Sister Mary To Georgetown Grads: Begin A "Revolution of Tenderness" | Project HOME

Sister Mary To Georgetown Grads: Begin A "Revolution of Tenderness"

  • Sister Mary To Georgetown Grads: Begin  A "Revolution of Tenderness"

On Saturday, May 20, Sister Mary delivered the Georgetown College commencement address and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Georgetown University. In her speech (which will be broadcast live here) Sister Mary urged the graduates to pursue a "revolution of tenderness" by joining with those who are struggling and together forge a new path to economic inclusivity.

We make the same call and ask that you contact your representatives and urge them to support a humane budget that protects housing and essential services.

You can also help us magnify the call for a humane budget by following us on Twitter at @ProjectHOME and Sister Mary at @SMaryPhilly and tweeting out the action link and the link to the Facebook Live broadcast of Sister Mary's speech using one or more of the following hashtags:


P.S. If you weren't able to catch Sister Mary's address live, you can watch the embedded recording here. Below is the text of Sister Mary's address.

I am honored and humbled to share this special day with you the Georgetown College Class of 2017 – Daniel McCormick, Maddie Stingray, Kate Riga, your friends and family; the Georgetown faculty, especially Dean Gillis, John Carr, Professor Alan Mitchell, and Fr. Ray Kemp; the Jesuit community; the professional staff; esteemed guests; Provost Groves and President DeGioia.

I accept this honor together with Joan McConnon - the co-founder of Project HOME, and the entire Project HOME community - people from all walks of life who believe in the fundamental dignity of every person;  families who have made an incredible difference at Project HOME, in Philadelphia, and beyond like the Connellys, the Haases, the Honickmans, the Kleins, the Maguires, and the Middletons; proud Georgetown alums – Joan’s husband Mark McConnon Class of 91 and my cousin Bridget Garvin; my family and religious community - the Sisters of Mercy; and most and very especially the men, women and children who experience homelessness.

I am especially grateful for the Jesuit education I received at St. Joseph’s University.  This set me on my life’s journey.

Thinking of you graduates, who are on the cusp of forging your place in our world, I am mindful that we live in complex and deeply challenging times.  Our society most often measures the value of a person by his or her productivity alone and discards the unproductive along the way.

We live in a society so mesmerized by its view of success that it considers real only that which can be touched, weighed, and measured, a culture in which human and spiritual values have almost vanished from its consciousness.

Whether it is our brothers and sisters living on the streets in this city of such great power, or the tens of millions of persons around the globe who have become refugees because of both political and economic violence; today there is such devastating human suffering and dehumanization. 

The world’s most notable Jesuit has spoken powerfully about this very reality.  Addressing the Fortune-Time Global Forum last December, Pope Francis affirmed the “urgent need for more inclusive and equitable economic models.”  He has called for a “revolution of tenderness”.

Today, more than ever, we need this “revolution of tenderness”.  This may be a strange message given the prestige of Georgetown University.  However, I ask you to consider that our hearts are becoming hard.

We are having a very difficult time even listening to one another.  Our eyes can be blinded to the pain and suffering around us.  It is up to each of you, and all of us, to begin this “revolution of tenderness”.

Two recent stories from Georgetown provide hope that this revolution is finding some fertile soil on the Hilltop.  The first is the much-publicized account of how over the past year you have grappled with a dark and disturbing revelation in your history:  the sale of 272 enslaved men, women and children in 1838 by Jesuit priests to help the financially-struggling young University.

With prayerful repentance, this community responded by renaming a building in honor of those enslaved men, women, and children, creating The Institute of Slavery and its Legacies, and committing to preferential admission to descendants of the 272.  This is a compelling model of restorative justice that is so desperately needed as we seek to heal the deep wounds of racism and economic apartheid.

The second story is a powerful example of personal responsibility coupled with tenderness.  An article in the Washington Post last October told the beautiful story of a Georgetown business student, Febin Bellamy, who graduates today.  Febin struck up a relationship with the janitor in his dorm, Oneil Batchelor, an immigrant from Jamaica.

