Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
May 26, 2023 // Diocese

Feast of Ascension Mass Brings Strong Messages to University of Notre Dame Graduates 

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Thousands gathered for the University of Notre Dame Commencement vigil Mass for The Ascension of the Lord at Purcell Pavilion in the Joyce Center on Saturday, May 20. Nearly 25,000 graduates, students, families, faculty, and visitors had the opportunity to celebrate with the presiding celebrant and homilist Reverend John I. Jenkins, CSC, President of the University. There were 2,141 degrees conferred on undergraduate students, with a total of 3,200 degrees being conferred throughout the course of Commencement Weekend activities. 

During his homily, Father Jenkins talked about how today was the Feast of the Ascension, and how that moment is about departure. Jesus was the center of the lives of the disciples. They left everything to follow Him. He changed their lives and experienced the dark days of the crucifixion and the wonder of the resurrection. Jesus leaves His disciples, and they wonder what is next for them. 

Lisa Kochanowski
Bishop Rhoades offers a blessing to the assembly and some brief remarks at the end of the University of Notre Dame Commencement vigil Mass for The Ascension of the Lord at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center on Saturday, May 20.

“At that moment of departure and uncertainty, they find a new mission. They are told to go forth to preach, to baptize, to spread the word of Jesus and that mission will shape their lives. It is a fitting feast day for this commencement weekend,” said Father Jenkins. “You graduates are also between a leave-taking and a new mission. You will be leaving people who have become so important to you, your friends, your classmates, your teachers, your rectors, and others, but you are going on to exciting new things in the next stage of your life.” 

Father Jenkins noted that a former student once told him his time at the University of Notre Dame was the most impactful in his life. His time on campus impacted his path and what he did with his future. 

“Of course, many of the experiences you are going to take from Notre Dame are exciting, joyful, and reassuring, but no doubt there were struggles, disappointments, lonely times, and difficult days and that, too, you will take here from your time at Notre Dame. For you, the class of 2023, you had the experience of going to college during a global pandemic. For you undergraduates who came in the fall of 2019, you left for the spring semester, and little did you know it would be such a long spring break. And we did not gather until the next fall and you had to endure the restrictions, the anxiety, the isolation of COVID. That was hard on everyone. It was hard on you. But you made it through. You made it through together. The struggles and hardships are also part of what you take from your time at Notre Dame and I hope you find in them a lesson, a moment of growth, a motivation to take a new direction,” said Father Jenkins. 

He also noted that in an age of social media and a desire to post the good times, best photos, and cheerful moments, we miss out on the learning moments that come from struggle. He advised the crowd to take in all the moments, good and bad, and find God in all moments of life. Editing out the difficult times makes us miss out on the gifts that can come from those moments. 

Each year at the Commencement Mass, an American flag is blessed and will fly over the campus reminding everyone of the principles it stands for — life, liberty, and justice for all. The flag will fly over the campus reminding the people of this land to enjoy the bounty of God’s goodness, inspire the government and people to always do God’s will, and shine as a beacon to live in harmony, justice, and peace with all. 

The Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades was in attendance at the celebration and had the opportunity to share the Eucharist with graduates. At the end of the service, he offered a blessing to the assembly and some brief remarks. 

“It’s great to be with you and your parents and families at this beautiful liturgy giving thanks to God for the many blessings you received. Bishops are not known for brevity when given a microphone but I’m probably the only thing standing between you and your dinner this evening so I will try not to go long,” said Bishop Rhoades. “I invite you to think back to the first time you came to Notre Dame or to your first days as a student here. I remember my first visit here was in November of 2006. I was bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and here for a Notre Dame — Penn State football game. I remember the excitement of the game and that Notre Dame won, but I honestly don’t remember anything else about the game. I do remember celebrating Mass in a packed Basilica after the game. What I remember most vividly about the weekend was when I arrived late Friday night and went to the Grotto to pray to the Holy Rosary at midnight. I was really surprised to see dozens of students and visitors lighting candles and saying prayers and I thought, ‘This is a really special place.’ And when departing on Sunday, I thanked Father Jenkins for his wonderful hospitality, and I said this is a really a beautiful university. And he said Bishop Rhoades, you are always welcome to come back. Little did I know that four years later I would return not as a visitor but as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend or as I sometimes say Bishop of Notre Dame.” 

Bishop Rhoades continued, “Graduates, I share this memory with you to invite you to think about your experiences of God’s grace and love during your years here at Our Lady’s University and to treasure these memories. What are the experiences you hold most dear? I imagine the friendships you have formed are at the top of the list. There are probably particular classes that have impacted your intellectual journey and professors who have been great mentors for you, and moments of prayer in which your friendship with Christ and your devotion to our Blessed Mother have been nurtured. As you think about your time here, I imagine as Father John said in the homily, some challenges come to mind like the COVID pandemic. Hopefully, your perseverance through these challenges has helped you to grow in faith and resilience. Graduates, I hope that for all of you, your time at Notre Dame has enabled you to become better, deeper, more thoughtful, more devout, and healthier human beings intellectually, humanly, relationally, and spiritually. That’s what Catholic education is all about. It is not merely obtaining information or getting skilled at some technique or climbing onto the fast track for success. It is about formation for an authentic and holy life.” 

“Graduates, I pray that you go forth from here with Our Lady, our mother, as your pillar of faith, allowing her to lead you to say yes as she did to the will of God in your life’s journey. May Mary, most holy, our lord’s first and greatest disciple, help you to embrace the challenge of Christian discipleship. Through your generous gift of self, you can make a great contribution to the kingdom of God and the mission of the church,” said Bishop Rhoades. “Having met many of you, I don’t expect that you will settle for mediocrity or shallow or superficial lives. I encourage you to continue to dive deeply into the life of God and his Church and to live your lives as a spiritual adventure, as a journey of faith, hope, and love. Living in God’s grace like Mary, who was full of grace, you will find true freedom, inner peace, and genuine joy. Staying close to Notre Dame, your Mother, may you walk the path of holiness, bear witness to her son, and spread the fragrance of His love in a world that desperately needs it. Congratulations, graduates!”

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