With commencement approaching in a few days, I have been thinking over the past academic year and the opportunities it afforded to re-connect with two former students and alumni–Michael W. Banach ‘84, and Mark K. Shriver ‘86.
After his graduation, Michael Banach went on to study for ordination in Rome. I attended his first Mass here in Worcester, followed by a wonderful gathering afterwards. I was aware that he undertook further studies in Rome and was active in the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. But I had not seen him for many years until this month. Word came that he was being raised to the rank of archbishop–the only one of my former students to achieve that rank! We exchanged greetings on that occasion, and then, several weeks ago, Fr. Lapomarda and I attended his Mass of Thanksgiving at his home parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa here in Worcester. Michael preached beautifully in English and in Polish. The occasion was enhanced by the presence of Archbishop Vigano, the papal nuncio in Washington. Father Lapomarda and I met him by chance on our way into the church.
Michael returned to campus yesterday to celebrate our community Mass. He stayed for dinner and a very pleasant post-prandial conversation. Once again, the preaching was eloquent and inspiring–a testimony and tribute to divine grace. Archbishop Banach’s coat of arms includes the angel’s wings of his patron, plus a gold star representing Mary as the morning star. At the top of the crest is the seal of the Society of Jesus, “recalling not only the Archbishop’s Jesuit education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, but also his Ignatian spirituality.”
Mark Shriver visited campus last fall in connection with the publication of his excellent tribute to his father, A GOOD MAN. I got to know Mark and his classmate, Dick Burke, well when we traveled to the Soviet Union in 1985. After his graduation, I lost contact with Mark, following his career periodically from a distance. I reconnected with Mark in 2010 when he delivered the commencement address, and again early in 2011 when Fr. McFarland and I attended his father’s funeral. During this most recent campus visit, Mark was present at dinner with about fifteen students. Many of them were first-year students in my Heroes course; they had just read the book and were eager for the chance to get to connect with the author in person. Mark gave a fine talk that was based on the book but also touched upon some of his experiences while a student here on the hill.
This spring, I saw Mark on two more occasions. I sat next to him at the dinner of the Worcester Economic Club, and listened appreciatively to a briefer version of the talk. He spoke again last week in Boston, an annual lecture sponsored by the New England Jesuit Province. Given the audience, he stressed more the religious aspects of his father’s life–a profile of a sincere and deeply committed man of faith.
I’ve often said that the saddest day of the year for me is Commencement Day, a day when another group of wonderful young women and men–young persons who have engaged my energy and affection for four years–leave campus as students for the last time. But the other side of that coin in human experience is when our graduates return to campus with life stories that vindicate our enterprise of intellectual challenge, human values, respect for religious faith. Michael, Mark, and countless other graduates are a source of consolation to this old soul. And, of course, if they didn’t depart from us on commencement day, they couldn’t return afterwards with the stories they tell and the inspiration they bring.