"The time is always ripe to do right"

Fri, 10/23/2009 - 10:15am
Fr. Salmi inaugural address

At a historic event for Spring Hill College, the Rev. Richard P. Salmi, S.J., was installed as the College’s 38th president on Oct. 23, 2009. The audience gathered in the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center, and many more watched the live broadcast online. Salmi’s inaugural address follows:

Archbishop Lipscomb, Archbishop Rodi, distinguished guests and friends of Spring Hill College, members of the faculty, staff and students:

I would like to begin by offering thanks first and always to our good and gracious God who has blessed us and this College with the many good gifts we celebrate and share today. I come before you humbled by your presence and by the affection you have for Spring Hill College.

What I hope to do today is to share with you what I consider some foundational strengths of Spring Hill College, based on a tradition of excellence and of justice. I will also offer a vision of what Spring Hill College might become with God’s grace and our good work.

Our future is built on the foundation that is our past, and we stand on the shoulders of those who have worked through the decades to make Spring Hill College the very special place it has become. We honor their legacy today as we stand on this firm foundation they have left us. As the oldest college in the state of Alabama, we for nearly 180 years have been providing students an opportunity to obtain an education and fulfill their dreams.

From the very beginning Spring Hill College reached out to those students who were at the margins of our society and most in need. Some of the first students admitted were from the Mobile Orphan Asylum, as it was called back then. Through the years the College continued to live out its commitment to justice. In the 1930s Spring Hill College became one of the first Jesuit colleges in the United States to request permission from Rome to admit women as students full time. That request was denied several times but finally became reality thanks to the persistence of the Jesuits and of the women.

During that same period the College began to explore integration. In May of 1948, Father Patrick Donnelly, president of the College, stated boldly, “Let the College that was first to raise the torch of education in Alabama also light and lead the way to full democracy in Alabama and the Southland. Civil Rights? Spring Hill College is for them. For ourselves and every other citizen, regardless of creed or color.”

The first black student admitted full time was Julia Ponquinette, a transfer student from Loyola University Chicago. Fannie Motley also transferred to Spring Hill College and became our first black graduate in 1956. There were challenges in the decision to integrate the College, but Fathers Donnelly and Smith, the Jesuit community and their lay colleagues understood the moral imperative to open Spring Hill College to those deserving students who sought a Jesuit and Catholic education. We give thanks for their insights and for the gift those first black students were to Spring Hill.

We heard excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “A Letter from Birmingham A Jail.” Because of Spring Hill College’s decision to lead the way in integrating higher education in the South, Dr. King also wrote in his letter: “I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

Radiant stars of love and brotherhood…

Might those radiant stars of love and brotherhood guide us as we continue to chart our way into the future? I believe that now is the time for us to look to those stars to guide us on the path of Jesus’ message of love and of our understanding of brotherhood today, given the needs of our global family. In the words of Dr. King, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

The time is always ripe to do right…

Indeed the time was right for Bishop Portier and for those first Jesuits and for all those who have courageously gone before us to follow those radiant stars and to do right; right that led to the path of justice for all those who desired an excellent education, a Catholic and Jesuit education.

It is time for us to continue to do right. Spring Hill College has a history of doing the right thing and of taking risks to do those right things. What is the right thing for us to do now and for the future? The time is always ripe to do right … Now is the time to ask what will we become? What must we become to do what is right?

To do right for the children of Alabama and the Gulf Coast.

To do right for this wonderful place we call home.

To do right for the planet on which we live and which we share with more than 6.5 billion people.

I believe the time is right for us to become global thinkers, learners, and collaborators. Let us together recognize our responsibility to prepare ourselves and our students to confront the challenges that face our world. As we look at the changing face of America and of our world, Spring Hill College needs to be a welcoming place for all people and all faiths, a place where once again first generations of college students are given the opportunity to excel and are prepared to be leaders in service to others.

I believe that the time is right for us to reach out to the world, but also to the sons and daughters of the bayous and small towns of Alabama and the Deep South and to help them achieve the best in the American dream. The time is right for us to engage this next generation of students both in our backyard and from across the globe and assist them in their preparation for professional excellence, to enliven them intellectually and spiritually in the pursuit of truth and to an ever deepening appreciation of the beauty of creation, the dignity of life, the demands of justice, and the mystery of God’s love.

I believe the time is right for Spring Hill, as a Jesuit and Catholic College, to reaffirm the role of a liberal arts education and inspire in our students a love for learning. Our students should possess a breadth and variety of knowledge as well as be skilled in critical thinking, in analysis, and in judgment. We have a proud history of providing our students not only with those skills, but we continue to encourage them to express themselves in art, theater, communications and poetry.

This is no small undertaking and we are able to provide our students an excellent education thanks to our talented and dedicated faculty. The Spring Hill faculty are scholars who not only teach and teach well but who are engaged with their students inside and outside the classroom. I am deeply grateful for their dedication to their profession, to their students and to the College.

Like higher education institutions across the country, we hope to attract the best and brightest students to Spring Hill College. But let us not do so at the peril of the rest. I believe we have an obligation to help the average student become successful and open a future of opportunities to him or her. I believe the time is right for us to inspire those students and raise them up to level of academic and personal excellence.

Look about this room. There is probably more than one “C student” who is now successful in their career and in life thanks to their experience here on the Hill. They may have struggled with Father Yancey’s biology class or Father Murray’s English class, but they are successful now because of their perseverance and the faculty who both challenged them and supported them. The time is right for us to renew our efforts to educate all students who come to us eager to learn.

The challenges are great, but the price of not meeting them is far greater. We cannot afford a generation where more than half of the population is written off as undeserving or unworthy. Our Jesuit heritage, justice and the gospel call for us to do better, to do more.

We know all too well the fast-paced changes in technology and the impact of technology on the methodologies we employ for instruction. We should use technology to help our students learn and to experience the virtual world, but we will need to send our students out into the real world to meet face to face those impacted by the choices we make and the ways we choose to live our lives.

The time is right for us place an even greater importance on our immersion experiences by increasing their number and incorporating them into the curriculum. The time is right for the establishment of a campus in Europe and for us to encourage students to study abroad. To study in places that may seem far distant from our Southern home, but are, we know, all too connected in our global economy.

The time is right for our students to study with people of different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds, both here on our own campus as we strive for diversity at home, but also to live and study with students in the European Union, in China, Vietnam, India and Africa.

As we educate our students in global citizenship we need to reflect on the condition of our world and the threats to our planet, especially the environmental threats. I believe the time is right for Spring Hill College to take up the charge of addressing the environmental needs of our planet and of a sustainable future for this fragile place we call home. We will open next year our new student center, which will be one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified buildings in south Alabama.

The environmental features of the student center are important, but equally as important will be the educational aspects of the building, helping our campus community to better understand the impact of their actions and the operation of the building on the environment.

But a single building cannot be the extent to which we dedicate ourselves to this critical issue. I believe the time is right for us to make a significant contribution to the issue of sustainability. Let us commit to a rigorous examination of the many aspects of sustainability, of new energies and the protection of our environment. In doing so, let us do what a liberal arts college can do best – bring all disciplines to bear on this issue.

Let us examine the ethical and moral dimensions of global sustainability. Let us bring our best philosophical and theological reflection to the issue of justice for the poor of our world who are most impacted by the misuse of natural resources and the depleting of our environment. Let us examine the health issues along with the business and economic factors related to our environment and to sustainability for all of us, rich and poor, who must learn to share and care for this earth on which we stand.

The time is right for Spring Hill College to be guided by those radiant stars of love and to move forward in educating the next generation of deserving students. The time is right for Spring Hill College to reach out to our neighbors and to the world so that we might do what is right for our College, to do what is right for our world, and to do what is right for the greater glory of God.

Thank you, and may God bless Spring Hill College.