Graduates today must figure out how to foster – and then live and thrive in – an interdependent world, said Margo Ritchie, congregational leader of the Sisters of St. Joseph London.
Ritchie spoke to graduates from King’s University College and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 11 afternoon session of Western’s 301st Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Ritchie in recognition of a life dedicated to service.
“Relationships are the connective tissue of life, especially in this complex world in which we’re learning to live in the shelter of each other,” Ritchie said.
She encouraged graduates to look past the barriers that separate and perpetuate otherness in the world, asking them to find something that connects them to others, be they marginalized populations, minorities or strangers.
“Find the hinge place in your own experience that connects to the whole because this is how real change happens.”
The London native and Western graduate (BA’71, Brescia) has devoted her life to improving the world around her. She’s recognized in the city for being a teacher, community builder, as well as a driver of progressive change in London. She has taken part in various social justice and peace initiatives, among them a transition home for women in need and the local Truth and Reconciliation initiative.
A devoted environmentalist, Ritchie helped create the new home of the Sisters of St. Joseph in London. The building was the first in the city to be LEED certified and her congregation was among the first in London to adopt an alternative energy strategy, including solar panels.
Together with the other sisters in her congregation, Ritchie has offered two wings of the Sisters of St. Joseph residence and congregational centre for St. Joseph’s Hospice, offering care to the dying. The sisters have likewise given both time and money to support refugees, scholarships, health care awards, micro-plan programs, affordable housing and various groups working to promote social justice and peace in London.
Ritchie was elected president of Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada in 2009 and received the London Community Foundation Ivey Award for Excellence in 2010.
In recognizing the tireless dedication Ritchie has shown in the community, Western aims to also recognize the Sisters of St. Joseph of London, who for almost 150 years have been a cornerstone of education, health care and social outreach.
Ritchie told the graduates they must use their education and life experience to promote unity and change in the world.
“Use your (education) to make a difference in rewriting our common history in Canada. … Perhaps you will be the ones who let integrity grow within you so the ‘inner’ of who you are and the ‘outer’ of who you are keep intertwining in a way that becomes indistinguishable,” she said.
In his citation, King’s Principal David Sylvester said Ritchie has spent her life serving “the dear neighbour.”
“For almost 150 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph of London have healed and comforted our sick, taught our children, lectured in our university, visited our imprisoned, provided for our poor, counseled those in need of spiritual direction, and welcomed our parentless children. Upon their arrival in this city in 1868 they responded immediately and in a sustained way to the needs of Londoners. The sisters remain one of London’s strongest voices of advocacy for those whose voices are often not heard,” he said.
“Sr. Margo Ritchie embodies the Sisters of St. Joseph’s faithful commitment to the common good. She joined her religious community in the early 1970s and has been a servant leader in many of the initiatives of her congregation, locally, across Canada, and abroad.”
Ritchie added graduates must work to build a global neighbourhood where the experience of every person, nation and species belongs to one another.
“Live interdependently on the planet. Show with your life what matters to you and make it about relationships.”
Also during the ceremony, the King’s University College Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty was awarded to History professor David Norton.