Campus Lights Perpetual Marian Lantern of Hope
President Stephen D. Minnis gave these remarks to the hundreds who gathered in the academic quad at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, for the Sept. 8, 2019, celebration of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Benedictine College, when a lantern was lit to commemorate the founding miracle of the college and the arrival of Benedictine sisters seven years later.
Welcome to this special day in Benedictine College history. Today we will celebrate the placing of a lantern in the window of Ferrell Academic Center. This lantern, for our students and community will forever be a symbol of hope and welcoming and of greater things yet to come, and a symbol of Our Lady’s care and protection and acknowledgement that she chose this place and chose us to be here.
This is not only Mary’s Birthday and we will celebrate that. But it is also the 10th anniversary of the Dedication of the Grotto — and the miracle that occurred on this day 10 years ago where Mary kept the storm away so the beautiful dedication, in which over 700 people participated, could take place.
Today we recognize another event in which a storm was a major part of the story.
For us, the first sign that the lantern was a significant symbol came on this date in 1856 when Fr. Henry Lemke was lost on the prairie during a rainstorm. He had no hope, and believed that he would perish on this vast land that night.
So he called out to Our Lady, “Mary, Helper of Christians, show me a sign.”
And show him a sign she did.
After this cry for help, a Lady Dressed in White woke a sleeping girl who woke her mother who then placed a lantern in the only window of their prairie cabin.
And it was this lantern that gave Father Henry hope — and it was the sign he needed — to crawl to that light to get shelter.
It was Our Lady who spared Father Henry’s life. And two years after that incident, the college is founded. The same year the college was founded, 1858, a lady dressed in white appears to St. Bernadette at a grotto in Lourdes, France. Thus our Mary’s Grotto which was dedicated 10 years ago today.
Seven years after the lantern became a symbol of hope for Fr. Henry Lemke, the lantern became a symbol of hope for Catholic education in Atchison.
In 1863, seven Benedictine sisters, led by Mother Evangelista Kremmeter, traveled from Minnesota to Atchison to start a school for girls. They traveled by wagon, by train and by boat.
But they were coming to a town and area of the country that at that time had a strong anti-Catholic sentiment.
The townspeople of Atchison knew the sisters were coming and they had prepared a place for them to live and pray and teach in a location where St. Benedict’s Grade School is now. They were to arrive at 11:30 pm. The sisters had to float across the Missouri because Atchison did not have a bridge at the time.
Imagine, at night, floating across the Missouri River to a town inhabited by many that hated Catholics, that did not want them there.
These seven sisters — three of whom only spoke German — must have been apprehensive when they got on the ferry on the Missouri side of the river. But when they looked across the darkness to the other side of the river they saw a group of lanterns on the other side waiting for them.
When they landed, these men holding the lanterns walked the seven Benedictine sisters up Second Street to their new home.
Seven years after the lantern gave Fr. Henry Lemke hope, lanterns gave the Benedictine sisters hope too. These were the founders of Mount St. Scholastica College, one of our founding institutions.
The lantern is a significant symbol in our history and it is appropriate for us to place it on campus. This lantern is historical, but also a symbol of hope — hope for a bright future for the college that we will continue to move forward, always forward, everywhere forward.
Therefore, it will be placed in a location on the second floor of Ferrell Academic Center and be permanently lit to give hope to all in our community.