Bishop Larry J. Kulick’s 2023 Seminary Commencement Address

Bishop Kulick’s address, Saint Vincent Seminary commencement, May 12, 2023.

To watch the address, visit this link.

“Good evening, everyone. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be with you this afternoon as we gather together to celebrate this very important milestone in the life of our seminarian graduates and to celebrate what is the noble and timeless mission that is Saint Vincent Seminary.

“What is the mission of this institution? It is a mission solidly set on the fidelity of Christ’s mandate to proclaim the Gospel message. What is this mission? It is a response in light of the Church’s need to form ministers and Word and Sacrament. What is its mission? It is the acceptance of a timeless responsibility to form leaders and co-workers for the Church’s spiritual and apostolic ministries. What is its mission? To influence culture, to build a just society, to serve all in need of spiritual healing and reconciliation. What is its mission? To bring the saving news of God’s love into the world. What is its mission? The salvation of souls, including each and every one of ours. It is a mission forged by the dedication of a hundred and seventy-seven years of Benedictines’ tradition, spirituality, human, pastoral and intellectual intelligence accomplished by the grace of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the fidelity to God’s word and sacrament and the Church’s magisterial teaching.

“What is Saint Vincent Seminary? It is a stable environment, committed to and deeply rooted in a conviction to prepare the Church’s ministers and a new generation of Christ’s disciples for the necessary and important work of ministry.

“On behalf of Archabbot Martin, the chancellor of Saint Vincent Seminary and the religious superior of the Benedictine community here at Saint Vincent Archabbey; on behalf of Father Edward Mazich, our rector; on behalf of my classmate, who reminded me at the beginning of this that he usually doesn’t come to Seminary graduations but was doing it for me, thank you Father Paul Taylor, president of Saint Vincent College; on behalf of the Seminary Board of Regents, the Seminary faculty, administration and staff, I would like tonight, to offer to you, the graduates of Saint Vincent Seminary, our sincere and our deepest congratulations on this wonderful milestone in your life and this wonderful milestone for the Church, the Church local and the Church universal. Congratulations to you and please be assured of our continued prayers and our support for each and every one of you.

“It is wonderful to gather here tonight for this beautiful occasion in this magnificent Basilica. I often call it the heart of Saint Vincent’s campus, serving the needs not only of the Seminary and the College and of course the Monastic and Parish communities, but truly being a beacon set on a hill that magnifies not just in architecture, but in the warmth of its inhabitants the glory and splendor of God and also the sanctuary of the holy and the lived daily experience of the disciple. These commencement exercises are being conducted this evening in the context of solemn evening prayer, a part of the Church’s rich, liturgical tradition, the liturgy of the hours.

“How fitting it is that we gather in the context of evening prayer and celebrate this beautiful liturgy because it reminds us with the ebb and flow not only of our lives but of each day, that one day is drawing to a close, but a new day is on the horizon. I also have to express how deeply honored I am this evening not only to be invited as the commencement speaker here, but also I cannot express adequately my sincere gratitude and the privilege that I feel deep within my heart to be honored with our wonderful graduates this evening with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

“I, like so many who have gone before me, have been fortunate and blessed to be able to be formed and to spend important critical and valuable time here not only within the walls of this institution but in the relationship of magnificent educators, mentors, spiritual formators, and in the fraternity of both the Benedictine community and various diocesan communities. It is hard to believe as I mentioned earlier today at the College baccalaureate that this year is my thirty-fifth anniversary of graduating college.  And I shared with the collegians that a classmate of mine had called me a couple of weeks ago and he said, ‘Larry, how are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m doing good. How are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m doing really good because,’ he said, ‘in three weeks I have thirty-five years of service in with the state and I’m retiring.’ To which I quickly said, ‘do you want a job?’ He quickly responded ‘no thank you.’

“Dr. Robert DePasquale, whom many of you know, not only as an alumni here but a great colleague and spent so many years teaching in the College in the school of business, when I first became Bishop he would with great pride introduce me to people and he would say ‘Bishop Kulick is a double Bearcat.’ And I would say to him, ‘with all due respect, doctor, I’m actually a triple Bearcat.’ And he would ponder that first time and look at me and turn his head as you know Dr. DePasquale, and he said, ‘how can that be? The Prep closed by the time you were old enough to have gone into it.’ And I reminded him that I was very honored and blessed to have been able to be granted two degrees here at my time at Saint Vincent Seminary. I will only do it tonight and I beg your indulgence but it is with pride but also with great humility that I am very honored now to be able to tell not only Dr. DePasquale but others, ‘I’m a quadruple Bearcat.’

“I am honored to receive this but I am the first to recognize that this honorary degree is really being given as I receive it not for anything that I have done but truly in the spirit of all of those who have walked with me like those in each of your own lives who have walked with you: Family, parents and grandparents, friends, professors, classmates, brother priests and religious, parishioners, all who have helped to continue the work of Seminary formation grow and mature in the eyes of God and his people.

