2017 Founders Day Remarks
By Jane Herb, IHM, President, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Remembering and Honoring
Founders’ Day, Nov. 9, 2017
We gather at this time of Founders’ Day for the IHM community. One hundred seventy-two years ago tomorrow, we had our humble beginnings in Monroe as Louis Florent Gillet and Theresa Maxis began this institute. It is most appropriate that we gather today at Marygrove to remember an important part of our history, the beginnings and presence of Marygrove College for 90 years in the city of Detroit.
As I prepared these remarks, I recalled the commencement address I gave four years ago. The focus of that presentation, which seems appropriate today, gave some of the defining moments of Marygrove over the history of this institution from the IHM perspective. In doing that research, I reached out to many who were part of the journey of Marygrove. This included conversations with the late Sisters Jane Mary Howard and Barbara Johns. We celebrate the defining moments in the history of Marygrove College that are grounded in
Deep Faith. Courageous Spirit. Action for Justice.
Compassion. Commitment. Competence.
These simple words and phrases describe the mission of Marygrove, the spirit of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and express the partnership since the founding days of the IHM community and Marygrove College.
From the early days, the IHM community had deep faith in Marygrove. When Bishop Gallagher invited the sisters to build the college in Detroit, ground had already been broken in Monroe for the college on Nov. 10, 1920. However, these plans were aborted and the IHM community accepted the invitation to build in Detroit. In 1922, under the leadership of Mother Domitilla, 80 acres were purchased, a “grove of trees.” Mother Domitilla and her administrative council took on a $4 million debt—a tremendous act of faith in committing themselves to underserved women of metro Detroit. We took to heart the words of Bishop Gallagher when he said that the presence of the college in Detroit would give the college a “field of wider activity and influence.” It is no accident that the statues in the Liberal Arts building are those of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Dante, symbolizing the commitment to a liberal arts education and a faith-based education. Naming another building for Madame Cadillac symbolized the importance of the first woman of Detroit and the important role of women. The statue of Our Lady of Marygrove, placed by Mother Domitilla in front of the Liberal Arts building, faces toward McNichols looking not inward, but out to the community, the city and our world. At the dedication in 1927, it was noted that the “College will exist rather for the benefit of the city and the diocese of Detroit than that of the Congregation.”
The second defining moment was in the early 1990s when there were conversations with Mercy College and the University of Detroit to merge, forming one Catholic college in the city of Detroit. Influential to the decision not to merge was the faculty who took an active stance to remain independent. The board, despite challenging financial times, decided not to merge with Mercy and U of D. IHM board members at the time describe this decision as “the proudest moment of our time.”
The relationship of the college and the IHM community raise a third defining moment that began in the 1960s when Marygrove went to a primarily lay board of trustees. While there continue to be IHM Sisters on the board since this time, a majority of board members are lay and representative of the community of Detroit. The by-laws, re-defined in the 1990s, moved away from a two-tiered board to one board, with equal voice of the IHM community and the lay trustees. The IHMs have been and continue to be committed to shared leadership and co-responsibility as hallmarks of the relationship with the college and the IHM community.
A fourth defining moment came following the uprising in the city of Detroit in 1967. Sister Jane Mary Howard, IHM, interim president, announced “68 by 68.” This initiative challenged the college to recruit and accept black students – 68 students by 1968 – a courageous action that led to one of the hallmarks of Marygrove: serving a community representing the people of God in the city of Detroit. Within one year, 25 percent of the first-year students reflected the changing demographics of the city.
The search for president in 1998 led to the fifth defining moment, with the board hiring the seventh president, Dr. Glenda Price. Dr. Price was the first African-American president of the college. Hiring a woman with a faith tradition other than Catholic indicated that the college was more focused on finding the right leader who could embody its mission and values, putting faith and trust in a woman to not only carry on the Catholic tradition of the college but also send a signal that Marygrove understands the community. At this time, Marygrove indicated that the college understood its role in the community and understood the symbolic nature of leaders and that leadership really matters. The majority of the students could look at the president and see themselves reflected back.
The sixth defining moment was really two-fold. Following the tragedy of 9/11, the Master of Arts in Social Justice, the first in the nation, was established in 2004. This was followed with Urban Leadership being identified as part of the strategic plan in 2005-06. This initiative with the faculty and the board of trustees tied Marygrove College to Detroit as a full partner in working toward a better future. The program focused not only on urban, metropolitan regions with a large number of people living in a concentrated area, but also on leadership. Marygrove graduates leave not only to be responsible citizens but also leaders who take action and engage the community. The Urban Leadership Program has been a visible sign of the IHM values and beliefs as well as embodying the Catholic Church’s intellectual tradition and social teachings. From the beginning days in 1927, the IHM community has remained committed to the city of Detroit, providing the opportunity for students to not only learn but to serve and lead.
Action for Justice
The seventh defining moment is not one event but rather the ongoing commitment of the IHM congregation and the college to social justice. The commitment started with Sister Honora Jack, IHM, the second president, who appointed the first director of social justice in the 1930s, established the requirement for service and was known for bringing in speakers well respected in their fields. Over the years, the board used care when inviting commencement speakers, ensuring that the proposed speakers express the values of the IHM community. Marygrove continued to welcome speakers and organizations that represent the marginalized and provide a forum for intellectual challenge for the community, taking a prophetic stance in light of Gospel values.
Perhaps the last defining moment to date for Marygrove College is the recent decision to forgo the undergraduate program and maintain a focus on graduate programs and professional development. Each of us can identify what we consider “defining moments.” I encourage us to reflect on those and take time to share those during lunch.
The song, “Seasons of Love,” from the musical Rent, describes the time we hold as precious.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year in the life?"
How do we measure these years that so many have given their time, talent and treasure to Marygrove? I hope in daylights, in sunsets, in pursuit of the liberal arts, in a commitment to social justice, in times of intellectual challenge and learning. But I also hope we measure these years as ones permeated with the IHM values and the mission of Marygrove. We remember and we celebrate today the commitment of Marygrove to COMPETENCE, the ability to understand and participate effectively in the promise of our evolving world; COMPASSION, the capacity to care about and respect the worth and dignity of people; COMMITMENT, the will to act responsibly based upon one’s beliefs and to contribute to the building of a more just and humane world. Let our prayer today be one of gratitude that so many have lived the values espoused by the IHM community and Marygrove College. May we have deep faith, a courageous spirit and act for justice as we go forward.