March Madness. With rare exception (“Holy Madness” — see below), madness is not a characteristic or word we see in a positive light. Unless it is linked to March.
This year Alvernia was fortunate to experience our own best kind of March Madness. Guided by our award-winning Coach Mike Miller and his staff, our Men’s Basketball Team won the regular season championship and the conference tournament on the way to the second round of the NCAA Division III National Tournament. They ignited the spirit of both the campus and the local community. Winning is always fun and popular. But it was also how they won that built so much support: they modeled unselfish team play and a fun-loving yet intense style. They cared about each other and made us care about them. That they weren’t even picked to make the conference tournament in the pre-season rankings made it all the sweeter. And all but one of them are back for next year. October 15 is only six months away!
This March, there was also some welcome “Holy Madness.” For the first time, a Cardinal from the Latin world was elected Pope; and for the first time, the new pope chose “Francis” as his name. Our Trustees were gathered for dinner that evening, and naturally our Bernardine Sisters were pretty excited. The Holy Father’s first actions have evoked great enthusiasm. His simplicity of style, his respect for his fellow bishops, his embrace of those from different faiths and backgrounds, his Easter message of reconciliation and unity, his decision to wash the feet not of priests but of prisoners (including women) have modeled core Franciscan values that we at Alvernia know well: service, humility, contemplation, collegiality, and peacemaking. In these early days, he has reminded me of Pope John XXIII — someone also selected unexpectedly who brought joyful optimism and welcome renewal to the Church and the world.
March, of course, brings with it the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. At Alvernia, closely linked in time and celebratory atmosphere is our annual Employee Recognition Ceremony. So many of our loyal faculty and staff contribute devotedly to the university and our students, often behind the scenes and without recognition, We feature all who are marking service anniversaries of five years or more and present special anniversary gifts as a way to thank them for all they continue to do to make this a special place. This year, those being recognized had totaled 445 years of service, with 9 faculty and staff having served 20 years or more, led by Professor Elaine Schalck, who began here 35 years ago. It is humbling and inspiring to be reminded of this dedication.
Finally, March is often the month when I teach a literature class in our Seniors College. Calling this a privilege and a gift for me is an understatement. The two dozen or so students bring a wide range of professional and life experiences to our discussions. They are articulate, insightful, opinionated, and full of energy and fun. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was this year’s main reading, and they did not disappoint. Like many of the members of the Class of 2013 I meet on campus during their last semester, these other “seniors” are appreciative of their Alvernia experience and enthused about all the progress that they see and feel on campus.
So now we have been enjoying April, with the opportunity to celebrate students at the Honors Convocation or at all of the myriad fine and performing arts events, athletic contests, thesis presentations, and honor society dinners. The new Commons is buzzing with activity, and the Fitness Center is crowded with those getting in shape hurriedly before summer arrives. Special senior class gatherings abound, and Commencement Weekend will follow soon. It is indeed a wonderful time of year. But forgive me if I also feel a bit wistful for March and all of its wonderful madness!
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn
A Final Note: The phrase “holy madness” was used approvingly in a famous essay written in 1960 at the dawn of what was to become an exciting, often turbulent, era. I bet Dr. Tom knows both the essay and the author!!