August 31, 2018
Student Government President, Katie Kruger, addresses incoming students.
Thank you, Fr. Dale. Good morning and peace be with you all.
As Fr. Dale said, my name is Katie Kruger. I am a Johnnie, and I am a girl! Actually, I am one of hundreds of women Johnnies who have attended Saint John’s as graduate students in Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. This is the first time one of our students has spoken at convocation, and I thank President Hemesath and last year’s School of Theology student government for the opportunity. Really, I am here because of my community.
That function of community – creating opportunities – is part of the beauty of this place. And community is what brought me to Saint John’s.
After spending several years working at a tuition-free Catholic high school in Haiti, I came home to Minnesota just in time for the 2016 presidential campaigns. Beyond the awful political rhetoric, I was alarmed to realize how little we, as citizens, knew or even seemed to care for one another. Whether you were thrilled or outraged by the result, it was clear that the U.S. had failed at community.
I suspect I felt this so deeply because when I was in Haiti, the importance of community was glaringly obvious. For my students and their families, community meant the difference between education and illiteracy, jobs and joblessness, even sickness and health. Although it can be harder to see in the U.S., the reality is the same: for each one of you here, the community you form around you could be the difference between passing and failing, inclusion and isolation, success or failure.
As I’ve studied theology and theologies of community here at Saint John’s, I’ve found some answers, but for the most part, I just have more questions. It turns out theology is like a lot like quantum physics, in that, the more you know the more you know you don’t know. So instead of offering my own insight on how to form strong communities, I am going to rely on the monks who founded this institution, who chose St. John the Baptist as their namesake.
In case you didn’t already know, the statue that welcomes you into this space is a magnificent (if somewhat terrifying) statue of John the Baptist. The gospels tell us that as he invites each of us to the waters of baptism, John also calls us to REPENT. Now, my some of fellow theology students know this already, but the word for repentance comes from the Greek term metanoia, which, translated literally means, change of mind or change of heart.
This call is a stark reminder that the work of being Christian, and of forming Christian communities, is not a one-and-done venture. For both individuals and institutions, there is always more to learn and it is through the gift of Christ’s presence in every single person here that we are invited to change. No matter your religious affiliation, I invite you to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow on the shoulders of your new community, and to help this community learn and grow along with you.
One last nugget I’ll leave you with comes from Sr. Mary Reuter at St. Ben’s. At a panel discussion, she recently noted that whenever someone talks about what it means to be Benedictine you often hear about Benedictine Hospitality – it might even be what helped you choose to come here, and that’s wonderful. Now that you are here, your role is no longer passive. You are a member of this community, and you have a responsibility - and an opportunity - to show that same spirit of hospitality to everyone you meet.
Many of us think of hospitality in terms of welcoming occasional guests, but I challenge you to take it a step farther - what would it look like for you to practice daily hospitality to your roommate? Your professor? Your LINK driver? Maybe even to yourself? As the Rule of Benedict states, ALL are to be received as Christ.
So, on behalf of the graduate student body, WELCOME to all of you. We are so glad you chose to join this community.