Commencement ’15 Scorecard
Roundup of college graduation hits and misses
With college graduation ceremonies just around the corner, this year’s list of speakers again presents a mixed bag, from faithful voices for the Church to those whose views do not reflect Catholic teaching.
Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors the choices of commencement speakers, is not surprised.
“We’ve raised the alarm about commencement honors for so many years, I suppose it’s no surprise that many Catholic colleges now wait to announce their speakers and honorees until the last days before graduation,” Reilly told the Register. “It’s too soon to know whether things have improved, but we’ll keep monitoring it.” According to the Cardinal Newman Society, as of press time, at least eight Catholic colleges chose scandalous speakers or honorees for their commencement ceremonies.
But on the positive side, other colleges chose faithful speakers: Sister Regina Marie Gorman, vicar general of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, will speak at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.; the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg will be honored at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; and Alice von Hildebrand will speak at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.
In contrast to these, the Cardinal Newman Society said that the speakers identified as worrisome include individuals who publicly support abortion, contraception and same-sex “marriage.”
“Catholic colleges disregard their Catholic identity when they choose to honor men and women who have opposed the Church on pivotal issues,” Reilly added.
When Xavier University of Louisiana chose Mary Landrieu, Eric Holder and Earvin “Magic” Johnson as commencement speakers, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans wrote to the university: “I am saddened to inform you that some of those to be honored do not represent the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. I was not consulted on the proposed candidates and remain disappointed in this decision by the university administration.”
Former U.S. Sen. Landrieu is endorsed by the pro-abortion Emily’s List and earned a 100% NARAL rating in 2013 and a 90% rating in 2014. Holder defended the controversial Health and Human Services’ mandate forcing insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients irrespective of religious objection.
On the West Coast, St. Mary’s College of California picked Chris Matthews, an MSNBC host. He supports abortion and has made a public, offensive comment about Catholics and their beliefs.
In Chicopee, Mass., the College of Our Lady of the Elms (Elms College) will welcome U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Lewis has a pro-abortion voting record, with a 100% rating with NARAL. He supports embryonic stem-cell research, is against restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions and is against banning partial-birth abortion, among other concerning issues.
This particular choice surprised Reilly.
“I don’t think that Elms College has been on the list since 2003, when it honored feminist theologian Diana Hayes,” he noted.
“Of course,” he added, “at many of these colleges, the problems don’t start on commencement day. It’s just a sign of the lack of fidelity in the classroom, student activities, dorm life and other areas.”
Making the Right Choice
At The Catholic University of America’s 126th commencement ceremony in Washington, on May 16, Mary Higgins Clark will deliver the address. The author of 42 books, most international bestsellers, Higgins Clark — who is known as “The Queen of Suspense” — is strongly devoted to the Catholic faith.
Boston College has chosen recently installed Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich to give the commencement address at its 139th annual ceremony.
At Le Moyne College, in Syracuse, N.Y., Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, will give the commencement address.
In Indiana, the University of Notre Dame will have Oxford chancellor Christopher Patten (Lord Patten of Barnes). He was originally scheduled to be the 2014 commencement speaker, but health concerns forced him to withdraw at the last minute.
In Atchison, Kan., Benedictine College will have Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals and a strong evangelical Christian, deliver the commencement address. In January, the college dedicated its new baseball sports complex as the “field of prayers.”
Over in California, Thomas Aquinas College’s choice is in keeping with this year’s pontifical theme of a Year for Consecrated Life.
“For more than 40 years, Sister Regina Marie has lived faithfully the life of a religious, all the while serving her community and women religious throughout the United States in various leadership roles,” noted the college’s president, Michael McLean. “I am confident that her remarks will be a source of inspiration for our graduating seniors, for their families, and for us all.”
Franciscan University’s offerings will include Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori and Lou Holtz, former ESPN analyst and NCAA football coach, in addition to Catholic royalty.
Archbishop Lori will celebrate the baccalaureate Mass and receive an honorary doctorate in sacred theology for his commitment to religious liberty.
Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg will receive honorary doctorates for their work building a culture of life. Henri will also deliver the graduate commencement address.
Holtz is set to deliver the undergraduate commencement address. The university noted he is a “sports authority unashamed of his Catholic faith” and has been “a longtime and ardent supporter of Franciscan University’s Christ-centered, virtue-driven approach to intercollegiate athletics.”
In Virginia, Christendom College is pleased to honor Alice von Hildebrand, wife of famed philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand and a professor and renowned lecturer and author, with the Catherine of Siena Award and have her as the commencement speaker.
“Dr. von Hildebrand has been a great defender of our Catholic faith and all that is true, good, and beautiful,” observed the college’s president, Timothy O’Donnell, in a statement. “Her life has been filled with a powerful witness to the truth of faith and natural reason, and she has dedicated her life to Christ and his Church.”
In Emmitsburg, Md., James Nicholson, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, who was knighted by Pope John Paul II for his work representing the U.S. to the Vatican, will speak at Mount St. Mary’s University.
In Texas, the University of Dallas will have one of its own deliver the commencement address. Author and conservative leader L. Brent Bozell III, who also received the university’s 1998 Distinguished Alumni Award, will give the undergraduate commencement address.
“We’re pleased to welcome Mr. Bozell back to campus to share with us the insights gained from decades of experience as a pioneer in media and politics,” said Thomas Keefe, University of Dallas president, in a statement.
Other notable speakers include law professor Helen Alvaré at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception commencement ceremonies in Washington; former champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, now focusing on public service and a Special Olympics International board member, at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.; and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, at Ave Maria University in Florida.
“Honoring a particular person says a lot about a college, so it’s encouraging that most Catholic colleges appear to be making good choices,” the Cardinal Newman Society’s Reilly said. “Some stand out for honoring true champions of the faith — and not surprisingly, those are typically colleges that work hard to serve their Catholic mission.”
- May 3-16, 2015