Alma Mater (“sweet mother”) is a Latin phrase we use as a name for the schools we attend. Many graduates (known also in Latin as alumnae and alumni) feel a certain reverence for their schools because these are the places that influenced and shaped our lives in countless ways — from the development of our base of knowledge and skills, to the development of values and perspectives on the human condition, to the critical habits of analysis and philosophizing, to the quest for intellectual adventure and the search for Truth. Our schools also are frequently the places where we discover our friends for life, and often the campus is the only place where we can reconnect with those wonderful faculty who taught us so well.
Alma mater and her daughters and sons have a lifelong relationship that transcends the role of the institution simply as a repository of transcripts and fond memories. In the best sense, the relationship is one of ongoing mutual care and concern for the well being of both the college and her graduates. We celebrate each other’s achievements, mourn our losses, critique our choices, support the education of new generations of students, and foster the continuing personal and intellectual development of members of the institutional family through a broad range of activities. Even the most distant alum, sometimes benignly diffident or even actively disdainful, recognizes some connection that may even bloom into active participation in later years. Alma mater never gives up on her graduates, and always stands ready to welcome them back “home” for a visit to campus.
Trinity alumnae are as active and engaged as any group of college graduates anywhere in the country. I have known Trinity alumnae far longer than the 37 years of my participation in this great college, since alumnae were an important part of introducing me to Trinity in my high school years. Trinity alumnae in each generation have inspired and challenged new generations to achieve. Because of alumnae achievements, many other women get the courage they need to persist in their studies, to graduate and succeed in later life. I have heard our students exclaim, having heard about various alumnae achievements, “Wow! If she could do that, I can do it, too!” Alumnae achievement holds out the hope of remarkable success for future generations of our students and graduates.
Throughout Trinity’s first century, Trinity alumnae joined forces with the Sisters of Notre Dame to make it possible for Trinity to grow and thrive, and even in difficult years Trinity alumnae stood behind alma mater. Standing together does not mean total agreement, and as with any healthy family, debate flourishes about many issues within the Trinity community. Support for and solidarity with the members of the family does not mean that we agree with everything that each member thinks, says, or does — or that they agree with everything the college does. Trinity is not a home for intellectual conformists. Trinity is a university in the best sense of the word, a learning community that believes that Truth can only be discovered through the robust and honest exercise of intellectual freedom.
Thanks to the vision and courage of the Sisters of Notre Dame who founded Trinity, this university also has a profound commitment to the intellectual, spiritual and justice traditions of the Catholic faith. The Catholic dimension of our institutional life and mission does not limit our intellectual freedom, but informs our work and our teaching in ways that are distinctive and very important for not only our students but also for our faculty, staff and alumnae. Indeed, Trinity’s Catholicism has clearly shaped the life of the institution today in profound ways — our massive institutional commitment to the education of historically excluded students embraces the challenge of St. Julie Billiart and the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame in action for social justice. Without our deep Catholic commitments, Trinity might have made other choices that could have made this college far wealthier while excluding the very students we serve so well today.
Over the years, Trinity alumnae have returned often to alma mater for many different occasions. Almost invariably, when alumnae return in groups for reunions, class celebrations, or other occasions, they also expect and seek out opportunities to pray together. For many generations of Trinity alumnae, sharing Mass together in Notre Dame Chapel is as fundamental a part of their Trinity experience as sharing the bonds of sisterhood well into the longs nights of reunion. Alma mater welcomes her alumnae to Mass as often as they wish to come. It’s what a mother does for her daughters, without picking and choosing among them, who may come in, who must sit out on the curb.
Every alumna of Trinity is welcome here. Judgmentalism about states of grace is not our work; being open to God’s grace is. We believe in the power of prayer, and we worship together whenever we can. Through shared prayer and reflection, in the words of our oft-recited Trinity Prayer, we seek the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity to illuminate and guide our lives and work.