Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Community:

It is with deep sadness that I write to you today in light of the killing of Mr. George Floyd just one week ago. His death is shocking and appalling. And so I write this realizing that I don’t have the words to adequately express what this has meant to and for our community, nor do I have the words to describe what has impacted so many individuals and families and neighborhoods over the past several days. No amount of speaking or writing can begin to articulate the very grave situation we find ourselves in nor the tragic state of mind, body, and soul that we have been left with as a result of the brutal death of Mr. Floyd. No one can claim ignorance of the many other lives lost within our communities of color due to injustice, unfair practices, and violence. Those human lives were taken from our country, our state, and our cities because of racist attitudes and bigoted behaviors. Saying “Sorry” simply does not connect to the lived experience of so many people of color with whom I have spoken. Yet, I am sorry; sorry for all that has been perpetrated against persons of color anywhere. I have also heard from some of our graduates who have related past experiences at Saint Mary’s which included what they described as a shared pain and anguish at being the objects of racist acts and bigotry, both overtly and subtly. It is especially sad to learn of this at a school like Saint Mary’s, where we are called to live our Lasallian heritage and the Catholic faith. This does not represent what Saint Mary’s is about, the values we hold, or the great work of the generations of Christian Brothers who have always sought to be on the side of the marginalized. We want Saint Mary’s to be a place to learn and to live together so that we can all promote the virtues that are critical to living, now more than ever; virtues such as justice, prudence, understanding, courage, and temperance especially when we continue to live in a society racked by the pain and viciousness of injustice, rash judgment, and extremism.

All people must be afforded equal dignity while all forms of racism and injustice against humanity must be condemned, especially when they are perpetrated against those who have been historically marginalized and silenced, as has been the experience in African American communities. As a Catholic community, and joining with other members of Christian faiths, as well as our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, we believe that all people are created in God’s image; knowing that Christ’s redemption is for everyone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: [thus] every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”1 Further, we must call out the moral dimension of this terrible issue and insist that “any theory or form whatsoever of racism and racial discrimination is morally unacceptable;”2 acknowledging that “racism is not merely one sin among many, it is a radical evil dividing the human family … ”3

I would argue —and I would profoundly hope — that the answer to the tragic death of Mr. Floyd cannot be violence and hate. While the feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness are understandable, we will not come out of this through more violence or deeper hate. That is why the voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., acts as a clarion call for all of us, as relevant today as it was in 1957: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”4 These words echo what Mr. Floyd’s girlfriend, Ms. Courtney Ross said of him. “He [George Floyd] cannot die in vain … He can’t. [He was] an angel sent to us on earth. Him dying…it’s like he gave something to all of us … I hope and I know that Floyd hoped that his death is going to cause some sort of change within people’s hearts … He loved God and he would not be hateful right now, he would be prayerful, he would be loving … ”5

Therefore, in order to bring some ray of light and love to a very painful and hurting community, of which Saint Mary’s University is a part, I am proposing the following initial actions steps for us at Saint Mary’s, both from an internal perspective as well as from an outward-facing perspective. These have been proposed and vetted by two working groups that have begun to discern how we can listen, learn, and be of help to one another and our richly diverse communities. It is not our place to propose or impose ready-made solutions upon the various communities of color we serve and by which we are enriched. These might not be what is most urgent or most helpful, but we must begin somewhere.

Internally:

  • The provost will work with all academic areas inviting us to give over some of our academic time for moderated discussions about what has been happening in the Twin Cities as well as throughout the country using key reflection materials.
  • In particular, given where our Minneapolis Campus is located, we will look to create virtual “Community Conversations.”
  • We will plan a Mass for Healing, Wisdom, and Moral Courage as well as additional ecumenical and interreligious prayer experience.
  • We will work with Dr. Ramon Pastrano, who helped facilitate student discussions with the Office of the President last spring, to create an interactive experience for us to make sure we know what we need to know, provide some steps forward, as well as assure our care and love for the community.
  • We will invite students, staff, and faculty into a space for creating prayerful, thoughtful, and peacefully-motivated reflections and activities.
  • We will create an opportunity to contribute financial assistance to our local South Minneapolis community.

Externally:

  • We will provide, and continue to update, information about how we can help contribute to and be part of healing in the communities in which we are located.
  • Finally, my office has been engaged in outreach to local faith groups, especially within the African American community, social service agencies, and civic organizations to learn what is needed, how we might respond, and what we can offer.

I invite your prayers for all those so profoundly affected by the events of the past week. May all we do be for the uplifting of the human person, the good of the human family, and the salvation of all.

May this lead us to a future full of hope.

God bless you all!

Rev. James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D.


1 Catechism of the Catholic Church (United States Catholic Conference, Inc., 1994), No. 1935, quoting Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, No. 29.
2 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2007), No. 433.
3 United States Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979, No. 39.
4 Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, Fortress Press.
5 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-2180818/Video-George-Floyds-girlfriend-speaks-death.html and https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/05/28/george-floyd-death-reactions-girlfriend-mayor-marquez-pkg-tsr-vpx.cnn

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