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More than 400 seniors walked across the stage May 14, at the Commencement ceremony at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Those at the undergraduate ceremony heard a keynote address from Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
Bishop Barron received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Benedictine along with Patrick Reilly, founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, also received an honorary degree during the ceremony.
In introducing Bishop Barron, Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis noted that “I was feeling pretty good about my 2,300 Twitter followers until I started checking into Bishop Barron’s stats.” He noted the bishop’s homilies are heard by tens of thousands of listeners each week his YouTube videos have been downloaded 90 million times, his daily email reflections reach 500,000 people and episodes of his podcast, The Word on Fire Show, have been downloaded over 10 million times.
“I’m well aware I’m on Benedictine ground today,” Bishop Barron told the graduates as he began. “A place filled with the mind and spirit of St. Benedict. I want to share with my fellow graduates some simple rules of life that I think flow from the heart of that great saint.”
He reflected on Benedictine values such as stability, work, and excellence in virtue.
“My fellow graduates,” he said. “Find something that you love, and then do it, day in and day out, when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it. It will benefit others, it will make you happier, and it will give glory to God. Not a bad combination.”
He closed with a call to prayer and helped pass out Bibles to all the graduates. Bill Drexel, had purchased leatherbound copies of the first volume of the Word on Fire Bible, the Gospels, for the Class of 2022.
“My sincere hope is that your years here, in the shadow of the Abbey Church, have effectively opened up the door of prayer and that this door never shuts your whole life long,” he said. “Fellow graduates, you should pray when you’re happy, you should pray when you’re depressed, you should pray when you achieve your greatest success, you should pray when an ambition goes unrealized, you should pray when everyone loves you, you should pray when you become unpopular. There is never a wrong time to pray. The cultivation of your relationship with the Lord must be the top priority of your life. Trust me when I tell you it will sustain you through the vicissitudes of life, through the mountains and valleys that I assure you will come, but on this day you can barely sense.”
Minnis told Barron: “When you addressed us in 2017, Bishop Barron, you said, ‘We’re all missionary disciples … We’ve got to get in the front lines. I mean all of us.’ I’m proud to tell you, Bishop Barron, that we have prepared these young people to join you in the front lines, to take our mission of community, faith, and scholarship to all walks of life, to Transform Culture in America.”
In introducing Reilly, Minnis asked for a show of hands from the graduates. “How many of you here referred to the Newman Guide when you were looking at colleges?” he asked. Dozens of hands shot up.
“Patrick believes in Benedictine College and even served as a member of Benedictine College’s Committee on Academia in its Transforming Culture in America meetings,” Minnis continued. “Those meetings resulted in our new strategic vision. His committee helped produce the strategic plan’s language which calls on the college: ‘To form students in scholarship, the college will strengthen its commitment to the Catholic intellectual tradition.’”
Patrick Reilly said he wanted to receive his honorary doctorate on behalf of the staff members of the Cardinal Newman Society. Reilly founded the Catholic higher education initiative in 1993 in Washington, D.C. Before that, Reilly served as editor and research fellow at Capital Research Center, executive director of Citizens for Educational Freedom, higher education analyst at the U.S. House of Representatives, program analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and chairman of American Collegians for Life. His work has appeared in many publications and on EWTN, FOX News, MSNBC, and numerous radio programs.
The Newman Society publishes the Newman Guide for Choosing a Catholic College which has brought many students to Benedictine College over the years.
In remarks after receiving the award, Reilly said, “I’d like to express on behalf of Catholic families across the United States just deep gratitude for Benedictine College and for all those Catholic educators who are out there trying to renew strong faithful Catholic education.”
He said he appreciated Benedictine College even in “just these past two days, with the experience with Bishop Barron.” He was impressed with “what the students are hearing and learning and embodying,” in particular the day’s valedictorians, who each stressed the importance of their Catholic faith.
“This is an incredible education,” said Reilly, “and I encourage everyone of you in the class of 2022 to go out there and if you want to evangelize for the Church, if you want to strengthen the Church, the best way you can do that is convince another student to come here, or to come another faithful Catholic institution and to receive the formation and the education that you’ve received.”
“Invite one, invite five, invite 10, invite seven times 70,” he said. “We need everyone to have this Catholic formation, every Catholic deserves this type of Catholic formation.”