A Reflection on a Few Strands Woven into the Fabric of Anna Maria College
President Retelle, thank you for inviting me to highlight aspects of the legacy of Blessed Marie Anne Blondin as given to the Sisters of Saint Anne and as passed on from us to Anna Maria College. My reflection offers three strands of our heritage woven into the birth and expansion of AMC – a love for learning, a capacity to dream far and wide, and the gift of a rural setting.
I hope to weave together these three strands of the SSA legacy with strands of my own experience of AMC. And so, I begin with
A Love for Learning
Our Foundress, Blessed Marie Anne Blondin, daughter of a farmer, was illiterate until her twenties when she went to work as a housekeeper at a convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. There, began her first steps to becoming a teacher, a school principal, a woman who became conscious of and suffered from the social and economic ills of her society – a woman called by God to found a community of Sisters whose ministry would transform the lives of others who suffered from economic and social discrepancies. She knew from experience that education gifted her with the knowledge, the skills, the fortitude, and the resilience needed to stand tall and become the fulfilled person God had created her to be. Blessed Marie Anne Blondin loved learning.
I believe that Blessed Marie Anne Blondin’s love of learning and her gift of teaching were passed on not only to Sisters of Saint Anne, but also to anyone teaching in our schools. In her letters, we read she prayed for this gift for all of the family of the Sisters of Saint Anne. I believe we can interpret that family, in that context, meant the sisters and other lay women and men – teaching together then and through the decades in parish schools and in SSA institutions of education.
I offer a short story to illustrate a love for learning and incredible teaching. I am signaling out Sr. M. Joseph Alfred from a long list of Sisters and other lay men and women who were my professors at AMC.
The course was Greek 101. I had signed up for Math. My course schedule indicated Greek. I spoke to the academic dean, but there was no changing what was written. No SSA had studied Greek since a long time and I was IT. Within myself I thought: that is a pretty lame reason. What I considered to be folly soon became a happy fault because I found myself in the presence of a language genius and master teacher. While teaching the rudiments of Greek, Sister M. Joseph Alfred opened us up to connections among Greek and Latin texts and often fascinated us by proving how Greek and Latin showed up in the texts of authors of modern languages – Russian, Spanish, and French – all languages that she taught. From her classes, I realized at least two things: first, how little I knew; and secondly, how much I loved this type of teaching and learning. I had witnessed not only teaching and a love of learning but also a scholar in action. I have no doubt that some of my most creative, scholarly teaching has been inspired by Sr. M. Joseph Alfred.
The second strand of my reflection is:
A Capacity to Dream Far and Wide
When AMC was birthed, the founding sisters had a dream and a vision: to provide Catholic Higher Education to young women whose families could not afford such an education, most of whom became first generation college graduates. All through the years, the college adapted courses and programs to benefit societal needs. On-going programs were created for adult learners who needed a degree for advancement in their careers and men were admitted to the traditional undergraduate programs. Masters Programs were also developed to complement undergraduate majors. In the changes were hidden seeds of Blessed Marie Anne Blondin’s dream – a possibility of higher education that might otherwise be impossible for women and men.
Where did this drive for all these changes come from? Early on in the history of the college, Sisters of Saint Anne and other lay men and women collaborated together and continue to do so today to carry out the mission of the Sisters of Saint Anne, a mission that will ever focus on leading students to truth, freedom, and life – leading students to believe in themselves and to aspire becoming whatever they feel called to be is a strand that supports dreams and visions. Students from the first graduating classes tell us that the Sisters often said: “Women, can become whatever they feel called to and desire to be.” Dream far and wide was the underlying message.
Yes, AMC is a place to dream far and wide. I know this through my short career as a lecturer at AMC and through my many years as a member and Chair of the Board of Trustees. I am a witness to the dedication of professors, staff, and administrators whose creativity, initiative, and dedicated efforts lead them to change with the times, to offer new programs and new courses that will qualify students to integrate into professions and career choices of an ever evolving society, especially, career choices in service to the well-being of others. At the heart of our programs, a deep awareness of social and economic injustices are brought to light, social consciences are formed, and choices are made in the same way that Blessed Marie Anne Blondin committed herself to transform the inadequate school system in the rural areas of her day.
Mentioning the rural areas of Blessed Marie Anne Blondin’s day brings us to a third strand of the fabric of AMC:
Contemplation and Amazement in a Rural Setting
Lastly, I want to say something about the character of our Campus site and how I see it links us to Blessed Marie Anne Blondin’s dream. Blessed Marie Anne Blondin founded the Sisters of Saint Anne to favor the establishment of schools in rural areas, in farming country where children did not have access to adequate schooling. I believe it isn’t merely a coincidence but a strong link to our Mission that we are situated on the outskirts of a city in a rural area, with a farm next door, greenhouses just down the street, and a property that was once used for breeding horses. Here’s what I understand from my own experience on this rural campus:
Part-time studies brought me to this college campus in all seasons. I fell in love with the grounds of this college in a rural setting, a pastoral setting, surrounded with the diversity and beauty of creation: fauna and flora and star-studded skies. I learned about the variety of species and the magnificence of constellations by walking Sunset Lane and through the fields with the sisters who had befriended Creation long before I arrived on Campus.
I have nothing but my own experience and reflection as proof of my last words to you today. Mother Marie Anne knew what it was to live close to nature. Nature draws us to beauty. The beauty of Creation draws us to God. Nature gentles us. Nature causes us to slow down, to sit in wonder, to contemplate, to pray.
May we never take our green spaces for granted. May we never forget the refreshing, albeit the pelting rains and cold winds of open fields. While we are here, may we plumb the depths, the heights, and the vastness of nature’s gifts to us for our well-being and for our understanding of God with us, God within-us, God all around us. This IS what Blessed Marie Anne Blondin wanted to teach – that God is everywhere and in all of us. This teaching, coming to us through this Campus site may be the most essential memory we need to hold onto and need to carry away with us wherever life brings us. I know this. Many of you here present know this. May all generations of AMC students, staff, faculty, and administrators treasure how they found God here or rather treasure how God found them here.
God bless each and every one of us and anyone else who has walked this sacred ground over the course of these 70 years. May God bless, too, all others who will one day know the incredible ground of this campus site.
I end with a quote found on bookmarks created by our 2008-2013 SSA Congregational Leadership Team: “Like a tree rooted in the Source of Life and reaching toward the light, let us welcome our future without reservation.”
Happy 70th Anniversary Anna Maria College!
Ad Multos Annos!
Written by: Sister Yvette Bellerose, SSA