“As we gather this evening and celebrate not only a time of great accomplishment but a time of transition, I would like to offer, briefly, this evening, three ways in which I believe, we need to reflect on how the formation and the education we all receive and especially our graduates tonight receive, help to allow us to integrate into our professional and our ministerial lives, the grace of God and allow us to fulfill the will of God. There is a very well-known Latin phrase, nemo dat quod non habet, a Latin maxim meaning no one gives what they do not have. No one gives what they do not have. Sometimes this phrase is abbreviated as nemo dat rule or principal and it was interesting a couple of years I came across this and from a theological position I was looking at it in one manner, but when I came across it in an issue we were dealing with in the diocese, it’s interesting that in civil law it refers to a question of whether someone purporting to give or sell property has the legal title or the right to do so, and if not, the gift or the transfer is not valid, nor does it have legal standing.

“Well, we understand this phrase tonight in a much more than civil, legal context. We understand it in recognizing that the academic, the human, the pastoral and the spiritual formation that you have received here at Saint Vincent Seminary has equipped you with strong theological foundations and is commissioning you each in your own respective way, whether in ordained ministry, whether in lay ministry, to go forth and to give what you have received, to give what you have, not begrudgingly, not sparingly, but generously, to give. Mindful that we cannot share an empty cup or a barren basket, mindful that we continue to be lifelong learners, and people who continually delve into their professional as well as more importantly their spiritual, ongoing formation.

“My dear brothers and sisters, while we may be the most acute intellectual or the most competent catechist, or the most knowledgeable scripture scholar, we must have depth, not just in our intellectual wisdom but in our pastoral sensitivity, in our spiritual life and in a well-balanced human relationship with each other and the world. The ora of our labora must root us firmly. This must be so that we are able to constantly call ourselves and others into a deeper union and a relationship with Christ and His Church. In a letter our Holy Father, Pope Saint John Paul II, wrote to priests on Holy Thursday two thousand and one, he says this, ‘I wish to echo the voice of Christ who continuously calls us to deepen our relationship with him.’ He quotes from Revelation, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Chosen to proclaim Christ, we are first of all invited to live in intimacy with him. We cannot give to others what we ourselves do not have.’

“The Holy Father went on to say, ‘There is a thirst for Christ, which despite many appearances to the contrary, emerges even in contemporary society. It is present among all the inconsistencies of new forms of spirituality. It can be seen even where upon important ethical issues the Church’s witness becomes a sign of contradiction. The thirst for Christ, whether conscious or not, cannot be quenched with empty words. Only authentic witnesses can communicate in a credible way the word that saves.’

“Sister Cecilia Murphy, of happy memory, and a great teacher and mentor of mine and many, when teaching us pastoral theology, used to say ‘Gentlemen, it’s easy when you’re thin, you’re good-looking, you have all your hair and all your teeth, but in a few years the hair may fall out, or at least start to thin, the waistline may begin to expand and trips to the dentist may become more frequent. You better have depth. That’s what people need. That is what they will see and that is what they will respond to.’

“Second, I would posit that we must not just know what to do but we must know how to do it. We must not just be hearers of the word, but doers as well. I certainly would not want to brand Pope Francis. He, I am sure, is well able to do that. But if I were to think of something that would epitomize his thought and his theology it would be that. We must not just know what to do, but how to do it.

“I believe upon reflection that my years, both at Saint Vincent College and Saint Vincent Seminary, surrounded by the Benedictine Catholic tradition, the experience and the example of real men, real monks, people who lived pragmatic lives who many times like all of us were sinners, but who strove to be saints, helped to form an opportunity for me not only to understand the centrality of pastoral ministry, but how people longed for that and how they will respond to it in your professional lives, in your Church ministries, in your ordained ministry. All knowledge gained should help us better integrate, and this is my quote, you can have it if you like, into the intersections of our lives and ministry, in other words, academic or intellectual formation is made more real in the pastoral life and ministry of the Church.

“Pope Benedict completed his encyclical on the theological virtues in 2009 with caritas in veritate, in which he declares that ‘love and truth must be intrinsically linked in the Christian life for the good of the world.’ Into these pastoral intersections, I may add, the Holy Father goes on to write, ‘at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine it must be linked to truth if it is to remain a force for good, for without truth love can become an empty shell. Without truth we fall short, filled with emotional influences which in the worst cases can turn into its opposite.’ The Holy Father goes on, ‘similarly, social action without truth can end up serving private interests and the logic of power.’ I contend if one reads deeply Pope Benedict’s writings, one would find that he is far from a dry, academician. Quite the opposite. He is a pastor who exhorted his people to know and love someone whom he knows and loves, the Lord Jesus. Inspired by the example of Pope Benedict may we become cooperators with the Truth, who is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“My dear friends when I was growing up, we had a town doctor. His name was Dr. Fraley. Everybody knew Dr. Fraley. One of the things that everyone would always say is that Dr. Fraley not only knew medicine, but he was a practitioner. And as you went into his office he not only would shake your hands, but he would take both of your hands, turn over your hands, look at your palms, start to talk to you, look into your eyeballs, check the color of your lips, and did a physical sort of overview very quickly. I think of him so often not only because of the state of our medical situation today but we love to do tons of diagnostics. Do people stop, listen, look, and understand what people really need physically and spiritually?

