CHARLESTON — The Diocese of Charleston has four high schools with a total of 350 graduates. On the outside, these students may look like their secular brethren, but on the inside, they are unique in many ways.
“They have received an education in morality and ethics that hopefully will make a major contribution to the society in which we live,” Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said.
The graduating seniors from Bishop England in Charleston, Cardinal Newman in Columbia, St. Joseph’s in Greenville and St. Francis Xavier in Sumter have lived their lives thus far swaddled in the Catholic faith.
They said morning and afternoon prayers on a daily basis, celebrated Mass and learned their liturgy along with academics. In and out of class, students were reminded about Jesus and Mary. In addition to tests and projects, they were required to help others through stewardship.
When they venture into the world, this group will be uniquely qualified to spread the message of Jesus Christ.
“One thing we have given our young people is the ability to see the needs of others and to respond to those needs with love and compassion,” said Sue Lavergne, principal of St. Francis.
Of the four schools, St. Francis and St. Joseph’s are private, while the other two are supported and operated by the diocese. Bishop Guglielmone spoke at the diocesan commencements and said he hopes to speak next year at all four.
The private schools were created by parents determined to provide a Catholic education for their children at the high school level.
In Sumter, St. Francis Xavier was opened when Sumter Catholic High School graduated its last class in 1997. By August of that same year, the new school began with thirty-two students. The first five graduated in June 1998.
This year, the school held commencement for 10 young men and women.
Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams was the commencement speaker on May 29, and told them: Be not afraid.
Father Williams, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, stressed that each person is a precious gift because they are children of God. He told them to trust in God for their future and depend on their faith throughout life, Lavergne said in a phone interview with The Miscellany.
One of the most memorable moments revolved around an empty chair put onstage by the students. As the ceremony started, a cap and gown were placed on the chair, but no words were spoken.
Later, the students revealed that the chair represented all children sacrificed to abortion. The message was not one of condemnation, Lavergne said, but hope that one day all life will be protected.
Sheryl Dizon, valedictorian, urged her classmates to follow Blessed Mother Teresa’s philosophy that everything, no matter how small, should be done with great love.
Salutatorian Hanna Shrift quoted Pope Paul XXIII, who said to concentrate on hopes, dreams and potential rather than fears or failures.
A day later, St. Joseph’s held their commencement exercises for 56 graduates at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.
Keith Kiser, headmaster, said their commencement speaker was Dale Ahlquist, president of the American G.K. Chesterton Society. Ahlquist told the students if they remembered only one thing, they should remember to read the works of Chesterton.
An influential English writer and convert to Catholicism, one of Chesterton’s famous quotes is: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
Ahlquist used this comment to encourage the graduates not to go with the flow of secular society but to make their own way within their faith.
Coincidentally, Travis Dziad, winner of The Redemptoris Custos Award, employed the same quote in his farewell address as he spoke about learning the best way to follow God.
Both Dziad and classmate Kelsey Larson, who received The Father Fox Award and delivered the welcoming remarks, expressed how grateful they were to be taught by men and women of faith, Kiser said.
St. Joseph’s Catholic School was established in August 1993 with 13 students. The founding class graduated in 1997.
Bishop Robert J. Baker, now at the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., recognized both St. Francis Xavier and St. Joseph’s as independent Catholic high schools within the diocese in 2000.