On his journey in a canoe up the Merrimack River with his brother, Henry David Thoreau took time to ascend Uncanoonuc Mountain which rose then just as it does now above the village of Goffstown. Atop the mountain, which he regarded as “the best point from which to view the valley of the Merrimack,” Thoreau reflected on the truth and love between human beings that “transcends our earthly life and anticipates Heaven for us. What is this love,” he asked, “that may come right in the middle of a prosaic Goffstown day?”
Fifty years later Bishop Denis Bradley, the son of Irish immigrant laborers in Manchester, reached out in fraternal love and truth to Abbot Hilary Pfraengle, O.S.B., the new Abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey in Newark, New Jersey. He spoke to the newly elected Abbot about his hopes of building a college for the people of his Diocese — a college that the Jesuit educated Bradley had decided should be founded and run by Benedictines: “I would say,” the young Bishop wrote to Abbot Hilary, “that we ought not wait until we can begin on a grand scale. All colleges grow from small beginnings.”
Bishop Bradley could not possibly imagine when writing those hopeful and pragmatic words that the college he envisioned would have to be built twice. Indeed, had either man foreseen that a horrible fire would leave their new college a “mass of ruins—four broken brick walls inclosing a vast bed of ashes and charred timbers” before a single student had entered the now absent doors; had either of them fully anticipated the enormous heartache, effort and fortitude it would take to make even a modest start at founding this New Hampshire school, they might well have waited until they could “begin on a grand scale.” And given the crippling economic depression that would arrive in the 1890’s and the sudden death of Bishop Bradley in 1903, it is likely that that day would never have come, and that we would not be gathered in this magnificent chapel here this afternoon.
How fortunate for us and for the thousands of people who have learned and taught and worked and had their lives transformed on this campus for the past century and a quarter that these holy and determined men were spared the gift of clairvoyance. How fortunate as well that like the young Henry Thoreau up on the small mountain west of here, these men had a vision and a devotion to love and truth that transcended the struggles of the present day.
125 years later there is a lesson in our founding to be learned by all of us. “All colleges grow from small beginnings.” So too all good and great things “grow from small beginnings.” All enterprises, endeavors and projects that we undertake originate in something as small as an idea. They grow in to a conversation and then maybe something as mundane as a committee meeting; and then maybe, just maybe, our idea, our hope, our dream grows like Bishop Bradley’s did into something “on a grand scale.”
We gather today in academic pageantry having realized so many big dreams that started small in classrooms, meetings and conversations here at Saint Anselm College. As we move forward with faith in what we may accomplish in our next 125 years, Saint Anselm is blessed to have extremely dedicated faculty and staff who focus on the burning question posed each and every day “Are we doing our best to serve our students?. We stand strong as a community bound by our traditions yet poised to march forward with great enthusiasm. Our collective goal is to educate young men and women in the liberal arts by offering them the highest quality experience during their four years on our magnificent campus. We can accomplish this only if we continue to invest in the future.
The financial position of the college continues to “grow from a small beginning” and we remain cautiously optimistic about the years ahead. Thanks to the Board of Trustees and the senior administration, the college has witnessed a diversified investment strategy, an increase in annual fundraising, and an increase in the size and quality of the freshman class. The end result has positioned us for continued fiscal strength. I am pleased to announce that our endowment has grown over 50% in the past two and half years, far outpacing market returns, and today stands at over $125 million.
Our alumni and friends continue to generously support the college in many ways. During numerous visits this past year I have learned about their passion for this place and the students we serve. I often communicate to donors how important it is to attract and retain our talented faculty who work both inside and outside the classroom with our students. We have had tremendous early success during a leadership phase of a capital campaign including closing the books on June 30th with the second most successful fundraising year in the history of the college. It is in that spirit that I am pleased to announce that through a very generous gift from Joe Jean we will begin to develop an endowed chair in history and government. It is only the second endowed chair at Saint Anselm College. Further details will be available soon.