Graduates Walk By Faith

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Graduates Walk By Faith

Franciscan University of Steubenville celebrated its 73rd commencement exercises May 14-15 by bestowing 756 diplomas, making the Class of 2021 the largest in the school’s history.

Summer 2021 | Tom Sofio

In This Article

Franciscan University of Steubenville celebrated its 73rd commencement exercises May 14-15 by bestowing 756 diplomas, making the Class of 2021 the largest in the school’s history.

Contributing to the record count were the first graduates in the Master of Theological Science, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and Master of Catholic Leadership programs. Other factors include the steady growth of online programs and students who postponed graduation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Underlying the traditional weekend commencement activities was a deep sense of gratitude. After all, this was a graduating class that was sent home during spring break 2020 to study online, sent home again in fall 2020 two weeks before finals, and persevered through COVID tests, masks, isolation, quarantines, masks, adaptive classroom environments, and more masks.

Franciscan University President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, thanked the graduates for pushing through the challenges brought on by the pandemic and making it to graduation day, which he called “the best day of my life,” to rousing cheers.

“All year we said we walk by faith and not by sight and found that to be true. We were living the Word and immersed in the Word, and that’s what helped me persevere in troubling times,” said Andrew Townsend ’21, a BA philosophy graduate.

“Franciscan helped me to learn to trust God, to lean on him when things got tough with COVID,” said Maggie Peter ’21, communication arts.

To comply with Ohio COVID-19 restrictions still in effect in mid-May, all graduation events were held outdoors at Vaccaro Baseball Field, with a stage set up in deep centerfield and hundreds of chairs spread across the outfield and infield for faculty, graduates, family, and friends.


“I want to give a shout out to all my professors and the friars. They worked tirelessly to help us get through the pandemic.”

– Jaymee Libetti ’21, Education


Baccalaureate Mass

Events began with the May 14 Baccalaureate Mass; Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, CSsR, of Erbil, Iraq, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters for his dedication to preaching the Gospel and nourishing the faith amid the heightened persecution, terrorism, and unrest in Iraq in recent decades.

“Archbishop Warda has been a voice for the thousands of Christian families who have seen their homes, villages, and churches destroyed and sought refuge in Erbil,” said Father Pivonka, reading from the citation before presenting the archbishop with his diploma. “He’s helped care for their most basic needs … He’s paved the way to a brighter future through promoting education and founding schools, including the Catholic University in Erbil,” which includes cultural exchanges and the development of programs with Franciscan University.

Deflecting attention from himself, Archbishop Warda focused his homily on telling the Class of 2021 to live Christ-centered lives.

“You will now enter a world in which you will be faced with difficult decisions of your own just like those faced by Peter and the first Apostles. How will you make these decisions and how will you become a leader? First, keep Christ close at all times. Ask yourself if what you are doing is right in the sight of God.”

He offered as role models for the graduates the young people of Iraq, “not much older than yourselves,” who turned to their faith in the face of the 2014 Iraqi genocide at the hands of ISIS.

“Should they flee to safety? Shall they remain in their country and bear witness? At the time of greatest trial, they placed their faith fully in Christ and surrounded themselves with others who were committed in the same way. In placing their trust in Christ and remaining in community with their brothers and sisters in Christ, they found their path and have now become leaders.”

“Love like Jesus loved,” he exhorted. “Leave behind that which makes us selfish, the world of me, mine, and myself, and all of our possessive needs. … Instead, serve the poor, the needy, the lonely, the ones in desperate need.”


Commencement Exercises

Franciscan University’s commencement exercises on May 15 started with the science commencement at 9:00 a.m., which was followed by the arts commencement at 1:00 p.m.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia received an honorary doctorate of public administration for his distinguished service to our country and delivered the commencement address at both ceremonies.

Sounding a note of welcome optimism for the graduates seated before him, he pointed out there are more than 8 million job openings in the United States—the most ever recorded. But challenges lie ahead, too, he said.

“Our nation is more secular than a generation or two ago—church attendance is lower, and the percentage of Americans who see themselves as religious is lower. Popular culture is increasingly at odds with traditional religious teachings on morals and behavior.”

As a counterweight to those trends and applying new meaning to the word “privileged,” he said, “You’re privileged to have grown up in an environment with an appreciation for faith—that’s no doubt part of what brought you to Steubenville. You’re privileged to be embraced by the Catholic Church, the institution we believe to have been founded by Christ for the salvation of souls.”

Scalia quoted from a commencement address given by his father, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“He observed that it’s the fate of Christians to hold ideas that at times cause them to be seen as unsophisticated—foolish. But, my father would say, quoting St. Paul, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’ … and that being the case, we must have ‘the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.’ In the world we live today, you will need the courage at times to look the fool and to ‘suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world,’ like millennia of Christians before. Don’t shrink from that.”

