Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
This year’s college commencements appeared to have several strong Catholic commencement speakers, as reported earlier in the Register. However, the same report noted there were several colleges that still ignore the bishops’ directives and invite speakers who hold public views in opposition to Church teaching.
Since the original report, several more colleges and universities have come to light on both sides of the proverbial fence.
The May 16-17 weekend figures prominently for a number of the ceremonies.
Georgetown University, whose ceremonies have been scheduled from May 14 to 17, continues its questionable track record by inviting two conspicuous advocates for legal abortion to receive honors. One is United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, at the School of Foreign Service, who has spoken out for universal abortion and contraception.
The other troubling speaker at Georgetown is U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who has a 100% rating with NARAL and voted against banning partial-birth abortions.
St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., welcomes former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who is known for having changed his views in areas such as abortion.
On the other hand, in Merrimack, N.H., Thomas More College of Liberal Arts brings Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. A dynamic leader, Msgr. Shea has propelled his university in a short time to be among stand-out faithful Catholic institutions.
As William Fahey, president of Thomas More College, said: “Many people expect the defense and reform of Catholic education to occur at a large university or at least from one nestled in a great metropolis, but the ‘Spirit breatheth where he will,’ as St. John says. I think the Holy Spirit has been blowing mightily on the prairie and bluffs of North Dakota and providing an example for us all.”
Also in the Northeast, Providence College in Rhode Island, on May 17, will welcome as commencement speaker Darlene Love, the 1960s backup singer. Later on, she recorded a gospel music album. Providence will also give an honorary degree to the Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez credited with coining the term “liberation theology” — a “theology” with Marxist interpretation of the gospels discredited by St. John Paul II et al, the Latin American bishops president, and by Pope Francis who always disagreed with it.
Also on May 17, in Rutland, Vt., the College of St. Joseph hosts Paula McGee, a non-Catholic preacher, former star athlete and motivational speaker who heads Paula McGee Ministries.
At the same time, Anna Maria College in Worcester, Mass., has chosen Father John Madden, pastor of the local St. John parish, where he also leads St. John’s Food for the Poor and its afterschool programs to help downtown Worcester’s at-risk populations. The soup kitchen alone serves 250 people each day.
“In addition to Anna Maria College’s long tradition of collaboration with him through his work with St. John’s, his community leadership and unique perspective will provide for insightful remarks for our graduates and their families,” said Mary Lou Retelle, interim president, on the college website.
Fordham University brings in another person who has a reputation for serving the poor and orphans: Nana Lordina, the first lady of Ghana.
Elsewhere, many CEOs have been commencement speakers. For example, Aquinas College in Michigan invited Candace Matthews, the Americas for Amway regional president, and St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., hosted Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services.
But Aquinas College in Tennessee hosted Joseph Pearce, Aquinas' Director of the Center for Faith & Culture and Writer-in-Residence.
St. Bonaventure University in New York hosted alumnus Tim Brown, president and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America who, Franciscan Father Dan Riley of the school said, “articulates well the most human and personal aspects of being a Franciscan.”
There were educators, too. While the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey brings in the state’s secretary of higher education, Rochelle Hendrinks, DeSales University has invited David Kubacki, president of the Nativity Preparatory School in Wilmington, Del., a Catholic middle school that serves low-income boys of all faiths.
Meanwhile, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., will have former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, as commencement speaker. Among his pro-abortion support, he was a sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act.
Loyola University New Orleans gave an honorary degree to former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on May 9. Also, the chair of Georgetown University’s board of directors, he made a $1-million gift to Georgetown’s “LGBTQ” Resource Center.
Hilbert College in Hamburg, N.Y., is taking the same route, with New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul as commencement speaker. She is endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice New York.
On the other hand, Immaculata University in Immaculata, Pa., hosts Catholic journalist and author Colleen Carroll Campbell as commencement speaker on May 17. She has worked with EWTN, most recently as the first host of EWTN News Nightly.
And it is heartening to see Churchmen are still popular.
Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo traveled to Austin to speak at St. Edward’s University last week. This coming weekend, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston will receive an honorary degree from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and Trenton, N.J.’s Bishop David O’Connell heads to Queens, N.Y., to give the commencement address at St. John’s University. Last year, Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., hosted Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb. This year, the college hosts, at its May 16 commencement ceremonies, Bishop Paul Etienne of the Cheyenne Diocese.