Dreams from Lessons Past

2020 is not the first time Santa Clara University has weathered pandemic and natural disasters.

Dreams from Lessons Past
Doctors inoculate one another from a deadly flu in 1918 San Francisco. / Photo courtesy Calisphere.

An Easter Mass before empty pews.

The faithful tune in via computer or smartphone for blessings, for peace, for hope and find the Santa Clara Jesuit community ready to serve.

“When unexpected isolation enables us to value even more the importance of family and friends in our lives, we reflect God’s glory and reflect Christ’s risen life,”  Dennis Smolarski, S.J., ’69, said in his Easter homily.

Spring 2020 was indeed like no other time.

In 1906 and 1989, the mission bells rung without human intervention as the earth shook below.

After both catastrophic quakes the Mission, to the best archives show, was inspected for damage and Masses continued as scheduled.

Students, on the other hand, slept outside of their damaged dorms following the 1906 temblor, according to Kelci Baughman McDowell,  an SCU archivist who also writes the archives blog Arthur’s Attic. That quake is best known for the damaged it wrought on San Francisco.

Even the earthquake in 1868 that destroyed the Nobili chapel likely didn’t preclude audiences taking in Mass in the Mission as the new coronavirus has, McDowell notes.

But this time right now—with all of its unusualness—is not so singular that Broncos cannot learn from those who came before us.

Just over 100 years before this new coronavirus sparked a pandemic, another virus raged around the globe—a deadly flu killed between 500,000 and 750,000 Americans in 1918. And Santa Clara University continued to educate young people of competence, conscience, and compassion—just as it does today.

In 1918, day students were sent home. Boarders were put under quarantine, McDowell writes.

Broncos enlisted to fight in WWI wrote back to the Jesuits in letters published by The Redwood. The students detailed experiences with war and the flu.

“I read where the “old school” has been quarantined. Well, you have nothing on us up here. It is forty days today since we went under the ban,” wrote Louis A. Bergna, then stationed with the Navy on Goat Island.

“During this whirlpool of world events, in which we are being tossed about like little chips, I have not forgotten you, and once in a while my thoughts persist in flying back to dear old Santa Clara,” Charles Murphy wrote from New York.

Those idle day dreams of returning to the University seem to have been widely shared. The Redwood staff wrote in its fall 1918 editorial: “We are somewhat given to dreaming, and this is the dream that has long bound us—a new and greater Santa Clara… A University full-fledge, rising like a butterfly from its present chrysalis. … We hope that perhaps in the not distant future this bright dream of ours shall at last come true.”

And, it did. The pandemic passed. The war ended. Students returned in full to Santa Clara. And they returned with renewed focus and vigor. For that is the Bronco way.

As SCU President Kevin O’Brien, S.J. said in his Founders Day homily: “But I know that we will get through this. And I know that we don’t have to be afraid, because we have each other and because we have been at this great enterprise of learning and service for 169 years.”

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