Social justice, inspiration, served with a side of humor: 2019–2020 Convocation Highlights

Students, faculty, and staff gathered last week for the annual Opening Celebration that included a Mass, class processional, Convocation, and ended with a festive picnic on the Quad. 

The Convocation, held in The O’Shaughnessy, featured a welcome message from President ReBecca Koenig Roloff ‘76, a brief History Theatre performance, special appearance by the McDonald Sisters, and concluded with inspiring messages from student leaders from each college. 

In her welcome, Roloff asked the community to reflect on the example set by the founders of the University. 

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet “are at the heart of everything we do here at St. Kate’s,” said Roloff. “Their example has guided this University to what it is today, and their love, support, and leadership that they still provide is what will take us into our future. … Thank you for all you do for this University.”

McDonald Sisters

Photo courtesy of the History Theatre

A brief history of social justice, CSJ-style

Roloff then introduced the Convocation keynote — select scenes from the Sisters of Peace, performed by cast members from the History Theatre production. The play follows the lives of four sisters: Brigid, Jane, Rita, and Kate McDonald, four siblings who grew up in a large Irish farm family in Hollywood Township, Minnesota.

All four became Catholic nuns in the 1940s and ’50s and devoted their lives to teaching, peace activism, and social justice protesting, beginning in the ’70s with the Vietnam War. The sibling Sisters never backed down from their beliefs, despite heavy criticism at times.

Speaking onstage following the performance, the McDonald Sisters underscored their enduring commitment to their social justice mission.

“We think back to our history — the Sisters who started [St. Kate’s] were considered radicals, religious renegades. … They were doing something revolutionary. Women in those days could either be a nun or get married,” said Sr. Brigid, a St. Kate's alumna of 1962. “It took a lot of courage to start a university for women, but they overcame all that adversity in order to make this great University. So we thank our foremothers,” she said, adding with a smile, “And men helped too, I’m sure.”

Asked to share their advice with the St. Kate’s community, the four CSJs then joined their voices in harmony as they performed their interpretation of the beloved standard “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” a tune perfectly encapsulating their encouragement: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t let the bad news get you down.”

The positivity of their message is characteristic of the larger CSJ mission, which calls for loving the dear neighbor without distinction. In July, the Sisters of St. Joseph and their partners, assembled for their Congregational Chapter, amplified this summons with an official statement that calls for civil, respectful discourse during this turbulent social climate in the United States.

President Roloff shared portions of the statement to illustrate the link between St. Kate’s values and the CSJs’ recent statement, and added her support for their message.

“We have all just seen how four sister Sisters used their voices, along with others, to speak to a world where every person is treated with respect and dignity,” said Roloff.

Students celebrate a new generation of community and social justice at St. Kate’s

Three student leaders addressed the community at Convocation: Rusty Rose-Dixon ’20 of the College for Adults, Laura Rand Berger ’18, MAOT’20 of the Graduate School, and Zaynab Abdi ’20 of the College for Women. They each reflected on their St. Kate’s experiences and how the University and CSJ legacy of social justice was woven into those experiences.

“The Sisters of St. Joseph have carefully laid the foundations of social justice in our learning,” Rose-Dixon said, citing The Reflective Woman and Global Search for Justice, classes that bookend every student’s time at St. Kate’s. “This curriculum affords us time to learn how to think critically and to pause to evaluate spaces each one of us occupies in the world.”

Berger then shared,“For me this legacy is at the heart of what I hope to achieve in my future practice as an occupational therapist. If you would have asked me five years ago what I hoped to achieve at St. Kate’s, I would not have known that this tremendous community would empower me to become a person who uses my seat at the table, with privilege and power, to be a positive impact and influence in the lives of others — one who has confidence when facing ethical dilemmas, who has the knowledge, courage, and tact for standing and speaking up as an advocate for others.”

Abdi, student senate president, emphasized the importance of social justice in community-building, reminding each person that St. Kate’s is their community to own.

“We need to remember: what does community mean for us, and … how can we achieve social justice without understanding the value of community?” Abdi said. “St. Kate’s is my home, and when God gives you a home, you take it with love and welcome. I welcome you into my home, your home, and our home — and I wish you a wonderful year.”


Related content:

Star Tribune — Minnesota's iconic antiwar 'worker nuns' celebrated in new History Theatre play

St. Kate's Newswire — As a new academic year begins, a reminder: words matter