When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. — Matthew 2:10
This may seem like an odd question to ask, but how many of you have ever asked yourself about Nativity scenes — in particular, when the first one (beside the obvious one in the Bethlehem stable) actually took place? Well it never occurred to me to ask. My eyes were opened on this matter when I read an article about Pope Francis making a surprise visit to a Franciscan shrine in Greccio, Italy. There he knelt in front of a shrine created by his namesake. On Christmas Eve 1223, this was where St. Francis of Assisi purportedly erected the world’s first Nativity scene.
Pope Francis would later tell a group of young people, on yet another impromptu visit, that this birth was an example of how “God lowered himself, obliterated himself to be like us, to walk before us, but with smallness, that is, you can say, humility, which goes against pride, self-importance, arrogance.” And it was a star that led the three Wise Men to this site, which prompted the pope to insist that we look out for a ‘special star that calls us to do something greater, to strike out on a journey, to make a decision.’
At St. Mary’s University here in Calgary we organize under the banner of what we call the St. Mary’s Star. Four qualities of Mary (simplicity, clarity, purity and confidence) are each represented by one of the four letter M’s that form the star. It is our commitment to students, and to the community, that we will honour all learners who come to our door, and because of our small class sizes that allow us to focus on the whole person, we truly believe that everyone has an opportunity to discover who they are. That is the remarkable gift of an education: that people can discover their own special star.
The truth about education is that while it is intensely personal, focused on self-improvement and intellectual development, it is also communal in many ways, preparing students for their roles in the wider world. At St. Mary’s we know that our students will take their special talents out into the community, but with a clear foundation that has taught them to focus on social justice and the greater good. We invite them to search for their special star, knowing that together, in community, they will form a dynamic constellation. And perhaps at Christmas this is one of the greatest gifts we can imagine.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.