They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
Luke 24: 36-43
The dramatic re-enactments were based on a witty script by award-winning writer-in-residence Eugene Stickland, and acted out by members of our amazing faculty and students. The event allowed us to reveal some of the university’s wonderful landmarks which have rarely been opened to the public: our signature water tower, an old carriage house, and one of the disused tunnels beneath the site that once linked our early buildings. The evening ended with a spectacular fireworks display.
Why did I want to begin my term in this way? To me our university is about community: a water tower, not an ivory tower. I wanted an opportunity for St. Mary’s to showcase its special features to the people we serve. And it seemed important to acknowledge the legacy of St. Mary’s: the history of the site, the buildings and the people. Although we expected this to be an uplifting and celebratory event — and it certainly was that! — there were some surprises that emerged during the evening that no one expected.
In a brief visit of an underground tunnel that once linked the old Father Lacombe Home to the La Fort Centre, for example, one of our historians explained how the children and nuns moved through these narrow corridors beneath the snow, carrying laundry one way and books to the library in another. This story we knew. What we didn’t expect was that, in the eerie silence, as groups of people gathered in the dark, someone would say, unprompted, “I haven’t been in these tunnels for 50 years.” On another tour, a nun told her story, and then another. Who could have predicted that there would be people from long ago revisiting the old haunts in this way? How wonderful it was to have their voices speaking again in this unique environment. The past in not dead, William Faulkner once said, it is not even past. St. Mary’s is a living testament to a continued history of care, spiritual strength and education.
Despite this it is easy to overlook our gifts, and so it is crucial that we pause, as we did on Thursday evening, to remind ourselves of our surrounds. When people gathered in front of the old carriage house — used in winters long ago as a dead house to store corpses — or as they stood anxiously for a peek into the heritage water tower, I noticed that the crowds included many of the university’s own staff and faculty. When one member of staff saw me she whispered, sheepishly, “I’ve never been inside, and I’ve worked here forever! I always wondered what it was like.” And then she laughed delightedly.
That excitement for the undiscovered, for the familiar that has gone unnoticed, is the magic of St. Mary’s, truly a jewel in Calgary’s crown. This humble university is often over-looked in annual round-ups of higher education providers in the province, and yet it is a beacon of faith-based education — right here under our noses. We hope you’ll visit soon, to see what’s been here all along. There’s no telling whom you might meet.
This article originally appeared in The Carillon, a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary.