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Today I want to write a short note to a visitor who will arrive soon. Unlike the ciphers I teach in Number Theory, this is written in “plain text.”

Dear Pope Francis:

You will soon be landing in my home country, the United States, so I wanted to take a moment to personally welcome you. I understand that you have never visited our country before, and I hope that your time in this country will be filled with many blessings.

I know that your visit will include a visit to Philadelphia, and my one suggestion to you as you visit that city is to make sure you get to try a delicious sandwich known as a “Hoagie.” In addition, while you are on the East Coast of our country, do try to sample some of the delicious sea food there.

Philadelphia is city that played a large role in the foundation of this country. As you know, our country is based on ideas of democracy and freedom, in which people choose their leaders and the direction of our government. Unfortunately, some of those people who said “all men are created equal” actually enslaved others. Indeed, it took a civil war in this country to eliminate the practice of slavery, and, while the horrible practice no longer exists, the echo of that evil structure has not been completely erased. We are a country that tries to lay claim to the ideals that are enshrined in the words “…they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Those are words that our country still strives to make come alive, as best we can. Alas, sometimes that goal can still be difficult to attain one hundred and fifty years after the institution of slavery was abolished.

You will also be visiting Washington, D.C., a city that houses the seat of power of our government, along with several Catholic universities, including the oldest Catholic college in this country, run by your order, the Jesuits. I spent my undergraduate years there, learning from Jesuits and breathing in their special charisms. I am no longer with the Jesuits, although I am still part of Catholic Higher Education.

I believe that Catholic Higher Education in the United States plays an important role in our democracy. While the first colleges in this country were not Catholic, many of the (younger) schools that are still retain their religious affiliation long after some of our better known colleges shed their religious roots.  While other countries retain faith based schools of higher education, I believe that the Catholic colleges in our country play a unique and vital role in our democracy. Their presence assures that a portion of the electorate will enter a voting booth having heard, by being exposed (possibly through multiple traditions) to such ideas as “blessed are the poor.” If a student is lucky, they will have encountered faculty and administrators who not only speak such words, but also live them. I hope that my own daughter someday chooses such an environment in which to pursue her college education.

No longer with the Jesuits, today I teach at a small college just outside of Cleveland, Ohio run by the Ursuline Sisters. You may have heard of one of our alumna, Sister Dorothy Kazel, who was one of four American churchwomen martyred in 1980. She followed her heart to serve the poor in El Salvador, and that choice led to her death. While most of our graduates are not murdered, many exhibit great sacrifices as they dedicate their lives to service. They sit with dying patients, teach in inner city schools and help people recover after experiencing trauma. They are an amazing group of people, and I am privileged to spend my days with them.

We are very excited to have you visit us, as I am sure you will realize as you greet the large crowds that are sure to form as you travel. May you enjoy your time here, and return to Rome with a newfound appreciation for this imperfect but still very wonderful country known as “The United States of America.”

                                  --“Math Geek Mom”


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