2015-10-08 / Faith Community

Salve Regina President Moved by Pope’s Speech to Congress

By James Merolla

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and Sister Jane Gerety knew she was blessed to attend even before the Speaker of the House banged his gavel.

Gerety, president of Salve Regina University, spoke recently about how moved she was to hear Pope Francis speak at a Special Joint Session of Congress in Washington, D.C. Gerety made her remarks in an interview segment called "The Big Question," a Salve theology forum hosted by Tony Lopresti, associate professor in the Department of Religious and Theological Studies at the school.

Gerety, a Sister of Mercy, heard Pope Francis preach about mercy on the Catholic Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, thanks to Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

“Some things only happen once, and I knew this was only going to happen once. So, when Senator Whitehouse told me that he was going to give me his one ticket, I literally leapt for joy!" Gerety said.

The Pope, she said, was inspirational in “how he talks about the dignity of each person” and how legislators and each individual must respect that dignity and by doing so, “We create a unity.”

Gerety was asked what she would say to the Pope if she could have a conversation with him.

“I think I would have said to him, on the subject of immigration, ‘Your Holiness, it’s a really complex issue. I stand with you on immigration in what’s going on in Europe and in this country, but where do you start? Where do you begin to solve this really complex problem?’ I think he did recognize the complexity of this issue.”

The Pope urged lawmakers everywhere to abolish the death penalty. “That was a little bit surprising how strong he came out with that. But I stand with him,” said Gerety.

The Pope also used the life stories of four remarkable Americans – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton – to speak to the American people.

Did any of their stories resonate with Gerety? “Certainly, they all do, but if I had to pick out two, it would be Dorothy Day, somebody who I have great admiration for, and really would be in favor of her being made a saint. Hers was such a radical Christianity. And by radical, I mean going back to the roots of Christianity. Look at where Jesus was: always with the marginalized, always with the poor, always with those who needed healing. And Dorothy Day with her Catholic Worker Movement lived that radically simple life. So, I resonate with her,” she said.

“And with Thomas Merton. The Pope in the Jesuit tradition, I think, is a true contemplative. I have read all the interviews with him about what his daily life is like. How it begins with contemplative prayer in the morning and ends with an hour (of prayer) in the evening. How the man does it, I don’t know,” she said.

Was there something in the address that Sister Jane feels should be integrated as a difference maker in the Salve Regina community?

“I think this notion of openness to the other, especially those who seem different to us; for the Caucasian students to be open to the African-American students; for the straight students to be open to the gay students. That came across quite strongly. If we are open and in dialogue, then we create unity and that’s what I want Salve to be a wonderful example of."

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