Engaging in the Work the Soul Must Have: A Face of America Commentary

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2010
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon when Kitch and I got into our Prius to drive to Misericordia University for the dedication of the Sister Regina Kelly Shakespeare Garden.

Sister Regina Kelly was a teacher, an administrator, a writer and a public speaker with a message. Her message was aptly described by the person who made the dream of a garden of Shakespeare delights come true, Dr. Agnes Cardoni.

For six years, Dr. Cardoni was relentless in the pursuit of her dream. She used these prophetic words of her mentor, Sister Regina, to help everyone understand her motive: “This is about putting yourself up against a standard of excellence and seeing how you measure up.” 

On this day, the dream and the reality proved both the power and the wisdom of Sister Regina’s words spoken to her 19-year-old student, Agnes Cardoni, all those years ago

On this day, words spoken by others would affirm and celebrate the work of Dr. Cardoni on behalf of her teacher, the students of this university and the venerable Sisters of Mercy who breathe light into the minds of the students they teach.

This is a proud moment for the university and another indication that the school is moving in a positive direction, said Sandy Insalaco, former Chairman of the Board of Trustees and board member. Then, he quoted then words of his predecessor: “Misericordia University is a place that takes good people and makes them better.”

Sue Helwig helped raise the money for the tribute to Sister Regina. She shared this beautiful thought: This is a very special day, and I am proud to be an American working at this school because it serves people and it makes their dreams come true.

Michael MacDowell, the president of Misericordia University, was beaming when he interpreted Sister Regina’s service to others as an essential American characteristic.  For MacDowell, an academically trained historian, service to others is what America is all about on its best days.

Michael Dunn, Regina’s nephew, saw this day as a snapshot of another fundamental American reality. He put it this way, “Things like this can happen in America because education is honored and supported.”

Mary Elizabeth O’Connor, a 1960 graduate of what was then College Misericordia, summarized the day when she said: “It is about freedom, clean air, friends, education in a free society and an opportunity to move your life in a positive direction.

Walter Chamberlain, the person who designed the garden, was happy everything went well, and he was pleased to see everything in bloom.

For Agnes Cardoni, it was everything she hoped and dreamed it would be, a beautiful day in a beautiful garden. It was an opportunity for beautiful people to share positive thoughts about the teacher and friend who transformed her life and the university that made it possible for her to understand that it is desirable, possible and essential to live a balanced life of enjoyable work and enjoyable leisure time.

Near the end of her speech, Dr. Cardoni used the insightful words of Alice Walker to make her most important point. When describing her mother working in her garden, Walker wrote: “She engaged in work her soul must have.”

On this day of dedication, I saw the Face of America everywhere I looked. It was the proud face of family members.  It was the satisfied face of garden club members who volunteer to take care of this garden.  It was the thankful face of members of the university community who were grateful for the contributions that financed this project. It was the affirming and joyful face of guests who gathered here to celebrate this accomplishment.

On this day, in this place of learning, mercy, service, justice and hospitality we experienced the work our souls and our country must have, and that’s a beautiful thought for every day.

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