[Fresh] St. Thomas of Villanova Day Interview

Kelly Donio (kelly.donio@villanova.edu)
Fri, 16 Sep 2005 11:11:33 -0400

Fresh@News: On Thursday September 8, we celebrated St. Thomas of
Villanova Day here at Villanova, can you tell us what that is all about?

Fr. Dobbin: We begin each year with a celebration that helps us focus on
some of our core values here at Villanova. As many of our parents know,
when Villanova was founded Villanova back 1842, the Augustinians chose
St. Thomas of Villanova, the Augustinian Bishop of Valencia in Spain
(died 1550) as the patron for Villanova. In many ways, that choice is
still relevant to us today, because St. Thomas famous not only as a
brilliant Augustinian philosopher but also for his dedication to the poor.

F@N: So what happens on St. Thomas Day?

Fr. D: The class day is shortened so that everyone is free in the
afternoon. We had good weather this year, so we began the celebration
with an outdoor liturgy in the Grotto. I always give the homily at that
service, and each year I try to connect some core theme from our
Augustinian heritage to our contemporary experience here at Villanova.
After the liturgy, the community moves on to the Pavilion where we have
an Academic Convocation. Most of our freshmen attend the ceremony and
write a short paper about it for their Core Humanities class. It is a
beautiful ceremony, which always begins with a formal academic
procession where hundreds of our faculty members process into the
Pavilion, all wearing their formal academic gowns and mortarboard hats.

F@N: What is the theme of the Convocation?

Fr. D: The theme this year was “Transforming Minds and Hearts.” By this
time our freshmen have been here for two weeks and they are starting to
get comfortable living at Villanova. We use this ceremony to remind them
that what they are really here for is learning, and we try to
communicate some of the excitement of the academic experience here at
Villanova. The ceremony celebrates the way academic work can really
transform people. A nursing professor, for example, talked about the
work our nursing students are doing at a birthing center on the
Texas-Mexico border, and an Engineering professor talked about her
experiences as a student, designing a wheel chair for a child with
Cerebral Palsy. We also had brief talks by a journalism professor and a
faculty member from the Astronomy Department. Another speaker was a
professor from the business school who is also an accomplished magician.
He illustrated his main point with a magic trick, and I think the
students were genuinely amused.

F@N What did you want them to take away from the ceremony?

Fr. D. The students come to us full of enthusiasm but not always sure of
where they want to go in life. We have an incredible faculty here who
can open whole new worlds to them. We want the students to get just a
taste of what our faculty have to offer them.

F@N. What happens next?

Fr. D. After the more serious mood of the Convocation, we have a parade
with many of the student organizations. They parade to a huge outdoor
dinner, where the whole community – faculty, students, and staff –
celebrate the beginning of the year. We also have a performing stage
where we showcase many of the musical talents of our students in Music
Activities. It is a great day.

F@N. How is the new freshman class?

Fr. D. We have an incredible group of students this year. First, they
come from all over the nation and the world; we admitted freshmen from
thirty-five different states and fifty-four different countries. These
students are also the most academically talented group we have ever
seen. For those high schools that do give us class ranks, we see that
almost half of our students (48 percent) were in the top nine percent of
their high school class. The numbers only tell part of the story. What I
hear from the faculty members is that they are great young people:
bright, poised, polite but also enthusiastic, and excited about
beginning their time at Villanova. The parents and the high schools have
done a great job, now it is our turn to challenge them to new levels of
excellence.

F@N. Anything new at Villanova this year?

Fr. D. There are so many things going on it is hard to know where to
start. Just to mention two things, we are putting a lot of energy into
undergraduates doing original research with our faculty members. We want
our students not just to be studying science, or engineering, or health
care, we want them to be at the cutting edge of the field. We are also
putting a lot of attention on academic advising, especially for
freshmen. We think it will make a big difference in helping the students
get a sense of direction in their lives.

F@N Anything for parents in particular?

Fr. D. I just want to thank our parents for sending their sons and
daughters to Villanova. It is an enormous responsibility for us, and we
will try to live up to it.

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