To be a distinctive Franciscan university [emphasis added], committed to personal and social transformation through integrated, community-based, inclusive, and ethical learning.
Vision Statement (Approved March 2007)
Guided by Franciscan values [emphasis added] and the ideal of “knowledge joined with love,” and rooted in the Catholic and liberal arts traditions, Alvernia is a rigorous, caring, and inclusive learning community committed to academic excellence and to being and fostering broadly educated, life-long learners; reflective professionals and engaged citizens; and ethical leaders with moral courage.
Mission Statement (Approved March 2007)
“A distinctive Franciscan university.” “Franciscan values.” Among the concepts with virtually unanimous support during our strategic planning process was commitment to deepening our Franciscan identity. It is an important promise of our revised mission statement; it is central to our vision for the future. What do such phrases mean? Surely, becoming more Franciscan is an aspiration complex in meaning and rich in possibilities.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be immersed in the Franciscan tradition. My wife, Helen, and I were fortunate to enjoy a gift from our Bernardine Franciscan congregation, given for my inauguration as Alvernia’s sixth president: the gift of a pilgrimage to major Franciscan sites, centered in Assisi, Italy, and including brief visits to Rome and to La Verna, the mountain on which Francis—two years before his death—received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, and the place that gives us the name, Alvernia.
Assisi. Home of St. Francis (1182-1226) and St. Clare (1194-1253). Both left their families at the age of today’s college students: Francis, the son of a prosperous merchant; Clare, daughter of nobility, descended from the famous Emperor Charlemagne. Both surrendered all possessions. They chose lives of prayerful contemplation combined with service to those in need. Francis, physically unattractive, was a charismatic preacher of the “Good News.” Both were rebels in the society of early 13th century Assisi. Both were rebels within the Church they loved faithfully. Both were in fact radicals: individuals faithful to the “roots” of the gospel as embodied by the life of Jesus.
Assisi. Birthplace of the Franciscan Movement. By the time of Francis’ death, there were already several thousand Franciscans committed to living in radical poverty. Not simply living without possessions or money, these men and women wished to live lives stripped down to the essentials involved in following Christ’s example. Religious communities were opened to the needy or, at one location in the town, housed in a leper colony. Initially disgusted by lepers, Francis came to find beauty in them as the “least among us.” From the outset, Franciscans have been pretty diverse. There are great theologians and a rich intellectual tradition. (St. Bonaventure’s concept of “knowledge joined with love” is featured in Alvernia’s mission statement.). Others are focused on front-line service, especially to the underserved. Yet the many types and branches of Franciscans, including lay women and men, are united in confidence in the bonum—“the good”: the goodness of God and the innate goodness (and capacity for greater goodness) in all of us.
Assisi. Home of the World Peace and Interfaith Movements. The European peace movement continues to return here for inspiration. The legendary hospitality of Franciscans, their respect for and embrace of all, regardless of background or belief, has made Assisi also a home for interreligious dialogue. Franciscans have a special devotion to the late Pope John XXIII, founder of the modern ecumenical movement. When the late John Paul II invited leaders of the world’s religions to Rome for shared prayer and conversation, few accepted. When the location was changed to Assisi, the result was an unprecedented gathering of the world’s religious leaders. There is a rich tradition of action as well as prayer: the German officer assigned to occupied Assisi during World War II bravely ensured that the town be spared from Nazi bombings; during Hitler’s Holocaust, the bishop of Assisi, assisted by Don Aldo, a young priest, hid hundreds of Jews and protected them from deportation and death. Even sixty years later, the town honors the officer, and descendants of those Jewish families return to give thanks.
Living in Assisi, being immersed in the lives of Francis and Clare, guided by three inspirational Franciscans (including Alvernia trustee Sr. Roberta McKelvie), one cannot help but be moved by the passionate intensity with which Franciscans throughout the ages have pursued the “the good.” Contemplation and Prayer. Compassion and Service. Respect for Creation. Hospitality and Embrace of Others. Peacemaking and Justice-Seeking. “Franciscan values.” Our new heritage statement says it well:
To be Franciscan is to respect the dignity of each human person and all creation; to be open to the world and its diversity of cultures, faiths, traditions, races, and peoples; to honor right relationships; and to seek peace through action for justice.