Sister Nancy Brown Honorary Doctorate Speech at St. Mark’s College Convocation 2024

May 11, Vancouver, BC:

Congratulations to the graduates!  You are, indeed, a source of inspiration to me. I praise you for your accomplishments, your hard work and perseverance.   I congratulate you and also challenge you in the days ahead, to transform your knowledge into service.  You are called to be a source of hope in our world today.  Our world desperately needs your wisdom, your faith and compassion.  Today, the choice is yours, to help build up this world or not.  The challenge before you is to become beacons of hope, spreading love, standing for truth, and acting with justice amid the darkness and confusion of our times.  Pope Francis has proclaimed 2025, a Jubilee Year of Hope, calling all of us to be Pilgrims of Hope.  In the days ahead in your various ministries, be signs of hope by following the call of the Prophet Micah – to love tenderly, to act justly, and to walk humbly with your God.

Thank you to the board of St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi Colleges for considering me and granting me the privilege of this honorary degree.   My heart is filled with awe and gratitude.  Today, I would like to acknowledge and express my appreciation for my three families who have loved, formed, and called me to a life of service.

First, the Charity family.  Today, Sisters of Charity of Halifax are gathering in Halifax to celebrate our mission of one hundred and seventy-five years of giving joyful witness to love.  On May 11, 1849, four sisters from New York arrived in Halifax to start the mission of Sisters of Charity of Halifax.   In 1923, nine Sisters of Charity arrived here by train from Halifax to serve in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.  Since that time, over three hundred sisters have ministered throughout our archdiocese primarily in the field of education.   So today, we are celebrating with gratitude from coast to coast.  I am grateful for the charism of Charity in my life which has urged and inspired me to transform my education into service.

I also belong to the Joe Brown family.  Today, I honour my father and give thanks for his dedication to education and his service to the church of Vancouver.   In 1923, my father graduated at age 19 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and two years later with a Master of Arts Degree in Mathematics from the University of British Columbia.  Since that time about twenty-five members of the Brown clan have graduated from UBC.   I never did graduate from UBC as I traveled to Halifax in 1961 to join the Sisters of Charity and attended Mount Saint Vincent University for my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education.  (One of my father’s fears was that if I entered religious life, I would not receive an adequate education!)   Today, for the first time, I am proudly wearing my father’s university academic gown. Dad was a true educator and insisted that his four daughters were going to be as well educated as his son, John.

Dad became the first chairperson of the University Development Fund when he served on the University Senate.  He was the first recipient of the Great Trekker Award, an award for outstanding service to the university development program.  He was part of the student group that organized the1923 trek from the old, inadequate, temporary campus on the site that is now Vancouver General Hospital to the present campus, which was then a forest wilderness “away out in West Point Grey.”     The publicity campaign known as the “great trek” was staged to encourage the government to resume work on the Point Grey campus that had been interrupted in 1914 with the outbreak of World War 1.

As a child, I remember being sent to the basement or to my bedroom because dad was having meetings with the Basilian Fathers about education. In 1937, Archbishop William Duke and Father Henry Carr, CSB started negotiations with the university to establish an independent Catholic College with the right to grant degrees.  It was a very lengthy process with numerous up and downs as recorded in the article titled The Beginnings of Catholic Education at UBC by James Hanrahan, CSB [i].  In 1947, a committee of lay persons who were concerned about Catholic Education was formed: it included my dad, Dr. Dave Steele, and other local folk. They worked tirelessly, and finally in March 1956, The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia approved a bill establishing St. Mark’s College!  There are many examples in my father’s life where he transformed his knowledge into service both within the church and society.

My third and last family is Covenant House Vancouver.  Today, I especially thank the youth that I encountered during my twenty years of ministry in downtown Vancouver.  It was at that time that I first came in contact with young people who had been sexually exploited, prostituted, and trafficked.   It was this firsthand experience of listening to their struggles, of learning about their early childhood experiences and of journeying with them through their pain that has stayed with me and influenced my ministry today.  At my retirement from Covenant House Vancouver, I promised the youth and staff that I would continue to work for the elimination of this injustice.  At Covenant House Vancouver, I got my boot training for my current work of advocating on behalf of abused and exploited women, youth and children which is another example of transforming knowledge to service.

I have attempted to live faithfully the Constitutions of the Sisters of Charity on service which calls us … “to strive to develop a sensitivity toward those whom the world oppresses, to right in great ways or small the injustices we see around us, to heal the wounds of the embittered, to speak peace to the troubled, to urge the mighty to right wrongs, that we may bring the compassion of Christ to all those whose lives we touch.”

Finally graduates, I leave you with a challenge that comes from tomorrow’s gospel, the feast of the Ascension. It is the gospel according to St. Mark, where Jesus appeared to the eleven and said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” As Jesus sent his disciples, you are now being sent to share your knowledge and wisdom, to go out and proclaim the good news everywhere, transforming your academic studies into acts of service- spreading throughout our world, the compassion, justice, and wisdom of our Risen God.  Be Pilgrims and Prophets of Hope!

[i] James Hanrahan, CSB. Father Carr in Vancouver, The Beginning of Catholic Education at UBC. Canadian Catholic Review. December 1985. 14/414-20/420.

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