino population didn’t accelerate dramatically until late in the 20th century, but it’s only ramped up since then. Over the past two decades, the Latino population of Minnesota has increased by 141% to a total population of nearly 350,000. The growth has been dramatic and energizing for our state and for St. Thomas. Latino representation – in our student body, administrative leadership, faculty, and staff – is strong and growing, and we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every member of our community experiences a strong sense of belonging and the opportunity to thrive.
Our university has also been shaped by Latino/a leaders whose lives unfolded far from our campus. In addition to Pope Francis, I’ll highlight three examples:
- Archbishop Oscar Romero was known for his fearless advocacy for the poor and denunciation of state-sponsored repression in El Salvador. He modeled faith in action, setting up legal aid programs and marshaling resources to support the victims of violence. He was assassinated in 1980 while presiding at Mass. Saint Romero (canonized in 2018) showed us that faith in a fallen world prioritizes courage over comfort.
- Bishop Manuel Larraín was a leader of Latin American bishops in the 1960s and wrote a hugely influential letter highlighting the existence of “vicious circles of misery that are the result of current structures.” His letter brought the Church’s attention to the root causes of structural violence, poverty, and oppression, and to the inescapable realization that sin is not simply about individual choices; sin can be structural. Bishop Larrain showed us that, as a Catholic university, we are compelled to help dismantle systemic injustice.
- Sonia Sotomayor, through her life and work as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, offers a powerful reminder that our students’ preparedness for college does not define their potential to flourish in college. As she describes her freshman year, she came to the realization “that many of the gaps in my knowledge and understanding were simply limits of class and cultural background, not lack of aptitude or application as I'd feared.” Justice Sotomayor shows us that our commitment to educate students from all backgrounds will change the world.
As we prepare for a new week, I’m grateful for the many ways in which the Latino community has strengthened our university’s understanding of mission, and for the many Latino students and colleagues who bring that mission to life every day.