“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”—Thomas Merton
The Trump administration’s promises to deport undocumented immigrants who are criminals and to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 executive order that grants some young people in the United States without papers temporary relief from deportation, has students across the country calling on universities to declare themselves “sanctuary campuses.”
At Bellarmine, the Board of Trustees considered a faculty-sponsored petition calling for our university to make such a declaration. After lengthy discussion and consultation with attorneys, the Board affirmed Bellarmine University’s core values of inclusion and hospitality, but agreed that the university will not violate state or federal laws. Regardless of what they call themselves, private universities don’t have legal protection from entry by law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, nor can they provide protection to the undocumented that goes beyond the law.
That doesn’t mean that Bellarmine University is not a safe harbor. This campus has been a place of refuge and safety ever since Bellarmine was founded in 1950—and it will remain so without a new designation or status that might have unintended consequences, such as exposing all of our students to the possible loss of federal financial aid, promising a level of protection we can’t deliver, or calling undue attention to the very students we would want to protect.
Our mission statement and our core values speak for themselves. We serve the region, nation and world by educating talented, diverse students of many faiths, ages, nations, and cultures, with respect for each individual’s intrinsic value and dignity.
Msgr. Alfred F. Horrigan, Bellarmine’s founding president, was a crusader for civil rights. By 1951, before the first freshman class had even graduated, Bellarmine began a community education program that he declared open to anyone, “regardless of age, sex, race, religious affiliation or previous schooling.” He worked to promote racial desegregation. He served as vice chairman of the Louisville Human Relations Commission from 1962 until 1966, when he was named chairman of the merged Louisville-Jefferson County Human Relations Commission.
In a 1968 report, the Commission said that Msgr. Horrigan’s courageous leadership during demonstrations and counter-demonstrations over an open-housing ordinance in April 1967 “was an inspiration to all reasonable people in the community.” In 2003 he was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
A lasting legacy of Msgr. Horrigan’s presidency is the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine. The foundation of the center can be traced to a meeting Msgr. Horrigan had in 1960 with his friend Thomas Merton and Dom James Fox, then Abbot of the Abbey of Gethsemani, at which Msgr. Horrigan offered Bellarmine’s library to Merton as the repository for his writings and manuscripts. The Abbot and Merton agreed that scholars coming from all over the world would be best served by establishing the Merton Center at Bellarmine.
Merton was and remains an inspiration to Bellarmine. His philosophy and writings on the search for truth, religious inquiry, the nature of humanity, the value of cross-cultural and interfaith awareness and diversity, and his advocacy for peace, social justice and sustainability are at the core of our community values and our Catholic identity.
We have created a lapel pin that is emblematic of our commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and the Merton spirit. Each one is attached to a card that reads:
May this lapel pin shine a light on our core values at Bellarmine University. We believe that all life is interconnected. We respect and value the intrinsic dignity of each person as an individual, and each individual as a whole person. We welcome new people and new ideas. We are dedicated to the pursuit of enlightenment and understanding. We believe in the search for the true self. And we believe in the solidarity of the human spirit, which transcends ethnic, religious and social divisions.
Now, as always, Bellarmine University is a campus of compassion.
Dr. Doris A. Tegart | Interim President