[Fresh] St. Thomas of Villanova Day interview

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Mon, 13 Sep 2004 12:49:41 -0400

Interview with Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., President of Villanova University

Fresh@News. On September 9, Villanova University celebrated Saint Thomas of Villanova
Day. What was the day about, and what were we hoping to accomplish?

Fr. Dobbin. Except for graduation, St. Thomas of Villanova Day is the most important
ceremony we have during the year. We like to begin the academic year with a time when
University comes together as a community. It has a special meaning for our first-year
students. They get to know one another very well during New Student Orientation, but St.
Thomas Day is the time when we introduce the new class to the rest of the university.

Fresh@News. Can you tell us more about what the day looked like?

Fr. Dobbin. The celebration started with a liturgy at 1:30. At the liturgy, we honored the
many students, faculty, and staff who have participated in service projects over the past
year. At 2:45, we moved to the Pavilion for an academic convocation. The convocation is
always a splendid event. One of the highlights is always the academic procession, where
several hundred Villanova faculty members process into the hall, wearing their colorful
academic regalia. Usually we end the day with a festive banquet, where the whole campus
gathers for an outdoor picnic. This year, unfortunately, the weather was so bad that we had
to cancel the picnic.

Fresh@News. What is the theme of St. Thomas of Villanova Day?

Fr. Dobbin. On St. Thomas Day we ask the community to focus on some general themes that are
most important to us here at Villanova, especially our Augustinian values and heritage.
Indeed, the whole idea of faculty, students, and staff celebrating together is based on an
Augustinian concept of community. We also talk about Augustine's conception of the "unity
of heart and mind," which, for us means that education isn't just about knowledge, but must
also be rooted in values. St. Thomas Day also focuses our attention on St. Thomas of
Villanova, the 16th century Augustinian Bishop for whom Villanova is named. St. Thomas was
known as "the Bishop of the poor," and was
famous for his concern for the poor of his own time. We use this day to help focus our
community on the needs of the poor, sick, and homeless of our own time.

Fresh@News. I know you touched on many of these themes in your homily at the outdoor
liturgy. Tell us more about the convocation too. What was the theme of the convocation?

Fr. Dobbin. The theme of the convocation was "Transforming Hearts and Minds," and we tried
to convey the message that college – especially the academic experience – can transform the
lives of our students, but that they must do their part as well, by being open, receptive,
and willing to give of themselves. To make this message come alive we ask six of our most
dynamic and exciting faculty members to very brief talks about a moment that had transformed
their own lives. The talks were really striking. One of our professors of Civil and
Environmental Engineering spoke about a project where engineering students built a beautiful
concrete cross that stands on a hill above an orphanage in Honduras. The talk was
illustrated with shots of the engineering students constructing the cross, but also of them
learning and interacting with the children in the orphanage. One of our Nursing professors
talked about her experiences working around the world with Operational Smile (an
organization that helps children with facial deformities). Her talk was also illustrated
with beautiful but heart-wrenching pictures of the children she had worked with in
surgeries. A math teacher talked about going to France for a semester as an undergraduate,
and a Core Humanities teacher talked about reading Huck Finn in an English class. Parents
can read more about the ceremony at:

Fresh@news. Moving to more general issues, from your perspective as President, how is the
year going so far?

Fr. Dobbin. Things are going well, but it seems that each year also brings us unique
problems. Our biggest challenge for this year has been accommodating a larger number of
incoming students than we planned for. Many colleges around the country are reporting that
enrollment patterns this year were especially unpredictable, with some colleges going deep
into their wait-lists and others ending up being overbooked. We ended up with more than 100
additional students over and above our target, and, as a result, we have had to "triple" a
number of students who would usually be in doubles. We have appreciated the flexibility and
patience of students and parents as we deal with this unanticipated problem. Another big
project for this year has been a total renovation of the first floor of Falvey Library.
We've created a beautiful new 24 hour study space in the library, with its own "Holy
Grounds" coffee shop.

Fresh@News. How about the class of 2008. How do they look so far?

Fr. Dobbin. We have been blessed with an upward trend in the students who choose to come to
Villanova, and this class is no exception. As we have said about many of the recent
classes the class of 2008 is, on paper, the best class we have ever had here at Villanova.
As the reports come in, what we are hearing is that the students are every bit as good as we
expected. We look forward to working with the members of the class of 2008. We hope they
have a wonderful experience as members of the Villanova Community, and we also look forward
to meeting with parents and friends at events such as Parents’ Weekend.

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