Benedictine College Commencement 2012

Pope’s Biographer Urges Graduating Class to Stand for Religious Freedom

  • Monday, May 14, 2012

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President Minnis gives the honorary degree to George WeigelBenedictine College in Atchison, Kan., held its 41st  Annual Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 12, 2012, in the Ralph Nolan


Gymnasium on the Atchison campus. This year, 351 candidates were honored with either graduate or undergraduate degrees, including the first nurses to graduate from the new Nursing Program and the first engineers to come through the new Engineering Department.  George Weigel, noted author and biographer of Blessed John Paul II, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and delivered the Commencement Address.  Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, also received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony. 


“Be the culture-forming heirs of St. Benedict that your education here has prepared you to be,” said Weigel in his address. “Be the champions of religious freedom in full. In doing that, you will give America a new birth of freedom — freedom tethered to truth and ordered to goodness, freedom that sets us free in the noblest sense of human liberation.”


Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, currently holds that organization’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.  He won world-wide acclaim in 1999 with the publication of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. The book was a major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II and was published in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, and Slovenian editions were published in 2000. A Russian edition was published in 2001, a German edition in 2002, and a Romanian edition in 2007.  Currently, Chinese and Ukrainian editions are in preparation. A documentary film based on the book was released in the fall of 2001 and has won numerous prizes.  The follow-up to that book, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II--The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Doubleday, 2010), was published in September and covers the last 6 years of the Pope’s life, along with other facts from his earlier life that have been revealed in formerly top-secret communist files.


Weigel has written essays, op-ed columns, and reviews for the major opinion journals and newspapers in the United States. A frequent guest on television and radio, he is also Vatican analyst for NBC News. His weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to sixty newspapers around the United States. His scholarly work and his journalism are regularly translated into the major European languages.


Archbishop Naumann, who had been the homilist and principal celebrant at the Baccalaureate Mass the day before, won the crowd with a brief and endearing speech.  Recalling the days of the Cold War and President John F. Kennedy’s famous remark in Berlin, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner), the Archbishop said he was proud to hold a degree from Benedictine College along with the other graduates in the gym.


“Today, I believe, Benedictine College is really on the forefront of the new evangelization and so, I don’t think there is any greater honor… than to say, I am a Raven,” he said to a cheering crowd. 


Two young women carried 4.0 GPAs through their four years at Benedictine and were named Valedictorians of the 2012 Class.  Katie Gorman, a Spanish and History major from Leawood, Kan., will head to the UMKC School of Law in the fall.  Laura Sivula, one of Benedictine’s first nurses, will be a camp nurse at a girls’ camp near her home town of Hugo, Minn.  Both gave inspiring speeches, with Gorman remembering everything that had happened over the four years and Sivula urging the class onward to act with love and serve humanity.


Two graduating seniors at Benedictine College were surprised with the announcement during commencement exercises of the Professor Fran Jabara Leadership Awards.  Emalie Hoar, of Broken Arrow, Okla., and Andrew Marsh, of Olathe, Kan., were this year’s recipients of the annual award that goes to select graduating seniors at four-year, private colleges in Kansas.  The recipients are always a closely-guarded secret, being announced during commencement for the first time.  Dr. F. D. Jabara, former dean of the Wichita State University College of Business Administration and founder of the Jabara Family Foundation, established the award in 2002 as a means of recognizing graduating seniors who display exemplary leadership skills.  The award indicates the high level of ability the recipients have displayed as well as the respect with which their peers and teachers view them.


At the end of the Commencement Exercises, Col. James Tenant, of the Special Operations Cell of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth and a 1987 graduate of Benedictine College, administered the Officer’s Oath to ROTC cadet Jacob Petersen.


The previous day, Benedictine College added two new ceremonies to Commencement Weekend.  With the graduation of the first class of nurses and engineers, each of those professions has its own ceremony welcoming the new graduates into its ranks.  The Nursing program held its Pinning Ceremony during which the new nurses receive a pin from the school and had their hands blessed by Archbishop Naumann.  Later that day, the new engineers were welcomed into the Order of the Engineer with a special ceremony at which the graduates received pinky rings.  The two ceremonies joined the Senior Champagne Brunch, the gathering of graduates around the Benedictine "B" on campus, the March of Light at Mary's Grotto, and Baccalaureate Mass.


Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been consistently named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report.  It has also been named a Leader in Educational Excellence by Colleges of Distinction as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.  Benedictine prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.