Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., preceding the Facing History and Ourselves Annual Dinner
May 3, 2012
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here today.
When children first encounter the ancient text, they think of apples and gardens and snakes and animals on boats. But when adults encounter the ancient text, they recognize something far darker. They see a progressive story of the rupture of humanity. Whether it is a wife betrayed by her husband who throws her under the bus saying, “She made me do it,” or a brother slaying a brother and uttering, “Am I his keeper?” Whether it is one nation enslaving another, or centuries of prophetic condemnations of the ways in which people are subjugated and used by society, there is a darkness to our stories recounting the ability of humans to destroy one another.
And yet, against all of that darkness, there is story after story of heroes and those who fought against evil. They are the greatness of the ancient text — those who stood up against human evil and who often paid a significant price for doing so.
The reason I think about this, of course, is not just because I am an ordained priest. It is because of the magnificent work done by Facing History and Ourselves. Theirs is a contemporary telling of both the darkness of humanity and its heroes. They ask us, in boldest honesty and courageous humility, to admit our history in its most shameful and enlightened moments. They tell the stories of those who took the initiative to stand up and challenge humanity to rise to greatness. They remind humanity of what it is capable and what a magnificent task it is when any of us rise to the moment. There is a reason humanity turns to its own stories to be retold over and over again, and it is a great gift when those stories are given to yet another generation.
It is this honorable work that leads DePaul University so gratefully to partner with Facing History and Ourselves. It is our university’s great privilege to train teachers, and thereby shape the next generation. Many of my colleagues who do that, and with whom I am proud to work, are here with us today. It is a precious opportunity for us to use the resources and the collective wisdom that Facing History and Ourselves has brought together over the years. Each of our organizations separately does noble work. But together, I think we can do something extraordinary for the next generation — to literally call the next generation to the greatness of which it is capable.
My university is named for a Catholic saint, St. Vincent de Paul. He spent the latter half of his life trying to address the vast social problems stemming from three wars and the subsequent explosion of urban poverty as the dispossessed flooded Paris. He constantly tried to draw the attention of people to the needs of those that society did not wish to see. But he didn’t just want to draw their attention to the social ills in his time. He sought to turn people toward initiative — what they could do for those who were in need.
That, indeed, is what is most special about this partnership. We not only tell the young their stories. We not only give them heroes. We encourage them toward initiative — to stand up in moments when a lone voice can make a powerful difference. We encourage them to stand up even at some cost because of the nobility and the rightness of what we do.
Humanity’s story is told both through the cowards and the heroes. Our new partnership hopes to create heroes. That is our noble act. It is what also inspires me about the vision that first came to crystallization in my conversations with Jack and Donna Greenberg. They inquired how we could use the resources of a university to create those heroes. It was providential, then, when I was invited to Facing History’s dinner a year ago and heard of your great work. It was as if the universe had put a question and an answer together. Together, we had an “aha moment” met by a real willingness on the part of Facing History and Ourselves to create something new.
And so, I stand in gratitude to this organization and to Jack and Donna, in great hope for what all of us might accomplish for the next generation. For when we give the next generation not only the stories but also the inspiration and the courage to build a better society, it is indeed a noble act.