The arrival of March means a few things here in Chicago. It is the arrival of meteorological spring, although I wouldn’t put away the winter coat quite yet. We are in the Lenten season for many Christians, and this year Ramadan will start for Muslims worldwide during our spring break. It also means Saint Patrick’s Day, which turns our hearts toward all things green and Irish. I think the spirit of this season reminds all of us to bring the beauty of our full selves to this community, and to look with special care for those among us who may be a bit lost, but who with a bit of minding could blossom beautifully.
As with any saint, especially one who lived sixteen centuries ago, we know a lot more about the Patrick of hagiography and myth than the one of history. On the bright side, we can learn a lot from hagiography and myth. For many, Saint Patrick represents the plight of those who fall victim to great evil, but who under God’s care can turn evil to good. In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Saint Patrick speaks poignantly against the horrors of slavery as someone who had experienced it himself. In the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, Saint Patrick’s Day became a symbol of Irish cultural and religious pride and an honoring of immigrants more broadly.
After its establishment in 1898, DePaul University’s mission was centered upon providing higher education and a ladder to a better life to the children of immigrants in Chicago, many of whom were Irish Catholics. Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M., DePaul’s President from 1910 to 1920, oversaw tremendous growth in DePaul’s student body and began coeducation of men and women together over the objections of the archbishop. He also made DePaul the first American university to grant an honorary degree to an international figure when he bestowed one upon Irish leader Eamon de Valera in 1919. De Valera had escaped from an English prison and was touring the United States to raise money and political support as the Irish War of Independence raged.
Given that March is Academy Awards season, it also seems appropriate to note that a commitment to include and honor people from different cultures and identities in a deep way can often best be achieved through the arts. There were three powerful Irish films released last year that also may evoke some mission-related reflection. In The Banshees of Inisherin, we see what appears to be an idyllic Irish village. As the story unfolds, we see that the village contains elements of evil and corruption, but most of all feelings of loneliness and of being trapped. These are brought to the surface when the vital human connection of friendship for one of the residents is cut off without warning. Aisha tells the story of a Nigerian Muslim woman seeking asylum in Ireland who, having already suffered immense trauma and hardship, is now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. And, in the Irish language film An Cailίn Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), we witness the effects on a neglected young girl spending a summer with distant relatives who truly see and care for her despite her quietness.
Each of these films dramatizes the profound human need for connection. We see how much can lie beneath surfaces. One of the paradoxes of DePaul’s mission is that we emphasize the individual care and attention we call personalism, while also proudly carrying the banner of the nation’s largest Catholic university. There is great potential in this paradox. We can offer the diverse resources of a large school while providing personal holistic attention to each student as well. To fulfill this potential, we need to remind ourselves of the value of connecting with those students who may be quiet, who may feel lost in bureaucracy, who may suffer from traumatic life circumstances, or who merely feel an unmet need for friendship that can make life seem meaningless. Perhaps in a nod to their Irishness, none of these films offers an easy, happy ending, but each demonstrates that even in the midst of difficulty, reaching out for true connection is always worth it for all involved.
Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care and Muslim Chaplain.
 The predominant understanding has been that Saint Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as an enslaved person, although as with most everything about his life, the historical accuracy of that has been questioned. See “Was St. Patrick a Slave Trader and Tax Collector?” IrishCentral, March 7, 2022, https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/saint-patrick-slave-trader.
 See “DePaul Presidents: Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M.,” The Full Text (blog), DePaul University Library, February 24, 2010, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2010/02/24/depaul-presidents-rev-francis-x-mccabe-c-m/.
 By the time you read this, you will know how many of the fourteen nominations garnered by Irish talent resulted in Oscar wins. See Emma Jones, “Oscars 2023: Banshees and the Irish Films Breaking Records,” BBC, March 6, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20230303-banshees-and-the-irish-films-breaking-oscars-records.