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Globalization & You
or How Regis College Shaped the Peace Corps and Your Lives, Too
President Antoinette M. Hays, PhD, RN
May 9, 2014
Good afternoon. My heartfelt congratulations to the Regis College Class of 2014. This is one of my last opportunities to speak with you, and I’d like to tell you a little story about your ancestors, the Regis graduates of the mid-twentieth-century, fifty or sixty years ago, when Regis was still a women’s college.
Today we are a co-educational, small university with almost equal numbers of graduate students and undergraduates, but your spirit today is still directly linked to theirs.
Long before you were born, during the 1950s, post-World War II and Korean War Americans were focused on internal matters in an almost isolationist attitude, as if we were a bit frozen in place in the Cold War, when the United States and Russia lived in a kind of standoff.
For a time, however, during the 1960s, even as the War in Vietnam started to tear American opinions apart, a force of good will and shared knowledge and skill grew up in a generation, and it alleviated political standoff and isolationism, eroding the negative forces of the Cold War. When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President in 1960, he wanted to tap into that spirit of good will and almost immediately began exploring an energy of service that could become as compelling as the energy usually given to war. He explored the idea of a civilian service corps to aid underdeveloped countries.
This was an idea already percolating on many college campuses, and at Catholic universities the global nature of the Church and its mission made it a highly compatible one, since the Church already had native or missionary service organizations of priests and religious planted all over the planet, and our faculty and students were already oriented by faith, hope, and love toward reaching out.
What was new in the late 1940s going into the 1950s, however, was the concept of lay people being involved in this kind of internationalism of care. President Kennedy cast a wide net of consultation among various American colleges and universities, gaining the support of college international clubs. As reported in the Boston College newspaper, The Heights, on March 10, 1961, campus discussions of the idea of a “peace corps” were held at Harvard, Yale, Manhattanville, and Cornell. Locally there were discussions at Boston College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Fisher College, and Regis College.1
What is less known is that Regis College already had a model “peace corps” up and operating since 1949, twelve years earlier. Regis called it the “lay apostolate,” and it was the “pioneer” movement of Catholic laity in this country for post-graduate volunteerism.2 President Kennedy, who had visited campus earlier in his life and had cousins who matriculated here, knew of the Regis Lay Apostolate, and his aides contacted the lay apostolate co-ordinator, Sister John Sullivan, CSJ, to find out how we had set it up and how it operated. Typical of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Regis legacy, by the late 1940s Regis had a hands-on, practical, operational, national and international movement going full force, person-to-person, with one, two or three of our graduates and as many as twenty-five going each year to these various locations around the globe to give service.
In other words, Regis College, your College, contributed actively to the shaping of the modern Peace Corps by sharing the practical know-how and inspiration of the Regis Lay Apostolate. Between 1949 and 1975, beginning with Guam, Regis sent 425 lay missionaries to work in Catholic schools in South and Central American countries as well as the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Taiwan, and nine southern and western states. “The story of the Regis missionaries shows how a small movement that started at a Catholic women’s college could expand organically by word of mouth to include Catholic women from all across America.”3
The power of an idea, the power of a practical movement, the power of an inspiration – this is your power as a Regis College graduate, too. The times and the methods have changed since the 1960s, but not the spirit.
Regis College has a special dedication to the neighbor, “the dear neighbor,” as the Sisters of St. Joseph put it, recognizing that today our neighborhood is the world. During your era, with many of you participating, Regis has provided avenues for you to develop a global awareness and outreach. You have gone to Peru on annual service trips, to Haiti through the education of nursing faculty, and to various hot spots around the world through the Erat Scholars program. The latter group will leave for China next week, and alums of the Erat Scholars program are returning to Kenya this summer to help out at Sister Mary Owen’s orphanage there. And we have all learned that our own American cities and rural areas have needed a similar care, and Regis graduates have also participated in Vista, City Year, and other programs in greater Boston, Gloucester, and Mississippi. Many of you come from neighborhoods in Boston where you know the need for renewing that spirit of neighborliness.
Today, the boundaries of the national and the international have changed in our very minds. As Regis itself has become more diverse, it has become more multicultural and global from the inside out. Your experience in four years of higher education here has included not only the arts and sciences of your various fields, but the awareness of one another’s unity and cultural differences, whether of race, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation or thought. Being globally oriented is not something “over there,” but something right here in your midst, in the way you treat one another with respect and a collaborative spirit to build the common good.
Finally, in your generation, technology has both enhanced and necessitated that perspective of global unity and one world, for you are linked through our iPad initiative, your cell phones and cameras, Facebook, and twitter to a global community of young people who share concerns about economic inequality, about health and health care, and the environment.
You are going forth, and we are sending you out, with a great ancestry of leadership and service behind you and ahead of you, a “peace corps” within your history. Find your way in the world; connect to others, whether they are the same or different from you, give service, and provide leadership.
And above all remember who you are and who you have become at Regis College. As I reminded the graduate students at Graduate Hooding on May 6, the mountain you are climbing is not Mount Everest but the world. And you are not conquering the mountain. With every step you take you are conquering yourselves and helping to extend the neighborhood of peace to others.
My heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to you, Class of 2014.
1 The Heights, Vol. XLII, No. 17 (March 10, 1961).
2 Christopher Saysniak, “We Are Definitely the Pioneers of This Movement”: The Regis Lay Apostolate and the Origins of Postgraduate Volunteerism, 1949-1972,” American Catholic Studies 123.4 (Winter, 2012), 45-65.
3 Encyclopedia of Women and Religion, ed. Rosemary Skinner Keller and Rosemary Radford Reuther (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006), 198