A financial services company advertised itself as “The Bank You Keep.” That’s clever, as one rarely thinks of institutions in that light. It’s the closest its ad department could come to being called a “keeper” (which Webster’s defines as “something worth keeping, especially a large fish legally caught and retained.”)
Whether fish, fowl, or other, we all look for a “keeper” to add value to life. At NU, students search for the best class, the perfect professor, an amazing internship, and a roommate or classmate to be that lifelong friend. All are quite understandable, as they are tangible achievements in college years. For us NU alums, “keepers” also come in the form of insights, moments of enlightenment that inspire and guide us on our life’s journey well past our days on Monteagle Ridge.
Ironically, one of the best “keeper” insights I ever heard about Niagara came from a banker honored at an NU commencement years ago. Donald L. Thomas, ’49, then president of Anchor Savings Bank in New York City (and proud NU alumnus) was well-known in the New York City area for TV and radio commercials he did with his wife, Barbara. Their tagline became a commercial keeper: “Your Anchor Banker Understands.”
Besides the above tagline, I recall a “keeper phrase” Thomas used in his address. As he spoke of his Niagara education, he defined it in terms of “visible” and “invisible” curriculums. The “visible” curriculum was the course of study and faculty who launched him into his successful business career, eventually making his bank a household name in NYC.
But Thomas spent most of his talk on NU’s “invisible” curriculum and what it had done for him. It gave him the opportunity to study religion, philosophy, his faith, and to ask and seek answers for life’s tough questions. In business classes, Thomas learned how to make a living; the Catholic and Vincentian values of Niagara taught him how to make his way through life. His talk centered on how his life’s work became making the “invisible” curriculum a living reality in his daily life. This Anchor banker obviously knew much more about life than simply how to put together a sound business plan.
It is in that context that I embrace the challenge to cultivate faith and encourage spiritual growth in the lives of NU students. In campus ministry, we meet our students where they are, but also lead them to where we feel they can go, becoming active participants in their spiritual life. We provide opportunities for them to get to know the richness of our Catholic and Vincentian identity, so the “visible” and “less visible” become one. Faith and service are “keepers” upon which our NU heritage rests.
One new way campus ministry tries to imbue our faith tradition in NU students is to provide a “keeper” of an experience. A new program entitled “Niagara Plunge” was designed to introduce incoming freshmen to NU’s Catholic and Vincentian heritage. Letters were sent inviting all new students to apply, and 15 were chosen. They moved onto campus five days early and learned about NU’s Catholic and Vincentian mission in seminars and by serving the poor in the Niagara Falls area. They also saw firsthand what NU does in partnership with local agencies such as Heart and Soul Soup Kitchen. By the week’s end, they bonded and became a community, proudly calling themselves the “First Plungers” (with T-shirts and a mock awards ceremony to cap the week’s end).
While it may be too early to gauge the long-term effect of this new experience, a majority of “plungers” have already immersed themselves in campus ministry programs and other valuable campus organizations. Some have asked if they can help guide next year’s Niagara Plunge group. Our Anchor banker alum would be pleased to see a new NU generation finding and applying his “visible” and “invisible” curriculum. From start to finish, the Niagara experience is truly a “keeper.”