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BRIGHTON -- One of the largest classes yet to graduate from the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization received their diplomas during commencement exercises held at St. John's Seminary on May 21.
The class of 2019 consisted of 22 people, including four deacons and one religious sister.
Teresa Aiello, Mae Ba, Deborah Broderick, Ralph Cola IV, Eleanor Hurley, Renee Portu, John Daniel Puopolo, Linda Sheehan, Brenda Terranova, Mary Ann Thomas, and Earline Tweedie earned a Master of Arts in Ministry.
Thomas M. Harvey, Beth Joyce, Deacon James T. Kearney, Christopher Kelley, Deacon John Francis Koza, James Leonard, Deacon Kelley B. McCormick, John Rafael Paris, Anne Rennie, Deacon Charles R. Rossignol, and Sister Christina Miriam Wegendt, FSP, earned a Master of Theological Studies.
Friends, family, and loved ones of the graduates gathered in the chapel of St. John's Seminary for the commencement ceremony, which was led by Father Christopher O'Connor, vice-rector of the seminary and president of the Theological Institute; Dr. Aldona Lingertat, co-founder and director of the MAM program; Dr. Stephen Fahrig, director of the MTS program; and Father Paul Ritt, co-founder of the MAM program.
Bishop Mark O'Connell delivered the commencement address. He passed on the congratulations of Cardinal Seán O'Malley, who was attending Bishop Wilton Gregory's installation as Archbishop of Washington, D.C.
Bishop O'Connell spoke of the confusion and frustration he and other bishops felt when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered in November 2018, expecting to form a plan for responding to the abuse crisis, only to find out the Vatican had asked them to delay voting on the issue. Pope Francis then sent the bishops on retreat in Chicago in January 2019. Bishop O'Connell said that unexpected joys came out of this retreat, and that he was struck by its reflections on three topics: time management, the prioritization of prayer, and being open to the Holy Spirit.
On the topic of time, he acknowledged that, in addition to learning about theology and Church teaching, the graduates must have learned much about time management, since it was "the very nature of a program such as this" that students must balance their studies with many other personal and professional responsibilities.
"Congratulations to the graduates. You receive an A in multitasking. Congratulations families of graduates. You all receive an A+ in supporting them to get this done," Bishop O'Connell said.
The student speaker was Sister Christina Wegendt, the vocation director for the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston and an acquisitions editor for her order's publishing house, Pauline Books and Media. Speaking to the Pilot after the ceremony, Sister Christina said her community asked her to pursue a master's degree in theology to help her in her editorial role and the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul.
"My community evangelizes through the media. And if you spend about five minutes on social media, you will see that people are searching for the love that only Jesus can give," Sister Christina said in her address.
She encouraged her fellow graduates to "leave this moment of celebration full of confidence that Jesus is sending us to these people. He's sending us like he sent St. Paul into the Areopagus of Athens, into the heart of the burning questions people are facing today. The Lord is calling us to meet people where they're at, to understand them, and to witness to them (that) the Lord has changed our lives and can change theirs as well."
She congratulated the other members of the class of 2019, saying, "It's been an epic journey so far and we've only just begun."
Father Stephen Salocks, interim rector of St. John's Seminary, gave the benediction at the ceremony's close, after which the graduates and their families and friends gathered outside for photos.
Teresa Aiello, the elder outreach coordinator at Catholic Charities South in Brockton, told the Pilot she decided to study for her Master of Arts in Ministry because she wanted to strengthen her faith. She has been an active member of St. Patrick Parish in Brockton ever since she came to the United States from Honduras in 1994.
"I knew the way to know more about God and my belief was go deeply and go through this MAM program," Aiello said.
She said she was "so excited" to have completed the program.
"I finished the degree, but I feel like this is the beginning," she said.
St. John's Seminary began the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization in 2011 in order to expand and differentiate their programs for non-seminarians. The Institute built on the seminary's Master of Arts in Ministry and catechetical certificate programs and added a Master of Theological Studies program.