“Utility” – What’s That?

By Sr. Margaret Patrice Slattery, CCVI
President Emerita

Sr. Pierre Cinquin, one of the founders of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, often told the Sisters in the early days of the religious congregation, “In everything we do, the glory should be for God, the utility for others, and the trouble for ourselves.” Sr. Pierre had come to Texas from France in 1869, and her use of the word “utility” seems curious in the age of iPads, email, and smartphones.

Quite clearly, however, she was talking about the Mission of service that prompted the first Incarnate Word Sisters in the 1800s to establish hospitals, schools, and orphanages in Texas. It is also quite clearly a statement of the Mission of the University of the Incarnate Word as it is today – to give glory to God by offering service to others and assuming the difficulties ourselves.

As the university continues to grow in enrollment and to expand to different areas of San Antonio as well as to different countries, people often ask, “Do you think the spirit at Incarnate Word is still the same? Is there still a focus on the importance of service to others? Is the Mission alive and well? What about alumni? Are they still involved in the Mission?”

I am always pleased to respond that I think it is truly ALIVE and VERY WELL. And I say that, believing it is true, because of my encounters with so many graduates who are doing great and wonderful things for the glory of God and the service of others without counting the cost of the trouble for themselves.

Most recently, I had the opportunity of working with Mary Jane Hardy, who earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education from the university. She graduated in 1963 and had a long and successful tenure teaching in the public schools of San Antonio. Upon retirement, she launched into a new career of writing a book about the early churches of downtown San Antonio, both Catholic and Protestant, giving details of how and why they were founded, and focusing on their religious and historical significance to the city. You can read her story in the “Feature Stories” section of this magazine.

It was an effort that she had become interested in when her husband was seriously ill in Metropolitan Hospital. Mary Jane took her small children to visit their father and afterwards propelled them to San Fernando Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church, and St. Joseph’s Church to pray for his recovery. Only then did she realize that the children had never before visited any of these churches of old San Antonio and knew nothing about how their founders, all of different nationalities and beliefs, had shaped the future of the city. What a terrible loss for young people to grow up in San Antonio, a city so rich in its religious and historical background and never develop an awareness or appreciation for it. If it could happen to her children, Mary Jane realized, it must be happening to many, many others.

It was the beginning of a dream for her, a dream that would take many years of dedication, a dream she would share with her husband upon his recovery, a dream that she would pursue even through her own bout with cancer, a dream that would give glory to God and service to others, although it meant persevering efforts and trouble for themselves.

Like Mary Jane Hardy, many other graduates are carrying forth the founding Mission of the university in their own way. Beth Buchek, who happens to be my niece, earned her bachelor’s degree at Incarnate Word in 2007. She had majored in religious studies and upon graduation was immediately offered a teaching position at Nerinx Hall, a Catholic high school for young women in St. Louis, Mo.

Beth loves teaching, particularly courses in social justice, and sharing with other young people what she learned at the University of the Incarnate Word.

Her first-year contract offered her only part-time employment, but it was a God-send for her because it gave her the opportunity to become involved with the St. Louis social justice community, focusing on such issues as anti-war, anti-racism, anti-violence, and anti-death penalty.

Her new-found friends also introduced her to Karen House. It was founded in 1977 as a Catholic Worker house of hospitality and emergency shelter for homeless women and children. The house is based on the Catholic Worker vision of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, which is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person and the practice of the corporal works of mercy.

Approximately 13 women and their children live at the house for periods of four to five months at a time, or even longer in case of extreme need, while trying to cope with emergency situations of homelessness and extreme poverty. The house is operated totally by volunteers who provide food, shelter, clothing, hygienic supplies, counseling and at times even financial assistance. Their work is supported by generous donations from the community.

Beth moved into Karen House, serving as a parttime volunteer worker, trying to put into practice what she was teaching her students at Nerinx Hall.

“It felt like the answer to questions I had been asking my whole life,” she said. “I had always wondered how I could best help the homeless people I saw on the streets. I had felt a pull to welcome them into my home, give them rides in my car, share my food with them. At Karen House, I was able to live the gospel more fully than ever before.”

She believes strongly in the message of Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement: “The world would be better off, if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to be better off. For when everybody tries to become better off, nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off. Everybody would be rich if nobody tried to be richer. And nobody would be poor if everybody tried to be the poorest. And everybody would be what they ought to be if everybody tried to be what they want others to be.”

Also, the Mission is ALIVE and WELL on the campus of the university. It is evident in the work of the faculty in their classrooms and even beyond. It is evident in the efforts of Sr. Dorothy (Dot) Ettling, CCVI, professor of education working in the Graduate Studies Program. Her title suggests a full-time profession, but in addition to her teaching, counseling of students, guiding them in the writing and defending of their dissertations, and serving on university committees, she is also director of Women’s Global Connection, which, together with Sr. Neomi Hayes, CCVI, fellow alumna and former dean of Students at UIW, she founded in 2001. Sponsored by the university, Women’s Global Connection is a program to reach out to the women of Africa and other third world countries in an effort to guide and assist them in gaining meaningful employment for their own support and that of their families.

In their travels to Zambia and Tanzania, Srs. Dot and Neomi discovered, to their dismay, that many women living in poverty in these countries have the innate skills necessary for some kind of useful and profitable kind of employment but because of a lack of education as well as suffering brought on by poverty and disease, they were unable to better themselves or support their families.

Through the efforts of the Sisters, as well as those of other faculty and students who have accompanied them on many trips to these disadvantaged areas, the Sisters have been able to develop projects in women’s empowerment, in economic development, in the techniques of early childhood development, in discovering methods for accessing water for irrigation and personal health, and in training in communication technology.

The program has now spread to Peru, and Sr. Dot travels regularly to visit the young women she is guiding. The two-day journey, which she often makes with faculty members and students, is not a pleasure trip but a necessary means of educating and encouraging young women who are earnestly trying to better themselves and their families and to create change in their impoverished communities. In addition to the hands-on work of guiding the women whom they serve, the Sisters must raise the necessary funds to support the travel, the networking, and the workshops. Much of their time is spent in planning fund raising events and seeking grants and donations from generous donors. It is truly a dedication to serving people in need.

So many other graduates could be included in this short article on the survival of the Mission at the university, and I wish I could share more of them with you. In so many wondrous and impressive ways, they all reflect the words of Sr. Pierre, “In everything we do, the glory should be for God, the utility for others, and the trouble for ourselves.”