Over the past several years, a number of trustees and friends of the university have taken foreign trips together. They generally focus on a specific educational purpose. They also foster a bond of friendship and deepen ties to our common purpose: the well-being of the University of St. Thomas.
Cardinal Pio Laghi, a trustee of St. Thomas, recently suggested a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He volunteered to plan and act as leader for the group. In spite of the perceived danger of travel in the area, 21 of us set out on pilgrimage in late September, with the trip financed by the generosity of our donors.
Cardinal Laghi had been the Vatican State nuncio to the area from 1969 to 1974. Pope Paul VI was the first pope to visit the Holy Land since St. Peter. The pope believed much could be done to improve life in the Holy Land and entrusted this task to Cardinal Laghi. He must have done a great job because traveling with him was like traveling with a rock star. Wherever we went, people greeted the cardinal and heaped praise on his achievements.
Nowhere was this more apparent than our visit to Bethlehem University, which is under the sponsorship of the Christian Brothers. The staff expressed deep gratitude for his help. Interestingly, two of the brothers are native St. Paulites and one of them is an alumnus of St. Thomas.
The sentiment of our group was that Israel is a safe place to travel. It is also a place of great spirituality. We prayed together and we learned together. I am grateful to have been a part of this trip.
On any trip, however, there are those special events that will indeed stick in all our minds. For example, we were traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem. You remember from the Gospel that a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he was attacked by robbers and left for dead along the roadside. Only when the Good Samaritan came along was the man rescued. Lots of things could happen on this route. Who knows if there are even any samaritans left, let alone a Good Samaritan? In the midst of this potential danger, our St. Thomas leader, Father Dennis Dease, guided his steed (does a camel fall within the steed family?) skillfully across the wadi and not one of his companions suffered even a threat, let alone an injury.
Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, sets off on his journey across Israel. (No cabs were available that day.)
No wonder that the first thing upon his return, Father Dease was awarded the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for his contribution to leadership in Catholic education.
Father Dease was two years behind me in the seminary. We have been colleagues and friends for more than 40 years. He is a leader, an educator and a good priest. After a particularly moving concert by Arthur Rubinstein, a woman approached the maestro and said, "I would give my life to play like you did today." He turned, looked at her and said, "Madame, I did." So has Father Dease.