I am lucky to have intelligent friends. They help edit my prose and engage me in witty conversation. And while I value them greatly, I lament there is one thing of which I am envious of them: their realm of education. Many of my friends attended impressive houses of learning — Rutgers, NYU, Columbia and even fair Harvard! I covet their diplomas and access to the college networks they belong to on Facebook, for my alma mater — humble Saint Bonaventure — has neither the prestige of the Ivies nor big time college football like Rutgers.
We are a small Franciscan school in the snowy mountains of Western New York, and our school colors are even demure brown and white. The school numbers around 2,000 undergrads and is the heart of the economically depressed Rust Belt that stretches from Syracuse, New York, to Gary, Indiana. When I compare my alma mater to my friends’, I always feel a bit intimidated. Yet recently, the lives of two Franciscans and the words of a fellow alumnus have renewed my pride for my school and its simple beauty.
Two weeks ago fellow SBU alumnus Dan Barry wrote an article for the New York Times about Franciscan twin brothers who died on the same day at the age of 92. They worked at the Saint Bonaventure Campus Friary doing simple tasks, living an understated yet dignified life. I will not comment on Barry’s article nor the life of the Franciscan twins; Barry has done a remarkable job and it would be foolish to add on. But I will reflect on the spirit the school holds. I know many colleges trumpet that they are a “special” place, but when you get down to the dining hall food and library books: most college experiences are the same. I like to think of college as a blank slate that YOU write on.
Obviously some people who went to my college might not have soaked up the Franciscan flavor or escaped into religion. Yet the story of Brothers Julian and Adrian told by Barry cut to the core of what it means to get a Saint Bonaventure education. The essence of Saint Bonaventure is blessed simplicity. My best experiences at college were simple raw moments. From cheering for the basketball team to chatting with a Friar, it was best to keep an open, simple mind.
Too often people think of simple as a bad word; people confuse it for being dull or slow. None of the people I met at college were dumb; it would be highly insulting to believe that. Rather they had uncluttered souls that were free of unnecessary things. The thing that remained was an essential understanding of goodness. Simple can be a great thing. It can be a direct route to God.
I would look forward to seeing the population (albeit dwindling) of Friars walking across the paths in their flowing brown robes. They seemed to transcend the superfluous problems of youth and represent something more. There was a timelessness to them, and I would particularly enjoy the classes I took with them. I learned about my school’s patron and namesake in The Intellectual Journey with Father Allen; I contemplated art with Brother David or simply meditated with Father Bob.
I was no saint in college, though. I attended my share of parties and would be known to sing the greatest hits of Bon Jovi on the drunk bus back from the bars. My college may not have the academic reputation of Harvard or the big time sports of an Ohio State, but Saint Bonaventure University is my alma mater. I adore its Franciscan roots and how they accept everyone of different faiths, nationalities, and sexual orientations. The friends I made at Saint Bonaventure will last a lifetime, and I know we will continue to talk about that charmed time in Western New York.
I live in New York City now and my life is pretty complicated. I am moving into a new apartment in a few weeks and I will have to schlep my stuff into a new place with my new roommate (a current Busted Halo intern!). My life is as busy and restless as the cars on a busy city street. Yet when I get to a quiet place, like Mass or a quiet late night subway ride, my mind goes to another place — across the Hudson River, and over the Appalachian mountains to a quiet valley where my only concern was snow, beer and Bonnies basketball.