Reflection from the Liturgy to Celebrate the Dominican College All Class/Faculty Reunion
by Father Steve Avella
September 15, 2018
Father Steve is currently a History Professor at Marquette University.
The epistle of St. James only makes rare appearances in the liturgy. Its rather stark, almost indicting comments stand in contrast with the more comforting words of Paul or even the love poetry of John’s epistles.
He interrogates his listeners: “Are you a follower of Jesus? Then act like one.”
Do you believe what he told you? The act on it – don’t just talk about it – do what he tells you.
Faith without works is dead.
These words have a special significance as we alums of Dominican College, come together for another reunion.
What we live here were the implications of those words of action. Don’t just talk – do.
Long before any of us arrived on our beautiful campus, the Dominican Sisters of Racine – came from the Cloister of the Holy Cross in Regensburg and planted themselves here in this part of the Midwest – putting their belief into action. Their guiding stars were the persevering apostolic spirit of that age, a love of learning, and the life of intense prayer – inspired by Dominic, Aquinas, and Catherine. They chose to share the Good News of salvation through the ministry of education. God was to be found in creation, in human history and culture. This knowledge hoped to impart wisdom, maturity, and perspective – and above all love for the world created by God and for all men and women.
St. Albertus College – later renamed Dominican – was begun in 1935 at their motherhouse at 12th and Park – that grand old building. After World War II, it expanded its mission to include lay women and even men.
It was part of a sisterhood of colleges in Wisconsin begun by religious women: Alverno, Cardinal Stritch, Marian, Mount Mary – most of which began in humble circumstances – often in motherhouses – to prepare young sisters for classroom teaching. They were blessed with a generation of marvelous sisters: scholars, practical planners and also dreamers who branched out, found land, built buildings, and lifted that legendary Dominican torch to guide people to the knowledge of God. They bought this lake front property for $29,000. In 1960 they moved out here to Racine’s North point – built planned, worked …trained sisters with advanced degrees- and since they had taken in men, hired Catholic laymen to help guide the program. I can say without apology or alumnus pride: Of all the colleges of that generation – the Dominicans selected the most beautiful for their college.
The Dominican College we inherited – those of us who came in the 1960s and the 1970s – was a college built by the generous donations of Catholic people all over Wisconsin – and from the sweat equity of the Racine Dominicans who tended to the details.
It was a hybrid place for many of us. In the 1970 a number of us (maybe 200) came from Mount St. Paul, a small college in Waukesha that had been run by the Salvatorian Fathers and Brothers. This college, founded in 1962, was at first a seminary – later a liberal arts college. Those of us who went there remember it as a funky old former mud bath with odd rooms and fascinating stories – a nearby downtown – and a rich faculty of arts – especially theater. Lead by Barry McCabe we migrated to Dominican – a different more traditional cinder – block college – but one that many of us took too right away.
It evokes many memories in my heart: of the scenic beauty of the lake – and of the unpredictability of what you might find happening on the lake shore depending when you walked there – A particular tree with low hanging branches still flourishes on the bluff, from which issued billows of what is now legal in some states. We had Louie’s Edge of Town – the Mosquito Inn – and the Breakers where I often stared out the window during tiresome conversations on Sartre and Camus …wishing my essence would precede my existence to one of those boats in the middle of the lake…
For some it was a place to discover love – a love that would last for life – and for others a love that was only a transition to other relationships. Lifelong friendships were forged here. Stored memory banks bring back bits and pieces of life in Wadewitz or Johnson Hall. I recall the sadness of the death of a beautiful young woman, Vanessa Bellamy. Its theatrical life, directed by the irrepressible Alex Korff was outstanding – it may have been the only Catholic college to perform Marat/Sade. Its sports programs were fun. Its changes of seasons challenging. Its dances and parties – formal and informal – were memorable. For some of us, what happened in Racine stays in Racine.
I hope for all of us it was a place when the horizons of our knowledge were broadened. Since I am a teacher my memories of teachers are the most salient for me – and the measuring stick for teaching excellence. And indeed they were excellent instructors and admiral people in every way: Al Lo who opened my ethnocentric mind to the richs of China and Japan…of the serious Francisco Lamelas, a former attorney in Havana and refugee from Castro’s Cuba who taught Spanish, Dick Kinch who made me love English literature to this day: Lee Mogaard whose sheer decency an diligence opened the world of the Reformation and Renaissance – and through that door to the lectures of Corinna del Greco Lobner who made the The Divine Comedy live through the dynamism of her lectures. With Corrinna you descended into the depths of the Inferno – up the mountain of Purgatory – and walked with Beatrice into Paradise. I remember being so smitten by the beautiful sociology teacher Catherine Caranasious that I could not take a note. Later I buried her husband, the former seminarian Ed Jacobs, who was a superb historian… Of the Sisters, Gerald Thome, Rosita Uhen, Gabrielle Hubert, Samuel van Dyke, Regina Williams, Dolores Enderle, Lucy Edelbeck, Madonna Martin, Mary Chris Prince, and Honor Murphy were Dominicans of learning and discipline and with hearts on fire for social justice. Their names should not be forgotten. We knew that they loved us.
Regina Williams saw to it that we heard some of the best speakers on the circuit: poets W.H. Auden and Archibold Macleish; community organizer Saul D. Alinski, and novelist Saul Bellow. Comedian Dick Gregory, civil rights activist, enthralled us for two solid hours at the St. Catherine’s High School auditorium. Twice we had a program called Interim – which brought a stellar array of speakers and mini-classes for a few weeks in January. Here we heard anti-war activist, Dan Berrigan, Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier, Rollo May, Jonathon Kozol, Sam Keen – all people of prominence during that glorious time to be alive in the 1960s and 1970s. In the afternoon we made bread with George Williams or learned how to dance with Sam Keen.
No it wasn’t Camelot, or Nirvana, or Shangri-La…but it brought us together in a kind of jumbled family that still reaches into our lives to this day and I hope evokes gratitude, smiles, and an occasional: “I can’t believe I did that.”
To conclude: We are here because people who cared and did something. We thank the Racine Dominicans whose legendary kindness and generosity extend from Mother Benedicta Bauer to the present leadership. We thank you faculty who are here – you were truly great teachers – I like, so many others, still remember the lessons you taught in your classrooms and the warmth and depth you brought to the college.
We remember in love the souls of those who went here and who have died and now stand before the Radiant Face of God. May God grant them light, happiness and peace.
It is a graced moment that brings us together even for these hours. Wherever life’s journey has taken you – I hope that Dominican College has made you a compassionate, loving, and kind human being. As years go by I am even more grateful for this experience of my youth and what I received. I hope you are too. I think that would have pleased the sisters who began this wonderful place on the lake.