Your Excellency Bishop Senior, Honored Guests, and my fellow Graduates, today, June 5th 2013, marks a long awaited and much anticipated milestone in our lives. This morning we will formally finish our high school education; moreover, we will be graduates of Bishop McDevitt Catholic High School. How has this Catholic education benefited us? As described in our mission statement, we have become missionaries of the living Gospel. Furthermore, as understood in our belief statement, teachers, parents, and students share in the responsibility of education. We are thankful for the sacrifices that our families and our teachers have made to guide us to this moment. Catholic Education has encouraged us to share and to express our faith. It demands that we cultivate and live the virtue of respect in our communities. Most importantly, Catholic Education promotes the pursuit of knowledge while molding us into a family.
The Philadelphia Catholic School system has endured challenges in recent years. Our sophomore year, many new faces joined our community as a result of the unfortunate, yet necessary, closures of both Cardinal Dougherty and North Catholic high schools. Initially, school pride heightened tensions that seemed to fuel a battlefront. However, we all quickly learned that we were connected by a common thread: our Catholic Education. Though we come from different backgrounds, neighborhoods, and schools, we are united in our belief in the value of a Catholic Education. On January 6, 2012 the Blue Ribbon commission announced the closings of several Archdiocesan high schools. Fortunately, the doors of Bishop McDevitt remained open and welcoming. The responses to the announcement of these closings, however, showcased the deep pride and sense of oneness that links all those who do experience or have experienced the Catholic education system. From where does this strong emotion come? It emanates from a profound network that connects all our hearts.
If I were to describe Catholic Education in one word, it would be family. Over these last four years of traveling the halls of Bishop McDevitt, I have acquired a broader sense of family. As eighteenth century German poet and philosopher, Johann Schiller, once said, “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” Throughout our time in this Catholic community, we have embodied this quote. A family supports one another in times of need; it is the rock against which we lean when we are too weak to stand on our own. We comforted our fellow students and faculty members when they had to cope with the loss of a parent, sibling, or child. A family not only shares in the sorrows and disappointments, but equally in the joys and satisfactions such as academic or athletic achievements. A family also rejoices in the addition of new members through marriage and birth. We filled the gym with our energetic cheers for our fellow classmates in the school’s first basketball playoff run in quite a few years. From our efforts on the playing field, performances on stage, our contributions to unique academic clubs, our awareness of global concerns, and dedication to humanitarian service, we have shown how diverse yet unified a family can really be. Although we are not all related by blood, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
The family is an ever-present symbol throughout the Church. God is our loving Father and Mary is our compassionate Mother. We invoked her help every morning when we prayed ‘Maria impende juvamen. Mary, lend us your assistance.’ Just a few months ago, we witnessed history as Benedict XVI became the first pope in almost six hundred years to resign the papacy. History continued to be made with the election of our first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis. As our new Holy Father, Pope Francis has already proved that he is the right man for the job. He has openly demonstrated his affection for all of God’s children. He intends to introduce a vision of life in which the marginalized, the poor, the weak, and the disabled can take their rightful place in the church family.
As Pope John Paul II once said, “Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom.” Our Catholic Education has instilled in us the means to find and to follow a moral path for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Catholic can be defined not only in its religiosity but also in its universality. Our Catholic education has given us universal qualities and truths that will make us free and truly fulfilled in life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes freedom as “a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God.” By doing what is right and just we become freer. The choice not to follow the truths and universal qualities takes away our freedom.
Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican archbishop, once stated, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” We are all gifts from God. Our purpose is to be of service to one another. Now we are advancing into the world, leaving our families and familiar lives behind us. This change is both terrifying and wonderful. We desire to achieve our dreams while hoping to meaningfully fulfill our vocations. Throughout this journey of self-discovery we can always return home to our families. Though we may struggle, we should remember that we have been shaped by the school we call home, by the classmates we call family, and by the Catholic Education we call a heritage.