Niagara Catholic celebrated the Class of 2017 May 18, with the annual Graduation Celebration.
This year’s event took place at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, and brought together approximately 1,900 students from our eight Catholic high schools for a prayer service and keynote address by “street theologian” Dr. Terry Nelson-Johnson, the founder of Soul Play, and the Resident Theologian and Faith Animator at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago.
This annual event is typically seen as the unofficial end to 14 years of Catholic education for our graduating students, and is one of the signature events in the Niagara Catholic annual calendar.
During his welcome to students, Father Paul MacNeil, Chair of the Board, quoted French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilharde de Chardin, urging students to harness the Church’s power of love.
“Someday, after mastering the winds and the waves and the tides of gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire,” he said, before urging students to light the world on fire as they begin their next journey.
Director of Education John Crocco spoke to the students about the strong connection they will always have with Niagara Catholic.
“Graduates, once you cross the stage next month, you will be referred to as an alumnus of your Catholic secondary school and our Board,” said Mr. Crocco. “With that comes the pride of being part of the alumni of your school, and the responsibilities which come with it to be an active witness of our faith; to promote the excellence of your Catholic educational experience and the invitation to stay connected with your roots and those individuals who guided your formation as a person.”
Mr. Crocco spoke about the five Niagara Catholic alumni honoured earlier this month at our Distinguished Alumni Award luncheon, and told students that each one of them has the potential to become a distinguished alumni.
“You can feel the power of the Holy Spirit in all your accomplishments – in your energy and the untold journeys that lie ahead for you as citizens and leaders in our communities,” he said. “You are graduates from the finest Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Ontario, nurtured by exemplary Catholic educators, as you become the active citizens of our society and leave your fingerprint on the history of our world.
He challenged the Class of 2017 to make the world a better place for their having been in it, and prayed that they will become strong witnesses of our Faith and of Catholic education, committed, faithful and the individuals God called upon them to be who will make an impact on the world as a Catholic graduate in all they say and do.
During his address to students, Bishop Bergie focused heavily on the importance of having faith. He compared the times we live in today with the time during the First World War when Mary appeared to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal. He shared the story behind the name of the village, and its connection to the Muslim faith, and urged students to be instruments of peace.
“I think that it’s not just a coincidence,” said Bishop Bergie. “I think what this is teaching us that that in the various struggles and battles we’re experiencing today, a lot of has to do with intolerance, and a misunderstanding of faith and distorting the beauty and truth of particular faiths, and I believed that our Blessed Mother can also have a role to help us to reach out to all faiths – and especially to those of the Muslim faith – and to bring peace by building bridges, not walls.”
He spoke to students about the importance of having a faith that is uncomplicated, as Jesus called for us to do.
“Jesus says we have to be childlike in our faith – not childish, child-like: To believe that things can happen. To put our trust in God. To put our trust in others. To believe that things can be better. To believe that God wants us to be the best we can be, and God demands of us that we do not recklessly throw away this beautiful world that we have been given.”
Faith, he continued, “is to be an instrument to promote tolerance and understanding, to be a bridge-builder, and I believe that at Niagara Catholic, that is what you have experienced, and I hope that from this experience, you will bring it to the world. It is so very, very important, and I hope as a graduate of Niagara Catholic that you will have the courage and the wisdom and the strength to stand for faith, because it brings peace where it is lived as it should be lived.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Terry Nelson-Johnson, carried forward the theme of faith, and how often we are asked to stretch our faith.
Through an interactive presentation involving one student from each of our eight Catholic high schools, Dr. Nelson-Johnson had students lean over to pick up a paper bag with their teeth, without any part of their body other than their feet touching the floor. As each round completed, he cut a strip off the bag, forcing students to be creative in the ways that they stretched their bodies to complete the task. Some succeeded, others didn’t. In the end, three students managed to pick up the nearly flat piece of paper with their teeth – a testament to their youth and flexibility! – before Dr. Nelson-Johnson explained that the the task was very much like the way in which we have to stretch our faith from time to time. It’s not always easy, he noted, but the point is, that our faith will stretch and grow as we need it to. If you’d like to see the full 12-minute video, click here.
The day concluded with the presentation of the Niagara Catholic Student Senate Awards. This year’s recipients, chosen randomly from a group of applicants identified only by their Ontario Education Number, were Brianna Sirotnik from Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, and Emma Mete from Notre College School.