The Opening of the Academic Year

The following is an excerpt from Nicholas J. Healy’s speech delivered at the opening of the academic year in Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, on 9 October 2017.

Jesus Himself told us: You are the light of the world. And so, we are commissioned, each one of us, to be a light in the gathering darkness of the present age.

You students will be well-equipped to be a light. You have the blessing of a superb faculty, who are eager to impart to you the truths of every subject, truths that give meaning to your life forever. Theology is no longer taught in most of the elite colleges and universities in the West, yet Blessed John Henry Newman said, “Religious truth is not only a portion but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short of unravelling the web of university teaching.”

You may hear criticism that we are not preparing you for a job. It is, of course, not true. What you are receiving is not training for a particular job, which may become obsolete in a matter of a few years. It is rather an education that will prepare you for any job, an education that teaches you to think critically, to speak cogently, to write clearly, to understand cultures throughout the world and, most importantly, to comprehend the true nature of the human person and the supernatural realities that underlie everything we observe and experience. Does God not know you need to earn a living? Ask Him where and how He wants you to serve. The resources needed will follow.

At Ave Maria University, we were fortunate to have as chairman of our Board of Trustees a man who was the chief executive of one of the largest construction firms in America and a devout Catholic. He told us bluntly that his company would not hire anyone for management who did not have a liberal arts degree. Why? He said men and women who had education in the liberal arts were much better able to adapt to the ever-evolving demands of commerce and finance. Your classical education and your moral formation in the Catholic faith will prepare you superbly for whatever the future may hold. In times of upheaval and strife, many will look to you for leadership.

We have another advantage here which is often lacking in residential colleges and universities: The faculty here, at least some, are able to accompany you as you mature in your studies. They witness and thus teach not just in the classroom, but at meals, recreation, and free time. When the Catholic faith is freely received and lived in joy, as it is in your professors, it is irresistible.

The College has the approbation of our local ordinary, Most Rev. Donal McKeown, for which we are deeply grateful; it has a rich sacramental life right here in the hotel. We ought not take this for granted; we at Newman College Ireland will cherish our priests and our Catholic hierarchy as never before. Years of attacks in the media and by government have taken a toll. Let us resolve to stand with our shepherds and show them our gratitude. It is only through them that Christ in His humanity is present in the world, and it is they who are bearing the brunt of the secular onslaught that has been unleashed in our age.

Yes, our numbers for the moment are small. Yet mere numbers count for little in the Divine economy. Think of the first group of 12 in the New Testament or of the 12 apostles of Ireland. God seems to prefer weak and humble beginnings; it helps to remind us what is the source of our strength. To paraphrase St. Teresa of Calcutta, our task is not to achieve success as the world measures it, but to be faithful. Leave the success up to God.

So, my dear students, be thankful for what Newman College Ireland is handing on to you: the keys to a life of the mind and the imperishable truths of the Catholic faith. These are precious gifts. I have no doubt you will be salt and light no matter what vocation God may call you to, and this “wee” fledgling of a college will be our small portion of the great work of renewal that God has begun.

May God bless you!

Nick Healy is President Emeritus of Ave Maria University.

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