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Confession Time

I have a confession to make: I really don’t have a major problem with Saint Mary’s College. And while I’m at it, this: I used to be on their payroll. It’s true: I once was a writer for their university magazine.

Tonight is the kick-off of West Coast Conference play for our (LMU, that is) women and men’s basketball teams. Both squads take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels, the women in an away game in sleepy Moraga, and the men’s match here on the bluff.

For me, it’s a pleasure when Saint Mary’s comes to town, because it reminds me of things I admired about that place. I especially liked the story of the founder of the Christian Brothers, St. John Baptist de La Salle. His story convinced me that yes is the most powerful word in the English language.

In 1679, de La Salle, who came from a well-off family, was a priest in Reims, a small town in France. One day, two people approached him to tell him that the children of poor families needed a good education as much as the children of the wealthy. They asked him to help; he said yes. De La Salle set up a school and gathered others to help him. With little sense of what his response would lead to, De La Salle responded, and that led to the founding of more universities and high schools than he could have imagined and a worldwide order of men dedicated to educating others and sharing the religious life. I think that’s something most of us at LMU can understand.

I’ll never forget Brother DeSales Perez, even though I hardly knew him. One of the De La Salle Christian Brothers who are the founding order of the college, Brother DeSales died at the age of 73. He was central to some of the college’s crucial curricular strengths. I had the sense that students in his seminars were in for an intellectual challenge equivalent to a runner’s marathon. Rather than winding down during his life’s autumn, Brother DeSales was at his zenith when he passed away. I used to think that the greatest tragedy for religious orders of men and women was the death of young members. Now, the loss of those in their seventh and eighth decades seems equally tragic: A lifetime of accumulated knowledge, wisdom and service disappears in an instant. If such things can happen in heaven, then I’d like to attend a workshop where Brother DeSales and Herb Ryan, S.J., debate Lasallian vs. Jesuit education, with Sr. Peg Dolan, R.S.H.M., as moderator.

One thing Saint Mary’s does not have enough of, however, is nuns. After all, the college isn’t called Saint Mary’s Marymount College. I realize their paucity of nuns isn’t exactly their fault, but facts are facts. I suppose the college will continue to get by despite that deficiency. Still, they do deserve some credit for this: Saint Mary’s provided housing to some 25 Mexican Carmelite nuns who fled persecution after the Mexican Revolution. You can visit the campus chapel today and still see the cloistered sisters’ small sanctuary and the rood screen that obscured them. Of course, my sister is a nun, so that kind of generosity means a lot to me.

So when the Lions face off with the Gaels tonight, I say let’s take Saint Mary’s down on our court, and let’s bring a W home from their house in Moraga. And, while we’re at it, let’s do it with authority. But I can’t treat them like the enemy, because, to me, they’re like our cousins. Some Gael alumni would open a vein and donate blood if it could lead to a win. I have to admire that about them, because I admire LMU’s alumni and friends for the same reason.

The LMU men’s basketball team plays Saint Mary’s at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, in Gersten Pavilion on the LMU campus. For tickets and more information, go here. The LMU women’s basketball team plays an away game at 7 p.m., Jan. 6, at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. Lions fans in the Bay Area who want to support the team should go here for tickets and information about the game. Wear some gear, and be loud.