While recognizing the social distance between them, they discovered powerful bonds of their shared humanity.  Bellamy, also from an immigrant family, found himself drawn to the lives and stories of the low-wage service workers around him.

That personal connection across class lines led to the creation by Bellamy and other Georgetown students of an organization they named Unsung Heroes.  They share stories on social media of many of the campus workers, and in several cases have raised funds to enable them to pursue their own dreams of greater economic opportunity.

The power of this story is that it both gives voice to the very real economic divides that are endemic in American society and shows us how this “revolution of tenderness” is, and must be, rooted in personal relationships as it seeks to weave new webs of human community and inclusion.  It calls us to learn to listen, as Febin did, to those who may otherwise be invisible to our blinded society.

Pope Francis again, in his address to the Global Forum prays:  “…that you may involve in your efforts those whom you seek to help; give them a voice, listen to their stories, learn from their experiences, and understand their needs.  See in them a brother and a sister, a son and a daughter, a mother and a father.  Amid the challenges of our day, see the human face of those you earnestly seek to help.”

These economic divides are painfully apparent in a critical way in this, the nation’s capital, and we cannot neglect them.  Your education can and must play a vital role in addressing systemic injustices in these tense and troubling political times.  Nelson Mandela reminds us:  “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

We need from you, the next generation of leaders, a blend of personal passion, tenderness and practical wisdom that can help us break the paralysis of ideological polarization… and the stranglehold of concentrated economic power.  Fr. Kevin Quinn, the President of the University of Scranton, underscores that this is “the transforming power of education on a Jesuit campus rightly understood:  Personal transformation that leads to societal transformation”.

You have the talent, intellect, and social capital to influence America’s public policy.  Let us remember that among the 535 members of the 115th Congress, 56 members - over 10% - are Jesuit educated including 28 Georgetown alumni. May these Jesuit-educated leaders be a voting bloc for mercy and justice in opposition to the proposed federal budget cuts which are an assault against the poor and marginalized.

By acting decisively out of the core Jesuit values of a faith that does justice, we can move our nation a little more towards the vision of genuine opportunity for all – a real and concrete revolution of tenderness.

William Butler Yeats states: “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”   For Febin Bellamy, that fire was ignited through the relationships formed with Oneil Batchelor and others on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.  How ironic, or perhaps prophetic, that some of the most valuable insights Febin gained as he pursued his business degree at Georgetown came through conversations with Oneil.

In Philadelphia, the fire continues to burn brightly through Georgetown alums.  Eric Jones ‘93 is transforming the lives of countless low-income youth through education, and Dr. Lara Carson Weinstein ‘91 is using her medical skills to save the lives of those who are homeless and scarred by the opioid crisis.

And how fortunate that Georgetown University has been able to deepen its mission by beginning to address and heal the wounds of its past racism!  True education is transformative and dynamic!  The pursuit of truth, mercy, and justice NEVER lets us rest.

And we won’t rest until we listen for and hear the voices of all, and until we are moved to action to address the inequities in our society.  We need to change a political system that is controlled by moneyed interests.  We need to unite with those struggling and find new paths to economic inclusivity. These are the challenges today.

We celebrate your accomplishments over these past four years.  But I hope and believe that in the coming years, there will be more to celebrate – as YOU use your gifts to nurture that fragile but profound common bond of our humanity.

I am convinced that seeking to heal our broken world is the true path to a life of wholeness for us as well.  We are one.  The Project HOME community has taught me that “None of us are home until all of us are home.”

You graduates have not only received an excellent education, you have also been infused with Jesuit values of human dignity and social justice.  You have learned what it means to be women and men for others.  You join the thousands of young men and women who have gone forth from this storied University, carrying these values, translating them into lives of service to others and a commitment to the common good, not just in the United States, but all around the world.

And now it is your turn to lead and to seek justice born of your own revolution of tenderness.

My prayer for you is taken from Saint Paul:  “Glory be to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  Amen.”  May God bless you all!