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Benedictine has a Motto

Benedictine has a motto. Do you know what it is?

Almost every college has one. Other institutions have them too. Aristocratic families have them. States and territories have them. Bishops and popes have them.

Mottos appear on coats of arms. Academic mottos appear on university seals.

Often they’re in Latin. A few U.S. colleges have mottos in Greek. The motto for Brandeis University is in Hebrew and English. Yale’s is in Hebrew and Latin. Some mottos, especially west of the Mississippi, are in English. Some schools have no motto at all.

A motto is on the same spectrum with mission statement and slogan. Mission statements and slogans are written in simpler, less poetic language. They convey how an institution communicates with the present moment. By definition, they’re subject to change. As times change, mission statements and slogans change.

But mottos are pretty permanent. They speak to things that transcend change.

The problem is, as I’ve suggested, they’re usually written in a language that few can read. Sometimes they’re even disguised in abbreviation. They almost say, “I dare you to educate yourself enough to figure this out.”

The Jesuit motto is well known, especially in abbreviated form: AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam—to the greater glory of God). Actually, that’s the motto for the Society of Jesus. Jesuit schools enjoy using that motto, but each generally has a motto unique to its community.

The same is true in the Benedictine world, which is a thousand years older than the Jesuit world.

I’ve heard people say that the motto of Benedictine University is Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). That’s the marvelous motto of the Benedictine tradition as a whole but technically not our University motto.

As you know, Benedictine University doesn’t stand alone. The poet John Donne reminded us that “No man is an island.” Trappist monk Thomas Merton borrowed that phrase for one of his classic works. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, turned it into “No religion is an island.”

The same is true in Catholic higher education: no university is an island. Our University is part of a network called the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities (ABCU).

What about some mottos from our ABCU peers?

Here’s the motto for Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire: Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini (Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom).

Here’s the motto for Saint John’s University in Minnesota: Induamur Arma Lucis (Put on the Armor of Light).

Here’s the motto for the University of Mary in North Dakota—one of the shortest: Lumen Vitae (Light of life).

And ours?

It’s a little on the long side: Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus (That in all things God may be glorified)—straight out of the Rule of St. Benedict and a direct quote from the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament.

It doesn’t roll right off the tongue, which is probably why someone long ago decided to abbreviate it. You can see it on the vintage St. Procopius College seal in the Neff Center, the oldest building on the Lisle campus: IOGD—In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus.

What makes this perfect for a university motto is “omnibus”—the “all things” part.

Here on full display is the universality in university.

It’s a bold claim. What we’re saying is this: No subject, no idea, no discipline is beyond our scope. Wisdom from all cultures and ages is welcome and treasured. Our quest for knowledge is fearless and unbounded.

It’s the intellectual side of Benedict’s radical hospitality.

On a day-to-day basis, this is what “omnibus” means: the seminar and the studio, the library and the loading dock, the classroom and the chapel, the basketball court and the boardroom are more than they seem.

They are altars for the glorification of the One who made all things. And you, no matter what your role at Benedictine, are engaged in a sacred task.

May we recognize all things as holy, all things as prayer, all things the work of God.

Dr. Peter A. Huff
Director, Center for Benedictine Values

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