Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
4 Apr 2017

Thank you Dr Leach and may the force be with you! I'm grateful to you all for hosting me once again at this annual Archbishop's Mass and Dinner. At my first such dinner as College Visitor I nearly didn't speak, as someone stole my speech; and last year I couldn't speak, as I was paralysed and in the midst of a five-month-long stay in hospital. I trust that this year's after-dinner address will be easier!

I have been pleased to know Sancta as an important part of Catholic and university life here in Sydney ever since my days as a student at Sydney Uni in the late 1970s and early '80s. I was sorry therefore to miss your 90th birthday celebrations last year, but promise to do my best to be at the party for the 100th. Overall I'd say you are all looking pretty good for 90! I look forward to the next ten years.

Speaking of ten years, Dr Maree Leach has now served as Principal of St Sophia College for a decade. There is a rumour that she will retire at the end of this year and I'm sure there will be many tributes paid to her at that time. At this point, however, might I put on the record the gratitude of the Archdiocese of Sydney for her sterling service over these past 10 years. Congratulations and thank you Dr Leach!

Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who would sometimes believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, I like to speak at least three languages before dessert! Since we've had Greek during Mass and English over dinner, I think it's only fair that we finish with a bit of Latin!

The term alma mater comes originally from the Latin phrase alma mater studiorum, meaning 'nourishing mother of studies' - the official name of the University of Bologna, arguably the oldest and one I am pleased to say to which the Dominicans made a very major contribution throughout history! It is from this phrase that we have the corresponding word 'alumni' or 'alumnae', applied to those who have graduated, and literally meaning 'those who have been nourished or nurtured'. The adoption of this phrase by those first universities was partly because of the longstanding depiction of wisdom as a woman, but also because universities aspired to be places of growth, nurseries or kindergartens for rather older and larger children, schools not just for reading, writing and 'rithmetic, but for the arts and sciences and a deeper wisdom.

Of course, in Christianity we have another mother who nurtures and nourishes us all: Mary, who was also referred to as alma mater from as early as the fourth century AD. Just as universities are supposed to nurture wisdom in us as only a mother can, Mary, the woman who 'pondered all things in her heart', especially of things she received from Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19,51), tried in turn to teach that boy who was Wisdom Himself and then to teach all her children who are the church. So you might say Mary was the first university student and the first university!

One day you will come to refer to Sancta Sophia in the University of Sydney as your alma mater. I trust that for you it will be more than just a mouldy old phrase for my old college, but invoke recollection of a place where you gained more than just professional learning for your chosen career: a place where you found a deep and abiding wisdom that will nourish you for the rest of your years. God bless the community of Sancta Sophia. God bless you all!