Highs and Lows of Catholic Commencements in 2024

You can tell a lot about someone by the friends they keep. And you can tell a lot about a college by whom it chooses to honor by delivering a commencement speech or receiving an honorary degree.

The distinctly faithful Catholic colleges recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society in The Newman Guide have chosen outstanding speakers for this year’s commencement ceremonies. Many are witnesses to the Catholic faith and the sort of people graduates should emulate. Here are some examples (more will be added as they become available):

  • Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.) – Fr. Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest and speaker who is known for The Bible in a Year and The Catechism in a Year podcasts.
  • Benedictine College (Atchison, Kan.) – Harrison Butker, a professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs and three-time Super Bowl Champion, who is outspoken about his Catholic faith and pro-life values.
  • The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) – Jonathan Roumie, an actor who portrays Jesus Christ in The Chosen TV series and who publicly shares his Catholic faith.
  • Christendom College (Front Royal, Va.) – Professor Tracey Rowland, the St. John Paul II Chair of Theology for the University of Notre Dame Australia, who served for many years as the dean of the St. John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, is the author of many books, including one on the theology and faith of Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Franciscan University of Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio) – Hon. Samuel A. Alito, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice, author of the deciding opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, and a practicing Catholic.
  • Holy Apostles College and Seminary (Cromwell, Conn.) – Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M., a Catholic priest who is a graduate of Holy Apostles, and has spread the Gospel and defended the truths of the faith through TV, radio and print, including serving as Host of EWTN’s Global Catholic Radio’s Open Line Tuesday.
  • The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, N.H.) – Carl Anderson, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, has been a champion for the pro-life movement, including working for the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy and urging that Roe v. Wade wasn’t “settled law.”
  • Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, Calif., and Northfield, Mass.) – Dr. Carter Snead of the University of Notre Dame’s law school who is a Catholic bioethicist, and His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, a staunch defender of the Catholic faith who has also been a tireless advocate for the renewal of Catholic education.
  • University of St. Thomas (Houston, Tex.) – Fr. David Michael Moses, a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, who shares about his faith on YouTube with truth and joy, and has performed a series of “Concerts for Life” to raise money for women in crisis pregnancies in Houston.
  • Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyo.) – Most Rev. Robert M. Pipta, Bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma of the Ruthenians and former rector of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh.

On the other hand, some Catholic colleges continue to reveal their confusion and weak commitment to the authentic mission of Catholic education by choosing commencement speakers who oppose Catholic moral teaching or otherwise model bad behaviors and advocacy. These Catholic colleges persist in violating the U.S. bishops’ policy forbidding Catholic organizations from giving “those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles… awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Here are a few examples in 2024:

  • Emmanuel College (Boston, Mass.) has announced that Jack Connors Jr., founding partner of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc., will address graduates and receive an honorary degree. His lead gift helped establish the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., initially directed by Dr. Paula Johnson, former chair of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Since 2005, the Center has provided training in abortion and contraception through its Complex Family Planning Fellowship in partnership with Planned Parenthood; its director since the Fellowship’s launch has been Dr. Alisa Goldberg, then director of clinical research and now vice president of clinical training for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Far from a disinterested donor, Connors in 2007 hailed the Center as his favorite charity, “closest to the family’s heart.” Connors also hosted lavish fundraisers for former President Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion president in history.
  • Fordham University (New York, N.Y.) will honor former Congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy III as commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient. Kennedy has been a cosponsor of pro-abortion and pro-contraception bills, including the “Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020” which would “authorize the use of certain foreign assistance funds to provide comprehensive reproductive health care services in developing countries, including abortion services, training, and equipment.”
  • Rosemont College (Rosemont, Penn.) has invited State Rep. Joanna McClinton to deliver the college’s commencement address and receive an honorary degree. McClinton went viral in 2022 with a pro-abortion speech.
  • Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, Conn.) has chosen activist Sister Simone Campbell of the Sisters of Social Service as one of its commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. In a 2016 interview, on the topic of abortion, Campbell is quoted as saying, “From my perspective, I don’t think it’s a good policy to outlaw abortion. I think, rather, let’s focus on economic development for women and economic opportunity.” While she was president of the NETWORK lobby, the group was included in a Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
  • Spring Hill College (Mobile, Ala.) will host the president of another Jesuit college, Fordham University, as commencement speaker. President Tania Tetlow is a dissident Catholic who has expressed her support of same-sex marriage and says she was “raised in a different worldview” than those who hold “gender as binary.”
  • University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Ind.) has given the commencement address duty to its outgoing president, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., who defied the U.S. bishops’ policies and honored pro-abortion President Barack Obama at commencement in 2009, despite the protest from 83 American bishops and the 367,000 people who signed The Cardinal Newman Society’s petition. Jenkins defied his bishop other times, in permitting student performances of the vile Vagina Monologues, honoring pro-abortion then-Vice President Joe Biden, allowing a campus Queer Film Festival, and approving coverage for contraceptives in the university’s health insurance plans.
  • Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.) will each present a “Lavender Graduation” for students who identify as LGBT+. These events confuse students and celebrate lifestyles and ideologies that run contrary to Church teaching on human sexuality and gender.

For Catholic families looking for a good Catholic college, take note of the college’s commencement speaker. It speaks volumes about a Catholic college’s identity—and might just be the deciding word on your college choice. Be sure to see the faithful colleges at The Newman Guide.

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article confused Joseph Patrick Kennedy III with Patrick Joseph Kennedy II, both with similar records on abortion. We also incorrectly identified Sister Simone Campbell as a former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; she has been an outspoken defender and informal leader within the group. We regret these errors.

Copyright © 2024 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.