You don’t have to be a Christian or even a religious person to see the significance of this insight: people are more important than things! Francis of Assisi understood that was true because people come from God, are made in the image of God, are children of God, are loved by God. And, he concluded that meant ALL people, regardless of who they were. Nobody is of more value than anybody else. After trying soldier life, being in prison, almost dying from sickness caused by prison conditions, Francis Bernadone wanted to do something important with his life. The world of Francis’ time was deeply divided according to rank and power. He wanted to be different. He wanted to make a difference. He looked to the Christian Gospels and decided to imitate Jesus as closely as he could in his life and stand apart from the ordinary. He established communities where everyone was seen the same: no privileges, no ranks, no prejudices. Everybody was welcome. Everybody was equal. Everybody worked and contributed what they could to the group. Jesus sat down at the table with anyone, embraced everyone, cured everyone, touched anyone. So it was with the followers of Francis who came to be known as the Little Brothers, the Friars Minor. Everyone was included. It remains so today. It is how we seek to be.
Franciscans see in the life of Jesus Christ a clear statement of how God sees the people of the world. By becoming one like us, God shows us the value of human beings, the precious gift that human life is. From the beginning Jesus spent his life including others and reaching out to all. As an infant he was recognized first by a poor carpenter and his wife pregnant before their marriage, by shepherds, whose profession was held in contempt, and by pagan foreigners. He invited tax collectors, soldiers, foreigners and women to the table and to follow him as part of his company.
Quincy University started as St. Francis Solanus College, a school for immigrants and the children of immigrants. They couldn’t get into schools because they didn’t speak English; they couldn’t learn English because they couldn’t get into school. Augustine Tolton, who became the first African American priest in the country, began his education at the college and was then sent by the friars to study for the priesthood in Rome when no seminary would accept him here. We have always been a place for those who were the first in their families to seek an education. We accepted women in the 1930’s and fielded integrated sports teams in the 1950’s. Inclusion is a value here. Our students come from many different backgrounds, from farms and cities and suburbs. Tearing down walls, encountering “the other,” seeing the connections, making community, walking together, including all: these are the things our values prompt us to do and to do as well as we can.
Peace and all good!
Father John Doctor, OFM
Vice President for Mission and Ministry