By Brendan Maher
“Saint Vincent was part of my very first neighborhood,” wrote Fred Rogers in 1996. “I was always aware of its presence; nevertheless, the bonds of friendship are what made it real to me.”
For many generations of young people in America, Mister Rogers was a warm and welcomed presence beamed into their living rooms each week to educate, to entertain, and to love them. Rogers is a figure who will be cemented in history for his message of kindness. At the outset of his show, he asked everyone to be his neighbor, and to be neighbors with one another.
Latrobe was the place that Rogers first called home, and Saint Vincent College was the location he decided to have the Fred Rogers Center built.
“[Rogers] had a wonderful capacity for friendship,” said Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, who was a close friend and colleague of Rogers. The two met in 1967 and worked together on many different projects.
Archabbot Nowicki stated that when it came to Rogers, what people saw on television was also what they got in person.
“He was always a very gentle, very kind person,” Nowicki said.
One rainy Friday, according to Nowicki, he was in lower Manhattan with Rogers when school had just let out. Rogers and Nowicki boarded a subway car and soon after, a group of school children noticed Rogers. The group of children began singing Rogers’ iconic song “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
“[The school children] followed him all the way up to 59th street,” said Nowicki.
This event is depicted in the upcoming Sony Pictures movie which bears the same name as the song sung by the children. The movie, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, is set for release on Friday, Nov. 22.
Viewers of Rogers found his message very profound. According to Dr. Eric Mohr, assistant professor of philosophy, who with his wife, recently edited a book titled Mr. Rogers and Philosophy, Rogers teaching is compelling “because it is the basis of any healthy community [and] that's something we fundamentally all seek.”
The first episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood aired in 1968, and the final episode in 2001. Some may wonder if the ideas taught in the show are still applicable in 2019 with the rise of social media and a fierce political climate.
“Perhaps Roger’s message is especially applicable because of these new social realities” said Mohr.
Mohr stated that what strikes him most about Roger’s manner is his mindfulness and conscious deliberation of his own behavior.
“Bringing this kind of deliberateness and respect into our social situations, even in social media and political hostility, will benefit those situations greatly,” said Mohr.
Not everyone approves of Rogers teachings; some claim his teachings lead to the development of an entire generation of entitled young people.
“The fact that I still hear this narrative today saddens me, because it means his message to a certain extent is misunderstood,” said Mohr.
Mohr explained that Rogers was trying to get children to notice something important about themselves, to look inward and recognize the value them have in themselves.
“Love doesn’t ruin, it raises up,” said Mohr.
Archabbot Nowicki stated that Fred Rogers “could have had his Fred Rogers Center built at any college, any university, but he chose Saint Vincent.”
The Archabbot stated that without the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent, which houses the complete archives of Roger’s work, the movie releasing Friday, as well as the recent documentary Won’t You be my Neighbor? would not have been possible to make.