We had just put the finishing touches on this magazine when we learned of the sudden passing of Dr. Joseph J. McGowan. Immediately, we set aside the intended cover story and began crafting a tribute to his legacy at Bellarmine, where he had been president since 1990.
But how to fill this page? Since 2007, it has been home to a message from Dr. McGowan. I was at a loss, until I came across the welcome address he delivered last fall to the Class of 2019. Knowing now that it would be his final Convocation lends an added poignancy to his words, but his advice, excerpted below, is timeless.
Good evening, and a Bellarmine welcome to each and every one of you, especially to our newest students and your families, and to the Bellarmine faculty and staff to whom you have entrusted your higher education.
I hope you had a great summer! I’m glad to say that I did. It was particularly good because my wife, Maureen, and I got to spend time with our fraternal twin sons, their two wonderful spouses, our daughters—and five little and not-so-little McGowans. It also was great because a lot of that time was spent on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a barrier reef island about five miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. And the beach is a great place to be with family and friends.
When I’m at “the shore,” there are many things I like to do—enjoying steamed clams at Harvey Cedars Shellfish Company, reading a lot of books, getting a delicious breakfast sandwich at Neptune Deli—but the most special moments for me are those mornings I get up before dawn to watch the sunrise.
It’s a sacred time, a genuinely quiet time. Even the waves seem to break softly in the morning. But it also is a very beautiful and dramatic time, as you wait patiently for the dawn and sunrise to unfold—an event that has been taking place throughout the world since the earth was created.
Sometimes in these moments, my mind is active as it reflects in spiritual and philosophical ways on the meaning of it all. But sometimes, my mind enjoys a Zen moment, if you will; a quiet moment filled only with a profound sense of awe and gratitude.
A very important figure in the life of the Bellarmine University community is the late monk Thomas Merton, whose writings continue to be a rich source of inspiration and direction for many of us. One of his quotes that I find particularly helpful is “This day will never come again.”
When you put together the experience of a dawn, the beginning of a brand new day—with the awareness that not only has this event occurred from the beginning of time, but also simultaneously that it is a precious, singular, unique, one-time event in space and time—I believe there is an opportunity for you to think in similar ways about each of your lives today… that this also is a moment in your life with a beginning, middle, and end; that it is in this regard special and unique and all yours; and that this day will come only once….
In joining the Bellarmine University learning community, your life and future, like a new day, spread out before you with seemingly infinite possibilities. Yet you are encouraged and challenged to be conscious of each day you are here, because each day is your day, your chance to open your mind and heart and soul to new learning, new knowledge, new perspectives, new friends, new values, new ideas, and to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build and create your future… one step and one very special and unique day at a time.
Bellarmine University’s branding language encourages all of us in our journeys, in our searches for what is good and beautiful and true in life, to “explore the world.” Yes—but also, from within our authentic center, within a sense of ourselves as beautiful, unique, infinitely valuable persons of great intrinsic, God-given dignity, to take one day at a time, keenly aware of the special gift and opportunity of each day, and make it meaningful, whether that is taking your academic work seriously, or working to get in shape, or meeting new friends while enjoying the ones you have, or traveling abroad, or having a great nap, or falling in love, or getting to a concert downtown, or reading a really great book.
Implicit in this reflection is a call to a life of both action and contemplation, of mixing it up in a full, aggressive, robust engaged way… while at the same time, on a regular basis, even daily perhaps, making sure that you take time to turn down the noise, clutter, and distractions in our daily lives to reflect on yourself and what you are experiencing, to think about what you are learning, about what you are doing well and not doing well, and what you might do to change things.
And then, from this quiet, sacred inner-conscious self and sense of things, to jump back passionately and vigorously into your life fully and to live it to the fullest.
Dr. Joseph J. McGowan certainly lived his life to the fullest. So may we all.
Carla Carlton | email@example.com