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Rich in spirit

Rich in spirit

Eric F. Spina September 11, 2018

If I didn’t know the selfless — and visionary — nature of the Marianists, this question might stump me.

How in the world can a group of priests and brothers take a vow of poverty, then turn around and give a seven-figure gift to the University of Dayton?

The Marianist Province of the United States has made a bold statement about the Marianists’ commitment to social justice and to UD with a $1.5 million gift to fully endow the Father Ferree Chair of Social Justice.

Their generosity is not surprising, though it is humbling.

I have come to appreciate, in a special way, the Marianist philosophy of life during my two years as president. The priests and brothers live a simple life together as equals, without the trappings of our materialistic society. They describe themselves as “prayerful, joyful men dedicated to the most powerful woman in history.”

Drawing their inspiration from Mary, the mother of Jesus, they have devoted their lives in service to youth and the poor. Much of their annual salaries go to the province, which uses the money to reinvest in Marianist schools and social justice initiatives worldwide.

I am inspired by their altruism, as I know are our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

As an example, for nearly two decades, Brother Tom Pieper traveled to Salyersville, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia, where he helped University of Dayton students live among the people and support their building of community.

I am inspired by their service and farsighted leadership.

Brother Ray Fitz, S.M. ’64, the longest-serving president in school history, still serves as an advocate for urban schools and families and believes, as I do, that the University of Dayton, as an anchor institution, must continue to strengthen our deep ties to the Dayton community.

I am inspired by their genuine concern for others.

Professor Emeritus Father Norbert Burns, S.M. ’45, who taught a popular Christian marriage class to more than 27,000 alumni, has mastered the art of human relationships. When Karen and I visited him just days before he celebrated 75 years as a Marianist, he talked about his deep love for Mary — and his deep concern for others. “The spirit of Mary,” he says, “is the spirit of community.”

I am inspired by their wisdom, faith and integrity.

Father Martin Solma, S.M. ’71, who recently stepped down as Marianist provincial and vice chair of our board of trustees, pushed us to become a more diverse and inclusive campus. He urged the board to divest from fossil fuels in our investment portfolio, even before Pope Francis issued his groundbreaking encyclical on the environment.

These are just a few of the faces of the Marianists, all champions for a more just, sustainable and loving world. All rich in spirit.

The province’s gift, a sign of faith in UD’s future, will leave an indelible Marianist stamp on the University of Dayton as we strive to be the University for the Common Good.

Like the Marianists themselves, the gift is inspiring.