Le Fer Hall

Ring Day Reflection 2024

Alum Stories, Blog | 04.19.2024

By Barbara Brugnaux ’70, trustee emerita

Thank you for the honor of being with you today for this very special moment in your life as a Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College student.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, well, not so very far away, on March 16, 1969, my classmates and I received our rings, and my ring has rarely left my hand in the years since. Please don’t bother with the math, I already told you it was a long time ago.

Barbara Brugnaux ’70 giving her reflection at the Ring Day ceremonies

We have many traditions at SMWC. Some of the traditions from my time on campus have faded into memory, some have continued, and some have evolved with the times. The one enduring tradition, however, is receiving, wearing and honoring the Woods ring that means so much to each of us.

The ceremony today includes four promises made by all aspects of the Woods family, and it is fitting to include those promises because of the last two lines of the ring song, “I have miles to go and promises to keep,” with due credit to Robert Frost. But I want to reflect, not about the promises made today, but the legacy that wearing this ring imparts to you, and the opportunities that come with that legacy. Your theme for today is a good starting point. Grow Your Roots, Extend Your Branches.

The life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin certainly embodied that spirit. For despite fragile health, she left her beloved community in France, traveled to a country where she didn’t speak the language, and then spread her roots in Indiana soil and built a legacy that extended its branches throughout her adopted country. A legacy we who wear the ring must carry on. Not a burden, not a challenge, but an opportunity.

Although I have many favorite quotes from Saint Mother Theodore…posted on my desk, the side of my refrigerator, on my makeup table…there is a quote from another famous woman I have often reflected on and found strength from.  Eleanor Roosevelt who wrote in the midst of the horror of World War II:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You must do things you think you cannot do.

Wow. Wasn’t that just what Saint Mother Theodore and her band of Sisters did on their journey to the wilderness of Indiana, a whole century earlier?

And what a legacy we are charged with carrying on, with the strength and the courage and the confidence instilled in us by our mutual Woods experience. Campus, online, undergraduate, graduate, you are all touched by this special place that resonates with love and acceptance of who you were when you arrived and who you will be when you leave.

In the reading today from Saint Mother Theodore’s Third Journal of Travel, she challenges us to see that charity consists in loving sincerely persons whose inclinations are most opposed to ours, in pardoning those who injure us…. She wrote: “Charity does not consist in loving one or two persons and being indifferent to all the rest.”

Charity does not have to be grand and expansive. Charity can be as simple as making the effort every day to be nice to someone…it may be opening a door for an old woman laden with packages, or letting another driver break into a line of traffic or taking the time to really listen to a friend or co-worker who needs someone to just hear them.

Saint Mother Theodore said it best, “What do we have to do to be saints? Nothing extraordinary, nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it in the love of God.”

Life provides us with so many opportunities to live up to Saint Mother Theodore’s credo, if only we take advantage of those circumstances. And your ring, our ring, is a tangible reminder of our individual responsibility to live every day the values that are rooted so deep in the soil of these beloved Woods, no matter where you may roam. For one day, God willing, you will graduate and leave Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, but Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College will never leave you.

Timothy Foster, in his 2019 ring day reflection, said, “The ring, despite all our differences, connects every Woodsie together to the place we call home.” And I am quoting because I couldn’t have said it better.

When you put your ring on your finger today, its weight will surprise you. You get accustomed to it very quickly, and soon — if you are not wearing your ring — you will miss that reassuring comfort. Your ring is a tangible reminder of your connections and your roots to this place and to each other. Just as we all experienced that first Avenue moment (and I still do every time I come to campus), wearing a Woods ring brings with it a reminder of good times, hard times, respect, and love. Each of you has faced your own challenges in reaching this achievement, each of you in your special way, has earned the privilege of receiving a Woods ring. You may have thought at some point, “I cannot do this, I cannot read one more book, or do one more equation or write one more research paper,” but you did. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s words…. “You must do things you think you cannot do.”

Whatever may happen in your lives now that you have achieved this milestone and have earned the privilege of receiving your Woods ring, never lose your sense of curiosity and your commitment to make your corner of the world a better place. If you do that, you will continue to sow the seed Mother Theodore first planted here in 1840, and your roots will remain firmly planted at The Woods; you will continue her legacy which becomes our legacy, and your branches will grow and strengthen.

And may our Provident God guide and protect you on your journey. Congratulations.

Barbara Brugnaux - Board of Trustee Member
Barbara Brugnaux ’70

Barbara Brugnaux ’70 became the first woman to serve as a judge in Vigo County, Indiana, when she was appointed to the bench by the Indiana Supreme Court in February 1994. With her election to a full term in November 1996, she became the first woman to be elected judge in the county. After 15 years as a full-time judge, she is now enjoying the life of a senior judge, which she often compares to being a substitute teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Woods in 1970 and went on to earn her master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University. She earned her degree in law from Indiana University – Bloomington. Judge Brugnaux is a graduate of the Indiana Judicial College and the Indianan Graduate Program for Judges. Before assuming the bench, she had a private law practice and served as a deputy prosecutor. Additionally, Brugnaux is the 2024 recipient of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Distinguished Alumni Award.


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