Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez

See the full text of Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez’s address from the May 17 Villanova University Commencement ceremony where he served as the commencement speaker. See photos from the event here.


“Good afternoon, Wildcats! Let’s hear it for Class of 2024!

I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of your celebration today and deeply honored and moved by the degree [bestowed upon me] by Villanova University.

I do thank Father Peter Donahue and the Board of Trustees for this recognition, but it’s not mine alone.

I share it with the entire Catholic Church in Philadelphia as a testament to the amazing works done each day by tens of thousands of people who care for those most in need, who educate our young [people], and who work for the good of people as — what Pope Francis calls — Missionary Disciples.

If it were not for the amazing people working — laboring — in our Philadelphia and around the world the Church’s mission, there wouldn’t be much need or work for an Archbishop. So, this honorary degree belongs to everyone.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to share a few short words with you. I do know that I’m currently standing between you and the moment you’ve all been waiting for so I’ll try to to keep things brief.

Hope and inspiration are more than just beautiful words and sentiments. They are real, tangible qualities that drive us to create a better world.

We live in complex and challenging times. Our world desperately needs right action — good actions — inspired by a profound sense of hope to achieve a better word, a better lie for us, and all those God has placed around us.

The human race is starving for hope and inspiration. Where can it be found? It’s not necessarily in this speech or any commencement speech, actually. Because words alone can become empty. It’s found in our actions and choices and the actions and choices of others around us — those that are born from the gift of hope and inspiration that rise deep from within our hearts.

Fortunately, we really don’t need to look far because I can’t think of a better source of hope and inspiration than the Class of 2024 sitting here before us.

Graduates, you are resilient. Let those words sink deep into your hearts. You are resilient. In fact, one of the most resilient  generations of young people I’ve ever seen.

For starters, just as you were preparing to celebrate the end of your high school years, the global COVID-19 pandemic put a stranglehold on our world and turned everything we took for granted as a normal way of life upside down.

You responded with grace, patience, and ingenuity as you adapted to new ways of living and learning so that we could one day emerge from that health crisis and begin to sort out the new normal together.

Unfortunately, that meant the graduations and celebrations you had planned four years ago had to be sacrificed for the greater good. I know that was hard for you and your families.

So, today is doubly significant. I know you’ll make up for the celebrations lost in the past.

You’ve also confronted sharp political divides, the rollercoaster of an inflationary economy, and societal tensions at home and abroad the likes of which have not been experienced in decades.

Any one of these challenges alone would have been daunting. You, graduates, have faced all of them already in your young lives.

You have responded with strength and resilience, not only as individuals, but as a collective. From what I have seen, the nature of your collective response has been inspiring and it gives me hope.

That’s awesome! That’s inspiring! That’s an authentically Augustinian charism at work in your lives!

You are the embodiment of Villanova’s motto, “Veritas, Unitas, Caritas” because you are building a world of truth, unity, and love one day at a time.

Do you know where that burning desire to lift up others comes from? Do you know the source of that voice inside you urging you on?

It’s not you alone. It’s never any one of us alone. It’s the power of the Holy Spirt working in you, through you, and at times even despite you. That’s where that fire comes from and seeing it burn in your hearts makes all of us proud of you!

Know that the voice and power of the Spirit of God will never leave you. Always, be open to it. It is the same voice that inspired Saint Augustine of Hippo centuries ago with the words, “Tolle lege! Tolle lege!” as he took up the Sacred Scriptures to learn of God’s love.

During your time here, you have been the recipients of the rich Augustinian tradition in education. Soon you will become alumni and embrace the responsibility of stewardship for that tradition for the rest of your lives.

Practice truth, unity, and love in all things. It won’t always be easy, but life has already taught you that and I have faith that you will succeed.

You’re here today on the verge of receiving those well-deserved diplomas and honors because of a lot of hard work on your part, but’s it not you alone.

Over the years, you’ve been educated, formed, and supported by teachers, coaches, parents, family members, friends, priests, and religious. You’re here today because of them too. Without them, you simply wouldn’t be. They’ve worked hard and sacrificed to bring you to this point so please stand and help me give them a round of applause.

Just as Spirit of God will never leave you, the example and wisdom of those we just acknowledged will remain with you always. The gifts they have shared with you are an indelible part of who you have become.

When the celebrations come to an end and you embark on the next chapter of life, it’s understandable that you may have angst or frustration with the state of the world around you. That’s understandable and anyone who had been in your shoes has been there.

My generation did the best it could with the circumstances and the world we inherited. It wasn’t perfect then and it’s not perfect now. The only perfect world will be found in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pope Francis calls you not the future but actually the now of God — to work for a better world with the same passion that brought you here today. In the words of Pope Francis in a letter he wrote to young people like yourselves around the world, Dear young people, please, do not be bystanders in life. Get involved! Jesus was not a bystander. He got involved. Don’t stand aloof, but immerse yourselves in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”

Another one of his beautiful messages of love to the world he calls you and i to take initiative, to be engaged to accompany, to be fruitful, and to be joyful.

I would like to leave you this afternoon with a quote from Sacred Scripture from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians [Philippians 4:4-13]. And this is what he said,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. 
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.h Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas of Villanova, pray for us! Congratulations and make us proud!”


Watch a replay of the Villanova Commencement ceremony here