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Franciscan University Sends Forth Second-Largest Graduating Class

Only 2007 eclipsed the class of 2009

Posted: Tuesday, May 12

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio-Stephen Lenahan leaves Franciscan University for a job as a youth minister in Woodlands, Texas. Jessica Kosloski begins her studies toward a PhD in experimental psychology at the University of Kentucky.

Timothy Shea, now a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program, packs his bags for Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Michelle Klobe leaves for Spain to enter the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. And before starting medical school, Hope Kummant will volunteer for a year at a shelter for pregnant and homeless women in New Jersey.

Such are snapshots of some of the 457 graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville's 61st commencement who graduated during ceremonies held May 8 and 9.

The spring Class of 2009 was the second largest in Franciscan University's history, eclipsed slightly by the Class of 2007. Its members represent a half-dozen countries and 46 states with Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, New York, Virginia, and Michigan leading the way.

Commencement weekend began with the Baccalaureate Mass, Friday, May 8, celebrated by Steubenville Bishop R. Daniel Conlon. Father Michael J. Higgins, TOR, minister general of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, received an honorary doctorate in sacred theology in recognition of his leadership of the worldwide TOR order, whose 900-plus members serve in 17 countries.


From left: Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, chancellor; Dr. Paul Kengor and Michael Novak, honorary degree recipients; Fr. Christian Oravec, TOR, chairman, Board of Trustees; Fr. Terence Henry, TOR, president; Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, minister general, TOR Franciscans; Dr. Erhard Hanslik, honorary degree recipient; Dr. Max Bonilla, vice president for Academic Affairs.
Commencement Audio-Visual

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Dr. Paul Kengor
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Michael Novak
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Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR
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During his homily Father Higgins put the graduates in the good company of St. Francis.

"Francis was unsure, even afraid," about what would happen next to him after shunning his father's wealth and moving into an abandoned church, Father Higgins said. "Many of you feel that way today. What's going to happen in the world, the economy, in my life?

"I would like to invite you as you are now finishing your time at Steubenville to accept these words as Christ's words to you, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled.' Did you hear that? Do you believe it?"

Father Higgins instructed the graduates to remain grounded in their Catholic faith. "Pay attention to the key element that you hopefully learned at Franciscan University: Jesus, is the way, Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is the life. If you hold on to your special relationship with God, then you can go forth from here with faith and with untroubled hearts."

The Saturday, May 9 commencement ceremonies began at 9:00 a.m. in Christ the King Chapel with the conferral of master's diplomas in business, counseling, education, educational administration, nursing, philosophy, and theology.

Dr. Paul Kengor, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, received an honorary doctorate in humanities for bringing faith and reason to the forefront of today's top political and moral issues.

Kengor has written several popular books on the religious beliefs of public figures. His acceptance speech drew heavily on his research for his book, God and Ronald Reagan, and on the writings of Pope John Paul II.

Both men, Kengor said, believed they were spared from an assassin's bullet within months of each other by a gracious God for the same reason: to defeat atheistic Soviet Communism.

Communism had claimed over 100 million lives worldwide by this time, said Kengor. Both men could have given in to despair, yet they held fast to their beliefs that "faith and a love of freedom" would ultimately endure.

"In your time, today, that's not the battle you face. For you it's other 'isms' such as secular humanism, moral relativism, and the 'Dictatorship of Relativism' that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about. Those isms are the foundation for another shared foe of both Reagan and John Paul II: the culture of death."

During his talk Kengor described himself as a nominal Catholic-turned Protestant-turned-Catholic again in 2005 when he completed RCIA classes and returned to the faith of his youth. As he reacquainted himself with the Catholic Church's teachings, he said he fell in love with the writings of Pope John Paul II.

Fittingly, he gave the graduates a final homework assignment: Read three of John Paul II's encyclicals: Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth"), Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), and Fides Et Ratio ("Faith and Reason").

Armed with the "profound truths" contained in these encyclicals, and the "treasure trove of truths received from attending a true Catholic college, Franciscan University of Steubenville," Kengor told the graduates, "do your part to halt the Dictatorship of Relativism, and rise to the challenge of a cause larger than yourself. "Through Faith and Reason, understand the Splendor of Truth, and spread and defend the Gospel of Life."

The largest event of the weekend, the undergraduate commencement ceremony, packed Finnegan Fieldhouse for two hours of processions, exhortations, and the handing out of diplomas by University president, Father Terence Henry, TOR, as each graduate crossed the stage.

Two honorary degrees were awarded. Dr. Erhard Hanslik, an Austrian attorney, received a doctorate in jurisprudence for years of pro bono work on behalf of the Kartause Maria Thronus Jesu Foundation, which enables hundreds of Franciscan students to study and live each year in a former Carthusian monastery in Gaming, Austria.

The other honorary degree went to Michael Novak, the acclaimed theologian, writer, and former U.S. ambassador whose 26 books and countless essays on faith, culture, politics, and philosophy have influenced millions of people over four decades.

His speech, "Knowing the Unknowable God: How Most People Know the Presence of God," drew upon Novak's conversations with a close Jewish friend and the writings of a pope, an atheist, an apostle, a Soviet dissident, and others to explain how we come to know God through our limited human experiences.

Responding to the current spate of books by atheists that attempt to debunk God's existence, Novak said, "God is not, and cannot, be reached by our poor human equipment. He is on an altogether different frequency. "God is simply too great for our minds or senses to penetrate through to him."

Novak said that until the last 200 years of human history, the existence of God was not widely questioned. "It took work to become an atheist, and it was not easy, as Jean-Paul Sartre explained in his autobiography, Words, to remain consistent about it. He often found himself on a particularly beautiful day thanking God. He said it took a lot of vigilance every minute to be an atheist all the way through.

"In fact, one of the hardest things about being an atheist, by their own testimony, is not having anyone to thank for the marvels they run into every day."

Novak shared three signs of the presence of God: beauty, goodness, and the communion of souls.

Beauty, he said, can be found in a Mozart sonata and "the incredible fragility and beauty of the ear of a newborn son or daughter, held in the palm of one's hand for the first time."

Goodness occurs when "daughters and sisters stay with elderly parents and nurse them through awful cancers and other torments of age," and the uncountable times when "suffering is borne nobly" or acts of self-sacrifice are performed.

"The inner life of every human being is linked to the falls of other human beings. In our heroism and in our falls, there is a secret communion of souls" that connects people across generations and centuries.

"In both good and bad alike, the community of souls exists down the ages. So that the Psalms of King David sing through our hearts as though springing unbidden from eternal depths, for us, as for him. "Beauty, goodness, communion: All these things praise God." Commencement events were attended by over 2,200 family and friends, members of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Advisors, and by Father Christian Oravec, TOR, minister provincial of the Sacred Heart Province of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular and chairman of the Board of Trustees, who gave the official welcome at the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

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