Franciscan University Holds Commencement Ceremony

The main stage was in deep centerfield. Franciscan University of Steubenville graduates walked across fresh cut grass to chairs spaced six-feet apart, swatting the occasional insect buzzing around in the humid, 87-degree summer evening.

Dozens of family members and friends looked on from the hillsides outside the fence; most watched the livestream broadcast at home or in nearby hotels.

Franciscan University Holds Commencement CeremonyBut all that mattered little to the 278 members of the Class of 2020 who returned to Franciscan University of Steubenville August 14 for the 72nd Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremonies, which had been postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For proper social distancing, the ceremonies were held at Franciscan’s Vaccaro Baseball Field, with attendance limited to the graduates and a few field marshals and dignitaries.

For business management major Joseph Hughes of Wisconsin, the events were “much-needed solace” for not being able to properly say goodbye to friends when Franciscan University shut down during spring break due to the pandemic.

“The greatest gift Franciscan gave me is my faith,” said Grace Maurizi of Virginia. “How could I not come back for this celebration?”

Events began with the Most Reverend Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, receiving an honorary doctor of catechetics and evangelization degree for using social media and “every technological tool available” to proclaim the Good News as the popularly titled “bishop of social media,” according to the citation read by Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of Franciscan University.

“It does my heart so much good to see all of you gathered here at this great Catholic university, where the Spirit of the Lord is so palpably alive,” Bishop Barron said to his fellow alumni.

In his homily, drawn from Scripture readings for the Vigil Mass of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he extoled Mary as the true Ark of the Covenant, citing depictions of Mary in this role in sacred art and Sacred Scripture. He concluded with an exhortation to the Class of 2020.

“Everything that I’ve heard, and from the many graduates I know, this is a place where magnanimous people are formed and shaped and educated—’great souled’ people. Can I urge you today, under the aegis of Mary assuming into heaven the Ark of the Covenant, to go forth from this ceremony with the great souls that have been formed here and under her banner, and to do the great work of the Church, which is so desperately needed in the world?”

The commencement ceremonies followed with a welcome from the Very Reverend Joseph Lehman, TOR, chairman of Franciscan University’s Board of Trustees. He called the outdoor setting “a field of dreams” and congratulated the graduates for completing their degrees “during these unprecedented circumstances.”

Sherry Weddell, co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, received an honorary doctor of catechetics and evangelization degree for her worldwide ministry that helps Catholics to follow Christ.

She urged the Class of 2020 to discern their charisms.

“These are the supernatural gifts all the baptized have been given. . . . They are what St. Thomas Aquinas called the gratuitous graces, the way you and I are supernaturally empowered by God to be instruments of his love, his beauty, his mercy, his healing, and his provision for others.”

In a moving, autobiographical account, Weddell told how she discovered the Catholic faith a year after her college graduation when she was unemployed and down to her last 25 cents. That’s when she visited a Catholic church and came upon a quote by St. John Henry Newman that spoke of God’s personal love, with Newman’s words of comfort: “I can never be thrown away.”

“No matter what, in Jesus Christ, you and I cannot be thrown away. Not a pandemic can do it, not an economic recession. Not scandal in the Church. Nothing can ultimately thwart God’s purpose in your life if you stay with him.”

Father Pivonka’s exhortation to the first graduating class of his presidency was a simple one: “Love well.”

He said those the graduates should “love well” include their family members, colleagues at work, a spouse or children (“even when they do stupid things”).

“Brothers and sisters, love until it costs everything. . . . You have been educated in a Franciscan institution and so you are invited to go out and transform and change the world from the inside—you will do that by the way you love.”

Over four hours after it started, the ceremony ended with a bang—a surprise fireworks show that lit up the night sky above the Franciscan University campus and over the Ohio River, drawing applause repeatedly from excited graduates and their families.

You can Watch the full video here.