Assumption University’s Christian Culture Series anticipated the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, by 30 years. Since its founding in 1934 by Father Stanley Murphy, C.S.B. the Series has understood “culture” as a universal, holistic, and integrated way of being of the human person. Promoting Christian culture, it has continuously shown an openness and receptivity that balances tradition and contemporary relevance. The many distinguished presenters in this prestigious series have included Church leaders, religious and lay, theologians, scientists, historians, poets, novelists, artists, political figures and economists. Each person has been a witness to Christian culture.
The Christian Culture Award Gold Medal is bestowed annually on an “outstanding exponent of Christian ideals.” Father Murphy and Father W. J. Guinan, C.S.B., then President of Assumption College, co-founded the Award as an outgrowth of the Christian Culture Series to highlight the accomplishments of lay Christians.
In 1941 the first Gold Medal was awarded to Sigrid Undset, the famed Norwegian Nobel Prize novelist and refugee from the Nazis. Since that time the list of those awarded the Gold Medal shows how prestigious it has become. Past recipients include Jacques Maritain, Robert Speaight, Paul Martin, Sr., Dorothy Day, William Kurelek, Marshal McLuhan, Barbara Ward, Jean Chrétien, Dr. John Polanyi, Jean Vanier and most recently Vaticanista and award-winning author John Thavis.
The Medal depicts a human hand and a mustard plant with the inscription in Latin, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.” The hand suggests the human co-operation expected by God in the coming of the Kingdom. The mustard plant is used by Jesus as a symbol of the Kingdom’s power to grow. On the back of the Medal is inscribed the name of the Medalist and the year and the words, “Christian Culture Award, Assumption University.”
What does this medal celebrate? I would like to suggest two important things. First of all it acknowledges the public proclamation of the recipient’s belief and worldview. Pope Benedict XVI said in his first encylical Deus Caritas Est, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The recipient has encountered Jesus Christ and allowed his or her life to be motivated and directed by that encounter. Whether Catholic or Protestant, the encounter with Christ is a life-changing event and commission to go out and bring Christ’s message to the world. The recipient is an ambassador of Christ who quietly seeks to influence and transform the culture around us.
What deeply unites all Christians and makes every difference secondary is a renewed faith in and love for the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Not, the Jesus of dogma, of theology, of the respective traditions, but the risen Jesus who is alive today in the Spirit.
This evening we have the privilege of acknowledging four Christians: one Lutheran and three Catholic members of the same family. Our first recipient of the Gold Medal this evening is Dr. Alan Wildeman, a Lutheran scholar who was appointed as the sixth President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Windsor on July 1, 2008. He is now in his second term as President of this venerable public university in Canada.
Raised in the Prairies of Saskatchewan, Alan completed his PhD in Genetics at the University of Guelph in 1982, and accepted his first academic appointment at the University of Guelph in 1985. Throughout his academic career he taught undergraduate and graduate courses on a range of topics including genetics, biotechnology, and art history. In 2001 he was appointed Vice-President (Research) at the University of Guelph. His research interests have focused on various aspects of cancer cell biology and biotechnology, and he served for many years on review panels for the Medical Research Council and National Cancer Institute of Canada.
Since coming to Windsor, he has been an instrument and ambassador of bold creativity and renewal, motivated by the University of Windsor’s mission of enabling people to make a better world through education, scholarship, research and community engagement. He includes among the most important times for the University the convocation ceremonies, the events that celebrate excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and the opportunities to recognize the achievements of students, faculty and staff. His decisions and actions have been truly Christian: leaven in a Windsor society that has struggled in the midst of many economic, social and moral challenges. Dr. Wildeman has brought hope – Christian hope – to many people. He has been a good, faithful, trustworthy friend to Assumption University, and to me personally. At a time when our own future as a Catholic institution was at its lowest ebb, Alan Wildeman believed in us and helped us to regain our original mission of being joy and hope, salt and light on this campus. It is an honor and privilege to recognize you, Alan, for all you have done and been for us, and will continue to be for the family of Assumption University of Windsor. You are an ambassador of Christian culture, and this evening we thank you for your bold leadership and Christian witness.
Bestowal of medal to Dr. Alan Wildeman
The next recipients of our Gold Medal have come from afar – from Milan, Italy. Pierluigi Molla and his wife Lisi are here this evening, representing two other members of the Molla family – unable to be with us- his sisters Gianna Emanuela and Laura. Pierluigi, Gianna and Laura, three laypersons – are the children of a saint- Gianna Beretta Molla, a married laywoman, medical doctor and mother of a family. She died in 1962, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. She was proclaimed blessed in 1994 and canonized – the last canonization by St. John Paul II in 2004. When Pierluigi, Gianna and Laura say that their mother was a saint, they mean it! This past Sunday in Winnipeg, the first parish Church and shrine was dedicated to the memory of St. Gianna Molla.
In his 1990 Encyclical Letter “Redemptoris Missio”, “On the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate,” St. John Paul II wrote:
“The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission. This was the earnest desire of the Council, which hoped to be able “to enlighten all people with the brightness of Christ, which gleams over the face of the Church, by preaching the Gospel to every creature.”
Several years before his election to the Papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told an interviewer, “The only really effective case for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.”
Pierluigi, you and your sisters have been entrusted with the special mission of transforming our culture with the story of holiness – the story of your mother’s heroic Christian life. As Catholics we have the blessed privilege of seeking the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty. The lives of the saints and blesseds are a great consolation and source of hope and beauty, no matter how difficult are the times in which we are living. They offer us a recipe for holiness and model for our lives patterned on the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:1-12].
As Benedict XVI reminded the throngs of young people gathered around him at Marienfeld during World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, “The saints … are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
Over these past years since your mother’s death, you have boldly and courageously shared with the world a message of hope and an inspiration of Christian living, especially for lay people. You have done this in your respective professions of finance, medicine and Real Estate. You are not only transmitting her story to us, you are also putting to practice her message in your own lives. You have reminded us that during these times and crises of immense fragmentation and division, we learn from your mother’s life how to keep our feet firmly planted on earth and our eyes fixed on our heavenly homeland. When we think of holiness in these terms – as a kind of direction, rather than a destination – we have a sense that what unites us with the saints, our fellow travelers, is much deeper than all that sets us apart.
It is an honor and privilege for me to bestow upon you and your two sisters, Gianna Emanuela and Laura, the Gold Medal of Assumption University for your significant contributions to fostering a Christian Culture of family life and holiness around the entire world.
Bestowal of three medals to Pierluigi Molla
I now invite Pierluigi Molla to address this assembly.