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Valedictory Speech # 1: Religious Education Program - Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.

Updated: Jan 11

Fifth Year Graduation Speech

Ladies and gentlemen, Fathers' Paul Abbass, Tony MacDonald, Jim Oliver, Robert MacNeil...Frank Abbass; Friends and Family....Honoured Guests. I would like to thank you for coming tonight to our graduation, the 5th year Religious Education certificate program.

Welcome to what is, for us, a bittersweet experience. We understand that our graduation is a great accomplishment, but this is the night that we say farewell to what has been an incredible journey. As we, the graduating class of 1997, were spending the last five years learning and growing in knowledge together, we also shared our hopes, dreams, doubts and beliefs.

We usually describe a family as mother, father, or children. However, family can also describe any group of people who share a common goal, life, bond...or Faith. 1992 to 1997 were the years of our faith formation where we began as strangers...only to become family through Faith in Jesus Christ. Tonight is a night that we give thanks for all those people who made it possible. Let us start at the beginning.

Our First Year was a time of exploration …. of finding out who we are and where we were in our faith.

Our teacher, Catherine Hanrahan taught us to get in touch with our deeper spiritual selves as we began to reach for new experiences. Whether it was in the way we interpreted the Bible or when we expressed our thoughts … Catherine gently guided us along in the first year of our journey. She helped open up our hearts and minds to God with enthusiasm to learn more.

On the Northside, we were taught by Father Peter MacLeod. Father Peter introduced us to the Sacraments. He outlined the Sacraments from the conception of each Sacrament to the present day. Learning the history of the Sacraments was eye opening and informative ….. It really gave us food for thought.

Facilitators and Dear Friends... Catherine and Father Peter...Thank You.

In Year Two, we entered the world of the New Testament. Fr. Errol MacDonald and Fr. George MacInnis, brought us meaning to the words & stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To say that most of us were a little shaken by the real interpretation of the Gospel stories is an understatement.

Father Errol taught us about the lives of the Saints and with his careful teaching and inspiring guidance, we began to understand the Scriptures. He brought Jesus to life for us, and for that we are truly grateful. Father George was a very gifted and treasured teacher. This can be said even after some of the surprise tests that were sprung on the class during the year.

Dear Teachers and Friends... Fr. Errol and Fr. George … Thank You.

In Year Three, our North Sydney cohort had their course broken up into two segments:

First... The History of the Church was taught by Fr. Tony MacDonald. The first words that came out of Fr. Tony's mouth...after he said that he was going to do the history of the church from the beginning to present day...was " I will start with the big bang theory". So you can see that we really began "In the Beginning." Father Tony is an astute teacher who makes one feel very much at home...and we will never forget his personal invitation for us to come to his home for a Christmas party.

Sister Sandra Cooke taught us Christology. Sister Sandra is very knowledgeable on the Doctrine of Christ and she made sure that all the class understood the topic very well. Even through the cold and flu season, she was always there for the class...dedicated to both our needs and concerns.

Dear Friends, Fr. Peter, Fr. George and Sister Sandra...gifted...astute and dedicated …. Thank You.

Our Year Three Sydney cohort was taught at the University College of Cape Breton,

Marjorie MacDonald taught us about relationships. First, about God's love for humanity through the stories of the Hebrew people and secondly …. about God's love for all of us and the call for love one another. When we take part in Communion with our neighbour then we begin to know God.

Dear Friend Marjorie, Articulate and Inspirational … Thank You.

Our Fourth and Fifth Year teacher was Father Jim Oliver. Not enough words can be used to express both the joy and knowledge that he brought to our classes. First teaching us Moral Theology, he soon realized that we were a class that had not lost its enthusiasm to ask the heavy questions. His answers were always appropriate....and usually ended with a call for us to open our hearts to people at their moments of personal crisis.....not to judge, but to love.

Father Jim, in our final year, taught us more on the Sacraments … explaining how we as a Faith Community express ourselves to God. He also taught us about discerning what is essential and what is not. how we relate to God.

On March 21st & 22nd, at the end of our five year journey, Father Jim facilitated a retreat at Mt. Carmel, in New Waterford. It was here that we analyzed the experiences that we had gone through on those wintry Monday nights. We were to look back at where we were, before and during the five years. Then we were to think about how far we had come in our religious education...and finally where we thought or hoped we were heading.

I won't go into detail, but suffice to say that we spoke openly and honestly … and we didn't get much sleep. What we discovered was that we had all grown in our own way.....we didn't agree on everything....and that was o.k.....because we were family. We grew up together and we loved and cared for each other. Unanimously we agreed... that God had brought us together. Strangers in 1992, five years later....Brothers and Sisters in Christ. For this weekend and all that you've given...and its been a lot...Thank you Jim Oliver for your kindness, your humour and friendship. And above all, thank you for sharing yourself with us.

Father Henri J.M. Nouwen in his book," Reaching Out: The Three Movements Of The Spiritual Life " expresses perfectly what our religious education has been for us and the manner in which we were taught. Father Nouwen states, "Especially in religious education, revelation and affirmation are of great importance. The fact that so many students do not care for religious instruction is largely related to the fact that their own life experience is hardly touched. There are just as many ways to be a Christian as there are Christians, and it seems that more important then the imposition of any doctrine or pre-coded idea is to offer the students the place where they can reveal their great human potentials to love, to give, and to create, and where they can find affirmation that gives them the courage to continue their search without fear." All of our teachers provided this kind of environment....a place not just to learn...but also a place to grow.

We want to thank our families for being our late Monday night and rest of the week sounding board. I'm sure sometimes you thought we were obsessed and in some cases possessed with post-class musings. We appreciate your listening and support for our evenings out.

We want to thank former Graduates, especially Sheldon and Linda MacNeil, and Former Office Of Religious Education coordinator Sis MacNeil. They watched over us and sought to serve our needs at every turn. Their unselfish and generous efforts on our behalf is greatly appreciated.

The Graduating Class also wishes to thank the Faith Formation and Religious Education Office and it's director, Fr. Paul Abbass for making this evening possible. We look forward to more religious education opportunities.

In Conclusion, we want to thank again Fr. Jim Oliver and the good people of St. Eugene's Parish here in Dominion for hosting us tonight and for also accommodating two Christmas parties, one study session and two graduations. Truly above and beyond the call of duty and we wish to thank them for that.

One last thought about what I think our years together have brought us....I think we've been gifted with a certain kind of peacefulness. Reflecting our years is an Irish blessing....and we pray that this blessing will become a reality for all of you here this evening.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

To all who have come to this celebratory event, thank you for coming, enjoy the banquet and may God Bless You.

Valedictory speech given on April 30th, 1997 at St. Eugene's Parish Hall for the conclusion of the Five-Year Adult Faith Development program for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.

{slight revisions made on July 25th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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