William Schmitt
Freelance Writer
May 25, 2018 // Schools

Saint Mary’s College celebrates graduates and grace

William Schmitt
Freelance Writer

Degree recipients at the commencement ceremony of Saint Mary’s College were reminded that their graduation on the eve of the feast of Pentecost should prompt them to ask themselves, “How does the Holy Spirit empower you?”

Dr. Carolyn Woo, former CEO of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, urged the graduates to tap into “the grace and the power of God,” who accompanies them on life’s journey. They should pass along “the immense amount of kindness and generosity out there,” building relationships in this admittedly “broken” world.

“Believe it or not, we really are the answers to other people’s prayers,” Woo said, as the commencement speaker for the women’s college founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who sponsor the school.

Sister Margaret O’Neill addressed Saint Mary’s College students during commencement exercises May 19. — William Schmitt

President Janice Cervelli conferred bachelor’s degrees in arts, fine arts, science, nursing, business and social work. At the May 19 event held in the Angela Athletic and Wellness Center, the college also bestowed Master of Science degrees and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from its coeducational graduate programs. About 380 degrees were awarded in all, the college said.

Honorary doctor of humanities degrees went to Woo and to Sister Margaret “Peggy” O’Neill, SC, a theologian acclaimed as a peace activist who has worked extensively in El Salvador.

As a member of the Sisters of Charity who began assisting refugees amid war in that country in 1986, Sister O’Neill expressed gratitude that Saint Mary’s College graduates would be among those carrying on the work of peacemaking.

Some may learn through experience the value of eliminating violence and spreading love, she said. “You’re young women, and you do know that, and that makes me smile.”

The college also presented the Lumen Christi Award — its highest honor for a member of the senior class — to a biology major from Hawaii, Princess Mae Dela Rosa Visconde. She was saluted for humble commitment that reflected “the light of Christ” to the campus community through service in liturgies, the residence halls and endeavors of inclusiveness, as well as compassion in the medical field.

Five members of the Class of 2018 — Darya Bondarenko, Makenzie Duncan, Melissa Henry, Kristie LeBeau and Kathleen Price — spoke as valedictorians to the standing- room-only assembly at the 171st annual commencement. They spoke of the strong ties among the student body, whose nickname is the “Belles.”

The college’s baccalaureate liturgy took place on May 18, with Msgr. Kenneth Velo as celebrant. Msgr. Velo, based at Old Saint Patrick’s Church in Chicago, is a co-chairman and longtime leader of the Big Shoulders Fund, which raises funds to support Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools.

Woo, who resides in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, recommended in her commencement speech that the new graduates write “thank-you notes” to people who had contributed to their life journeys so far.

She also noted that many of the graduates would be seeking recommendation letters for their careers as their journeys proceed. In lives dedicated to serving others, she reminded them, “the most important letter of recommendation is the letter that comes from the poor.”

The speaker asked, “What would the poor say about you? It may not be for a job application, but for life.”

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