December 16, 2021

Father Sicard’s homily at the Aquinas memorial Mass

Just about two months ago, during the inauguration speech at my investiture as president, I spoke about my experiences as a student here at Providence College and what led me to answer God’s call to become a Dominican friar. And I pointed out that, ironically, it was unimaginable tragedy in my senior year that cemented my vocation.

I was referring, of course, to the Aquinas fire that took the lives of 10 of our beloved female students shortly before Christmas in 1977. The women we remember every year at this Mass, the darkest day in the history of the college.

But even in those dark hours and the times that followed, there were countless glimpses of light and hope. As we’ve always done here at PC, in times of trial and difficulty, we as a community came together in prayer over and over again.

What else could we do? As many of us were here at the time can recall, the outpouring of love and support that we received from the faculty, from the Dominican community, and from each other was as strong as the shock and the grief that we felt.

Those of us who were here will never forget the compassion of luminous people like Father Reid, our chaplain; Father Peterson, our president; Father McPhail; Father Heath; Donna McCaffrey; and so many others. For me, at least, they became a visible reminder of the compassion and kindness of God that’s described in today’s readings. They reminded us how during those darkest of days, God wept with us and shared our pain — at a time when, for many of us, our faith was challenged in ways we had never experienced, and we struggled to get through the unspeakable.

The Providence College community, the Friar family, united in love and support. As we’ve always done in challenging times, we prayed and we held each other up. And today, because of the faith we share, we can find such comfort in the words from Isaiah that God will destroy death forever and will wipe away the tears from all faces. As people of faith, we recognize that even death cannot destroy the love we’ve shared and the bonds we’ve enjoyed with each other.

As you all know, this year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first female students at Providence College, “Then Now Next.” It’s been a time to celebrate the contributions made by women here at PC and the powerful positive impact they’ve had, the legacies they have created. And the 10 women we remember today are such an important part of that story. Each in her own way had a powerful impact on the college in those early days of education, and each of them enriched our community.

One of the greatest things about Providence College is the friendships that we enjoy with each other. The bonds we share often last forever. As Friars, we know this, we’ve experienced it. And this is why these 10 remarkable women still live in our hearts. What a great comfort to their families, that their daughters, their sisters, their aunts have never been forgotten by us.

It proves that the words Friar family are not just empty words. It’s quite a tribute to the legacy of these young women that after 44 years, we are still coming together annually to remember and pray for them and to support each other in prayer. And what a comfort to know that they, too, pray for us. This prayer is the most tangible assurance we have that we remain connected to those whom death has taken from us, that we are all part of this communion of saints.

And I want to finish this homily by sharing a quote that has always been a very touching and meaningful reminder of these ties and connections. It’s from the plaque commemorating the women that hangs in the back of Saint Dominic Chapel, and it says, “Those we love are with the Lord, and the Lord has promised to be with us. If they are with him and he with us, they cannot be far away.”

Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P. ’78, ’82G, the 13th president of Providence College, presented this homily on Dec. 13, 2021, during the memorial Mass for victims of the Aquinas Hall fire on Dec. 13, 1977.

watch the full mass martha reynolds ’80: a bond forever