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St Mary Mazzarello
(entered heaven on May 14, 1881)
I owe you my most heartfelt congratulations. You are now a graduate of one of the world’s finest institutions of higher learning, and the first of your family to earn a college degree. It is no mean accomplishment. You can be sure that here in the buzzing shadows of these infernal fluorescent lights, I am sharing your joy. If your parents were alive, I am sure they would be beaming. Come to think of it, they are probably beaming now more than they would have been beaming if there were still confined to this earth.
But as your uncle, I feel obliged to temper my congratulations with an appropriate avuncular warning. The world is a hungry place. It’s hungry for souls. And as you launch out to conquer it, be careful. Because of your achievements and talents, it will try to make you forget about God and bask in the self-defeating light of yourself. Don’t let it. Follow the example of today’s saint.
St Mary Mazzarello founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary the Help of Christians in 1867, under the guidance of another great saint, John Bosco, in northern Italy. For the next 14 years her good humor, common sense, hard work, and simple (but oh so profound) prayer life enabled her to turn the little group of fifteen young ladies into a flourishing, international force to be reckoned with, one of the largest congregations in the Church. They dedicated themselves to educating poor girls (and this was long before the feminist movement had got going), and were so successful that their students have become influential members of society in every walk of life throughout the world.
The funny thing is St Mary herself was uneducated. She was unsophisticated. She was a peasant, with rough hands and a strong back. And yet, God used her to launch a vast work of education.
That’s the lesson for you. By nature, you are just the opposite of St Mary: bright, educated, cultured, lovely, familiar with the ways of high society… And yet, in order to accomplish truly worthwhile achievements in the world, you need to become just like St Mary in your heart. You need to have one desire: to please Jesus, your Lord, your King. Only he can give you lasting happiness. That’s St Mary’s message to you, and if you’re not careful, it will get drowned out in the hubbub and glitter of the world you are diving into.
The only graduation present I can give you is a phrase from St Mary. Please keep it close to your heart, and look at it more often than you will look at your diploma. If you do, you won’t derail: “Speak little to creatures, but speak much with God. He will make you truly wise.” And True Wisdom is where Success is really at.
Your devoted Uncle,