by Michael Rizzo
JAMAICA — What a difference 39 years makes.
On May 20, 1984, 21-year-old Robert Brennan graduated summa cum laude during the commencement exercise at St. John’s University in Queens. Fast forward to May 21, 2023, and now Bishop Robert Brennan was back at St. John’s, but this time to give his first commencement invocation as the bishop of the diocese.
Bishop Brennan described being excited and grateful to be at the ceremony. He also seemed a bit wistful in thinking about his own graduation in an interview just before this year’s ceremony. He nodded in realization that “it has been nearly 40 years” and said being at the commencement brought back memories of the hard work it takes to graduate.
“I’m very proud of the St. John’s students,” he said, “but I’m also thinking of the parents and families of the students and all the support they provided to get the students to this day.”
Having Bishop Brennan as part of the event was especially notable to Father Aidan Rooney, CM, the university’s executive vice president for mission.
“This solidifies our connection with the Diocese of Brooklyn,” Father Rooney said.
Following the national anthem, Bishop Brennan was introduced for the opening prayer.
In his invocation, the bishop called it a day to rejoice in the hard work, intellectual curiosity, and thirst for knowledge the graduates represented.
He referenced “our alma mater” in his prayer, connecting himself personally with the 2,377 graduates standing before him, many with heads bowed, on the university’s Great Lawn.
“Create new leaders in these graduates,” he prayed, “to have them apply Your teachings in their lives, in their communities, and in the Church. Let them share their God-given talents and apply their skills to make You visible to all.”
The commencement address was given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In his address, Cardinal Dolan thanked the students for the lessons they had taught him, including their embrace of learning with and from others, of sharing their knowledge, and of community.
He praised them for not pursuing the acquisition of material things but opting instead to focus on their education and to be “centered in the roots of truth.”
Graduating senior Brady Snyder was happily surprised to find out that Bishop Brennan was not only an alumnus of St. John’s but that both were graduates of St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, New York. Snyder professed being inspired by what he heard.
“This shows the Church recognizes us as its future,” Snyder said. “That puts the onus on us to be part of the Church and give back to our communities through service.”
The 2 1/2-hour event concluded with the traditional singing of the St. John’s alma mater. After exiting the stage, Bishop Brennan reflected one more time on the day.
“It was great to see all the pride and joy in the students, families, and faculty,” he said.