Salve Regina celebrates Diamond Anniversary by torchlight

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NEWPORT — Salve Regina University recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a visit from a very distinguished guest indeed: the Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, founder of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. Illuminated by a roaring bonfire and a number of smaller torches, with the campus a capella group singing ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ in the background, Mother McAuley described how she organized the order nearly two centuries ago in Ireland, setting into motion the chain of events which led to the foundation of the university. As she finished, Pat Toppa (the Salve alumna playing McAuley’s role) passed the torch to the actress telling the next chapter of Salve’s history.
“The warmth and the light of the fire are both ways to represent the Mercy Tradition,” explained Dr. Jayme Hennesy, a professor with Salve’s Department of Religious and Theological Studies.
“God’s mercy both protects us and gives each new generation the light to find their way forward. It’s the fire within all of us.”
For the past six months, Hennesy has worked together with Mary Beth Pelletier, Salve’s program manager for the Office of Mission Integration, to design and produce Carrying the Light of Mercy. Pelletier, a Salve graduate herself, wrote the script for the performance and directed it under the stage name of Mary Luzitano.
Inspired by the Providence tradition of WaterFire, Salve’s anniversary ceremony included a number of torch-lit stops connecting a path which meandered through the historic mansion grounds forming the school’s campus. At each stop, a member of the alumni community lit a torch while an actor played the role of a figure from the history of the university and the Sisters of Mercy.
“We were essentially working with a ‘stage’ that was half a city block long,” said Pelletier. “That meant we had to carefully select which specific locations were going to become the ‘set’ for each part of the story. We tried to take advantage of both natural and architectural assets, like Salve’s arboretum.”
One handsome grove of trees (originally planted as an exotic showpiece for the grounds of the Wakehurst estate) was lit with strings of electric lights, providing a unique natural backdrop for a performance by former members of the school’s female a capella group. In addition to musical interludes, the ceremony also included performances by university dance groups and alumni.
Put together, the various stops relayed how the Sisters of Mercy first traveled to the United States in 1843. They established a presence in Newport shortly thereafter, ultimately culminating in the foundation of the women-only Salve Regina College in 1947. The school expanded rapidly, reclaiming Gilded Age estates to house its growing student body (which included male students beginning in 1973). In 1991, Salve graduated to full-fledged university status; the special historical exhibit currently on display at the McKillop Library, however, includes plenty of promotional materials fondly reminiscing about the school’s longtime nickname of “the Newport College.”
In addition to historical personages like Mother McAuley, Salve has received warm birthday wishes from a number of living figures as well. Supreme Court Justice the Hon. Elena Kagan offered her congratulations during a recent visit to campus for a public square interview; closer to home, Newport Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano had declared September 24 to be a citywide day of celebration commemorating “civic, governmental, athletic and charitable contributions by Salve students and staff.”
Salve’s celebrations are set to continue throughout this year; information about upcoming events and photos of the opening night ceremony can be found at https://salve.edu/75-anniversary-of-salve-regina.

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