He concluded by recommending St. Francis of Assisi as a role model, a saint whose life “stands for love for all living creatures; it stands for peace; it stands for the deepest faith and closest relationships with God, including a great devotion to the Eucharist.”

Near the end of each commencement, Father Dave presented three takeaways based on the school theme for this academic year, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:5,7).

#1. Don’t quit walking. “The only way, brothers and sisters, that you will fail and lose in this race is if you quit walking. Always turn to the Lord who will lead you and guide you in the next step.”

#2. The crowd rarely knows where they’re going. “Scripture reminds us that the road you’re going to walk on is narrow, and it’s difficult. But it’s also the one that leads to life—life forever.”

#3. Walk with Christ. “Ultimately he will introduce you to his Father, and as I stated the first day I was first chosen president, my job as president is not done until you hear him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into joy today.’”

Following tradition, the senior ranking faculty member, Professor Joseph Zoric, economics, held the ceremonial mace and led all three processions. With Zoric now retired from full-time teaching after 50 years of service (see page 32), next year the mace will pass to long-time theology professor Dr. Alan Schreck.

Commencement ceremonies also included an invocation by Father Jonathan St. André, TOR, vice president of Franciscan Life; a welcome by Father Joseph Lehman, TOR, chairman of the Board of Trustees; and a benediction by Father Luke Robertson, TOR, local minister of Holy Spirit Friary.

The home states of the Class of 2021 reflected Franciscan University’s reputation as a national university. The top five states of origin were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and New York. Florida, Illinois, and Virginia were tied for 6th place, followed by Michigan and New Jersey.



Senior Departmental Awards

Professor Edward J. Kelly Award in Accounting – Sebastian Koehler

Professor Jack R. Boyde Award in Anthropology – Anna Marie Fluharty

Dr. Paul S. Stokely Award in Biology – Holly Justine Radke

Professor Raymond Petrilla Award in Environmental Science – Bernadette Rose Burton

Msgr. Eugene Kevane Award in Catechetics – Mary Grace Tillman

St. Albert the Great Award in Chemistry – Jacob Gregory Schmiesing

Sr. M. Regina Pacis Award in Classics – Dalton James Davis

St. Gabriel Award in Communication Arts – Edyta Anna Wolk

Dr. James Salter Award in Computer Science – Patrick Hamilton Erdmann

Computer Information Science Award – Gerard James O’Rourke

Fr. Gerald Odonis Award for Excellence in Economics – Jonathan Valladares-Cormier

Mary Lorenc Korzi Award in Education – Donald Ian Ross

St. Joseph Award in Engineering – Jonathan Seth Henry

Gerard Manley Hopkins Award in English – Naomi Katherine Nicol Ringhand

Fr. Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli Award in Finance – John Michael Williams III, Michael Manion

St. François de Sales Award in French – Erin Whitney Baxley

Sankt Elisabeth von Ungarn/Thüringer Award in German – Todd Richard Steger

Dr. John J. Carrigg Award in History – Antonia Sophia Mysyk

Christopher Dawson Award in Humanities and Catholic Culture – Joshua Allen Feibelman

Ethical Global Leadership Award in International Business – Mary Ann Gianna Cortese

Fr. Regis Stafford Award in Management – Daniel Marshall Harris

Cardinal John Patrick Foley Award in Marketing – Meredith Blair Munro

Dr. Mary Salter Award in Mathematics – Regina Nicole Mannino

St. Catherine of Siena Award in Nursing – Hope Victoria Mercugliano

The Lucy Marie Quinn Excellence Award in Pediatric Nursing – Rachel Margaret Huber

Fr. Sean M. Sullivan Award in Philosophy – Jacob Gregory Schmiesing

Orestes Augustus Brownson Award in Political Science – Mary Suzanne Kettinger, Justine Smykowski

Human Development and Family Studies Award – Jennifer Anne Schendel

Professor John R. Korzi Award in Clinical Psychology – Laura Elizabeth Salzmann

Gemelli Award in Experimental Psychology – Emma Joan Vansuch

Instruments of Peace Award in Social Work – Natalia Andreu Gutierrez

San Junípero Serra Award in Spanish – Ella Victoria Ward

St. Bonaventure Award in Theology – Clement John Harrold

Fr. Daniel Sinisi, TOR, Award in Theology – Jessica Margaret Littler


Senior Awards

St. Anthony of Padua Alpha Phi Delta Award for the Highest QPA in the Senior Class – Clement John Harrold

Fr. Dan Egan Award for Outstanding Senior in a Bachelor of Science Program – Hope Victoria Mercugliano

John M. Welsh Award for Outstanding Senior in a Bachelor of Arts Program – Joshua Allen Feibelman


Click Here to watch videos of the commencement program, Senior Awards Ceremony, and more.


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