Written by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, on May 2012 at the Induction in the College of Fellows
Velma Bourgeois Richmond: wife and mother, scholar of the English language, administrator, professor and mentor, loyal daughter of the Church, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology salutes you.
“An identity is not to be found on the surface; it is not accessible to the poll taker; it is not something that can become a cliché. It is not made from the mean average or from the typical, but from the hidden and often the most extreme. It is not made from what passes, but from those qualities that endure regardless of what passes, because they are related to truth. It lies very deep. In its entirety, it is known only to God, but of those who look for it, none gets so close as the artist.” Like Flannery O"Connor, also from the south, you have sought to name, for yourself, your students, and for us, something of our Catholic identity, something that you have called, borrowing from Hilaire Belloc, “a Catholic habit of mind.”
Born in New Orleans, your own seeking began in your native Louisiana where you received your B.A. magna cum laude and M.A. in English Renaissance literature at the University of Baton Rouge. Then, having completed the B.Litt. degree at Oxford University in England, you returned to the University of North Carolina, where you were awarded the Ph.D. in Renaissance and Medieval literature.
Upon completion of your doctoral studies, you accepted a teaching position at Holy Names College, Oakland, which would remain your academic home for over 40 years. There you served as Professor, chair of the Department of English, Speech and Drama, Dean of Academic Affairs, Director of the M.A. program in English and, since 1997, professor of English, Emerita.
Your eight books and dozens of articles and reviews have investigated themes ranging from Shakespeare to Muriel Sparks, to Chaucer and Shakespeare as children"s literature. You have offered papers in universities on four continents, and your Shakespeare, Catholicism and Romance was awarded the Conference on Christianity in Literature book award in the year 2000.
You are able to startle us into attention as in your marvelous characterization of Lady Macbeth, “feminine sensibility gone wrong,” or in your suggestion that the same lady is, possibly, Shakespeare"s portrayal of Elizabeth I, guilt ridden by her complicity in the death of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. You have illumined for us romance as a singularly Catholic art form and demonstrated its fixed place in western and English literature. You have invited us to appreciate a sensibility to the world that is properly sacramental and Catholic, and that can serve as a key to identifying the influence of the Catholic faith in literature, in a manner that is all the more convincing for being scholarly rather than polemical.
You have investigated and promoted these themes in an Academy which is not uniformly friendly to such views; you have not hidden your own Catholic identity but have, rather, presumed it, and, like Shakespeare himself, you have “made elegiac comment on an earlier way of life, a Benedictine ideal of authority as service, given without being asked for.” Well it might be said of you:
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
Where none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that do choke their service up,
Even with the having.
Rather, you have, for your students and colleagues and for us, demonstrated the “authority of service” freely given.
We are honored that you have accepted our request that you might extend your life of service to our school, to collaborate with us in our work of appreciating our culture—indeed, of loving it—sufficiently that we might speak the gospel to it.
Accordingly, by the authority invested in me by the Board of Trustees of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, I am privileged to bestow upon you, Velma Bourgeois Richmond, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, and to name you as a Fellow of the School.