Member of the Class of 2005, Benjamin Susanka, receives his diploma from Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. who presided over the College's 31st Commencement on May 14, 2005. During the ceremony, the vice chairman of the college's board of governors, Jim Barrett, presented to Cardinal Dulles the college's highest honor—the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion—in recognition of his "exemplary loyalty and devotion to the Holy Father and the magisterium of the Church" and for his tireless efforts "to proclaim, support, and defend the teachings of the Church, and to advance the mission of Christ on earth." Previous medallion recipients include Francis Cardinal Arinze in 2004 and Christoph Cardinal Schönborn in 2002.
The son of former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Cardinal Dulles is the only American theologian ever to be elevated to the rank of cardinal in the Catholic Church. Speaking to the graduates and honored guests, he discussed the necessity for Rome to guide and govern local churches throughout the world so as to preserve the unity of the Catholic Church. Then, echoing the words of Pope Benedict XVI, he described the Catholic Church in America as "bustling with activity" but "tossed about by many winds of doctrine." Telling the members of the Class of 2005 that their education at Thomas Aquinas College had prepared them to be a stabilizing influence in the Church, he said, "You have been exposed to a long tradition of wisdom, much of it inspired by divine revelation. Your minds have been honed by assiduous study of the arts and sciences. The Church counts on you to make a mature and responsible contribution as Christians in the Church and in the public square. When so many others are spreading cynicism and advocating unwise reforms, you will see more deeply into the real issues that are at stake. You can be leaders of your generation in shaping the future of the Church and of the nation. May God inspire, bless, and prosper your ways!"
The Senior Class Speaker, Greg Pfundstein of Georgia, also spoke to the assembled guests. He began by reflecting on the Class of 2005's first day of classes at the college—that terrible Tuesday morning in September 2001, now known universally as "9/11." Just days before, in the freshman orientation program, they had read a little-known sermon of C.S. Lewis entitled Learning in Wartime, written on the eve of World War II. "Now we, too, were learning in wartime," remarked Pfundstein. As the war on terror began and then intensified over these last few years, Lewis' defense of the intrinsic worth of liberal education—despite the necessities and trials of war—took on ever deeper meaning for these graduates; at the same time, they became more and more active in the vibrant spiritual life of the College as well. Now, having completed a rigorous program of Catholic liberal education, Pfundstein declared that "In a world which denounces both faith and truth, we go out as witnesses to the Church's unwavering principle that both faith and reason are paths given by God that lead us to the one truth which is found only in God."
Earlier in the day, Cardinal Dulles offered the Baccalaureate Mass of the Holy Spirit, at which Rev. Msgr. George J. Parnassus preached the homily. The pastor emeritus of St. Victor's Church in West Hollywood, Calif., Msgr. Parnassus has been a long-time friend of Thomas Aquinas College. On the eve of Pentecost, he exhorted the graduates to "Cultivate, in love, an awareness and a response to the promptings of the Spirit within us....Every day, I urge you, to tell Him of your need for His presence in your life....Rely on the Spirit....Love Him, and you have everything you need."
Graduates of the Class of 2005 will go onto a variety of pursuits—some to teach children and young people in classroom settings, others to graduate school for advanced degrees in philosophy, law, business, medicine, and architecture, and still others will pursue vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.