SANTA PAULA, Calif.-On Saturday, May 16, 2009, 69 young men and women received the degree of bachelor of arts in liberal arts at Thomas Aquinas College's annual commencement ceremonies. Also during that event, the college's Governors took the unusual step of awarding the school's highest honor, the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion, to two recipients-to the commencement speaker, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, metropolitan archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, as well as to Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, the school's recently deceased president.
The Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion was established in 1975 as a means of specially recognizing those Catholics who have demonstrated by their lives and work an extraordinary dedication to God and His Holy Catholic Church, unfailing adherence to the Magisterium, and influential leadership in advancing the teachings of the Church. The award is customarily given at commencement each year to the presiding prelate.
The day began at 9:00 a.m. with a baccalaureate Mass of the Holy Spirit in the newly dedicated chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, where Cardinal Ouellet delivered the homily. Addressing the faculty and students assembled, he said, "You are one body in one spirit. Unity of faith and commitment to the truth are distinguishing marks of this young but very promising educational institution. May the spirit of the living heart of Jesus overflow into your heart though sincere faith. May your whole life be a river of living water flowing from your union with the heart of Jesus and the immaculate heart of Mary, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity."
Commencement itself began shortly after 11:00 a.m. on the academic quadrangle, across from the new chapel. Class speaker, Simon Noster of Alberta, Canada, commented on the appreciation he and his classmates had developed of the importance of service to a well-ordered community life such as the one they had experienced during the past four years. Referring to "the loss of our beloved president, Dr. Thomas Dillon," he noted that "it would be impossible to speak about servants of the community without remembering this great man."
Newly elected chairman of the board of governors, Mr. R. James Wensley, then took the podium. He recalled the tragic car accident in Ireland one month earlier that claimed the life of Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, who had been a member of the teaching faculty for the past 38 years, and president of the college the past 18 years. Noting Dr. Dillon's steadfast fidelity to the magisterium of the Church and his tireless self-sacrifice in advancing Thomas Aquinas College, Mr. Wensley awarded him posthumously the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion. Before asking Dr. Dillon's wife, Terri, to come forward to receive the medallion, Mr. Wensley explained, "There is only one person who knows all the countless sacrifices that Dr. Dillon made for Thomas Aquinas College in the years that he served it. She knows them because she made them with him. And so it seems to me most fitting that Tom's wife, Terri, receive this medallion now on behalf of her beloved husband."
Mr. Wensley next introduced Cardinal Ouellet to the assembled graduates, their families and friends, and faculty members, speaking of the courage this prince of the Church has exhibited in defense of both the natural law and Church teaching concerning pivotal issues like traditional marriage and the sacredness of human life at all its stages. He also cited the cardinal's leadership in hosting the recent International Eucharistic Congress and in heading up the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in Rome last fall, at the request of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. In recognition of Cardinal Ouellet's "exemplary loyalty and devotion to the Holy Father and the magisterium of the Church" and his tireless work "to proclaim, support, and defend the teachings of the Church, and to advance the mission of Christ on earth," Mr. Wensley announced that the board of governors had resolved to award His Eminence the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion.
Following sustained applause for the visiting prelate, Cardinal Ouellet then delivered a deeply thoughtful reflection on the Blessed Mother. Explaining that the name of the college's chapel - Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity - had inspired his opening remarks "to the whole Church" at last fall's Synod of Bishops in Rome, His Eminence went on "to highlight some basic characteristics of our relationship to God in the light of the Marian paradigm."
Earlier during the commencement exercises, Mr. Wensley inducted Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Smeed of Bakersfield, California, into the school's Order of St. Albert. The order was established some years ago to honor those benefactors who support the college to an outstanding degree. Mr. Wensley presented the Smeeds with a cast bronze bust modeled on the statue of St. Albert that stands before the college's science hall, saying this is "a sign of our deep gratitude to the Smeeds for their outstanding generosity and for their partnership in the noble enterprise of providing young people with a genuine, Catholic liberal education."
ABOUT CARDINAL OUELLET: His Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet holds a bachelor of arts in education from Université Laval, a licence in theology from the Université de Montréal, a licence in philosophy at St. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical University, and a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Gregorian University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1968, and in 2001 His Holiness Pope John Paul II ordained him a bishop and appointed him secretary to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Cardinal Ouellet has served as consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to the Congregation for the Clergy. He is currently consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a member of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, and an advisor to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Pontifical Council of Cardinals for the study of the organizational and economic affairs of the Holy See.
Cardinal Ouellet was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Quebec in 2002, and Pope John Paul II elevated him to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2003. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as General Relator to the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church.