Given at St Mary’s Graduation Ceremony, on Thursday 20th July 2017, in Westminster Cathedral
There is no doubt that this is a very special occasion. I congratulate each and every one of you on the achievements realised today in this graduation ceremony. Well done indeed!
There is also no doubt that this is a very special location: the finest Byzantine building in London, the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Westminster and a place of inspiring majesty and a certain awesome beauty.
The occasion and the location fit together, not out of size or convenience, but because of their complementary meaning.
St Mary’s University is at home here. I am at home here, not only as the Cardinal Archbishop of the Church, but also as the Chancellor of your university. And I do not suffer from confusion!
Let me explain. And in doing so I want to go back to a moment when Pope Benedict, who outranks me by far, visited your University. This is what he said: ‘Education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. ‘And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts” (Wis 7:16).’
They are words worth remembering. Don't be thinking of your education, of your intellectual and academic ability, which receives such recognition today, as simply commercially useful, which I hope it will be, or as something purely for your own narrow advantage. Rather it is a pathway towards a greater maturity, and a greater sense of vision, of the goodness and beauty of our world and of every person.
As I look back on my own university education, I think it has taken me quite a long time to realise the truth of those words. I had a pathway in life planned out. I very much wanted to be a priest. All the study I did had that end in mind. I had to pass the exams, which we had to take in written or spoken Latin! I wanted to move on, make progress, get study over with, and arrive at the point of being a priest.
Now I know a little better. Study is part of my life now for different reasons: so that I can better understand the world in which I live; so I can have a deeper grasp of human personalities, human history, human nature. Now I study to gain wisdom. It has all become centred on the person, the human person, my brother and sister.
It can be so for you too!
You will have heard it said that education is person-centred. This is true. And it is true of life itself. No matter what we do, we always have an eye for the person, the one with whom we are involved, for whom our endeavours, be they in business, or teaching, or engineering, or chemistry, or medicine, or the caring professions, are going to serve. Only with that in mind will our study reach its fulfilment. True study is never self-centred. True study never seeks to promote itself. The true student is always willing to learn. The true student never grows up and never loses a certain humility, whether he or she is already an eminent professor or not.
And for this to happen, there is another person to be kept at the centre of our efforts: the person of the Creator himself. He has created us ‘to know, love and serve him in this life, and to be happy with him forever in the next.’ That simple truth lies at the heart of happiness; that much I have learned and truly commend to you on this the best of all days.
Today I also commend to you all who have helped and supported you during the journey to this your graduation day, all those without whose assistance the happy outcome of receiving a degree might have been rather different. The support of your families will have been critical, whether expressed in emotional or financial terms, or in other ways. Never take them for granted! Then there are the friends you have made in your time at St Mary’s: companions who will walk with you, I hope, for the years to come. And the staff of St Mary’s: those who have taught you, and those who have made your time of study possible. All these, and more, deserve your thanks, and that of the whole university community.
If Pope Benedict is one of the great Catholic thinkers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, few could rival Cardinal Newman for such an accolade in the nineteenth century. In his work The Idea of a University, he takes as his starting point the description of a university as a ‘School of universal learning.’ Each of you graduating today have your own story: you come from many parts of the world and diverse backgrounds, and your studies have taken you in different directions. But today you are united, receiving together the reward of your hard work, work which I hope and pray will be put to good use in the service of God and neighbour, for many years to come.