“My dear graduates, don’t just be theorists or academicians, but by the very nature of your vocational call—cleric, religious or lay—be the best of practitioners.

“Thirdly, our great Benedictine motto, ora et labora, ora, work, work.

“My dear friends, how do we work? It is often said today that a virtue regarding work is that we should work smartly. What does that mean? I would contend working smartly means [something] very different than being smart. Statistics often show that the most successful people who have availed themselves tremendously academically with the highest of scores and the greatest of intellects and IQs often fail as leaders and they’re not always the progressive people of society making new breakthroughs. Many times, we recognize that working smart doesn’t mean that we have the highest IQ or the most amount of degrees, but working smart means that we work with the grace of God and that we are collaborative in our work, that we work together. I will tell you, you will only be as good as the people you have around you. Recognize and see the talents and the gifts of all of those who the Lord brings to you as a coworker in the vineyard and in your life and ministry.

“My dear brothers and sisters, each of you as graduates have pursued your education to assist you in your work. Be collaborative. Our Holy Father Pope Francis on February 18 of this year in the Vatican’s new synod hall, addressed participants in a two-day conference on how pastors and lay people can work together better for the mission of the Church and here’s what the Holy Father said on that February day: ‘The Church is a home that priests and lay people need to care for together. It is a time for pastors and lay people to walk together in every area of the Church’s life, in every part of the world. The lay faithful are not guests in the Church. They are at home. “So they are called also to help take care of the home. The laity, and especially women, need to be more valued in their human and spiritual skills and gifts, in the life of parishes and dioceses.’

Together, my brothers and sisters, we move forward, in unity and in strength. Our Holy Father says one of the worst things that can happen to a pastor is that he is to forget the people for whom he came forth as a priest. It is, as our Holy Father says, the worst form of memory loss. “My dear friends, there is much to labor for, much to labor with. I remember several years ago, many years ago, Monsignor Conway, again of happy memory, was here at Saint Vincent Seminary, and as you know over the years was a mentor and a supervisor for numerous seminarians, from multiple dioceses including our own, and Monsignor Conway used to love to tell this story. He was at an orientation session at the Seminary and at one point after a lot of the different practicalities of the session and the pastoral year were outlaid, one of the seminarians raised his hand and said to the rector, ‘father rector, I think you should remind the priests what a day off is.’ So, the father rector did. Monsignor Conway raised his hand and he said ‘father rector.’ ‘Yes, monsignor.’ ‘Could you remind the seminarians what a day on is?’ Don’t be afraid to work and work hard.

“I’ve told this story many times but I think about it so often at different stages of my own life, and sometimes as I so often say, Father Mondello who was a great mentor to me, used to always say ‘well young man,’ even at the end of a hard day, ‘it’s not like going down into the coal mines and digging four tons of coal.’

“But I remember the only time in my life, in my entire life, I ever saw my grandfather cry, I had come around the corner on the side porch, and he was sitting on the side porch, and he was weeping. I probably maybe was in third or fourth grade. And it was very uncomfortable to me I didn’t know what to do or what to say and the first thing that came into my mind was ‘Oh gosh, Pap’s gonna die. Something’s wrong with him or something happened to Bubba.’ So I went around without him knowing to the front porch and went into the house and I said to my grandmother, I said ‘Pap’s on the porch, crying.’ She said ‘I know he is.’

He’d worked forty-seven and a half years in the local steel mill and a couple of weeks prior to that had a heart attack and he was told by the doctor he couldn’t go back to work. He was crying because he couldn’t go back to work.

“Our work, your work, is for a lifetime. As a matter of fact, it’s for eternity. Work smartly. Work well. Rest well too. Remember your day off, but remember your day on too. And most importantly, as we go forward, there’s a great sign that I first saw in Mount Saint Peter Church. It’s sort of infamous now, it’s on the vesting closet, and it says ‘Celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass.’

“What I would like to conclude, with an admonition for all of us, and especially our graduates today: You have been blessed with this wonderful opportunity of formation. You have been blessed by this wonderful experience of a Benedictine, Catholic education. You have been mentored. You have been supported. You have been prayed for. You have received countless blessings from family, friends and confreres. Do your work as if it were the first work you ever did. Do you work as if was the last work you will ever do. And do your work as if it was the only thing you were able to do that day.”