Academic Event Awards Greatness in Court and On the Streets

The spotlight was on three men who served inner-city Boston kids, a religious freedom fighter, a new priest homilist, and new students in beanies at the 2021 Opening Academic Convocation and Opening School Mass at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Obediah Lewis, Zyon Mathis and Solomon Wallace were featured at the Aug. 31 eventas the first recipients of the Transforming Culture in America award.

Benedictine College and the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies created a partnership that sent college students to Boston to work as tutors and mentors for middle school students through the Martin Luther King Summer Scholars Program. The awardees returned recently from their service.

Transforming Culture in America, the college’s new strategic plan, focuses on the college’s mission. It also calls for more diversity, saying, “The global Catholic Church which embraces the world’s races and cultures is our model for diversity.”

“These three embraced this challenge and combined community, faith and scholarship and truly transformed the culture in this neighborhood in Boston,” said President Stephen D. Minnis. “Thank you for your commitment to the mission and your commitment to these young people.”

Montse Alvarado, Vice President and Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty was the keynote speaker of the event which kicks off each Academic Year.

“Freedom of conscience, often called freedom of thought, is your right to believe. But it is only one of three pieces that make up religious freedom: Believing, Forming, and Acting,” she said. “Many people have tried to use religious freedom as a tool to silence others. …  They advocate to limit freedom of conscience often using the phrase ‘freedom of worship’ to minimize the broader, fuller right encompassed in religious freedom.”

She called that “freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion.”

Alvarado, who is a member of Benedictine College’s Board of Directors, was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Edition, which called her “a defender of all religion, on the front lines of America’s culture wars.” She was born in Mexico City and holds a B.A. from Florida International University and has a master’s degree from George Washington University.

Born in Mexico City, she also serves as a lay consultant to the U.S. Bishops’ Religious Liberty Committee and hosts EWTN’s News In-Depth television program. She is fluent in Spanish and French.

In her remarks she called Father Michael Brungardt “our Father Mike” and praised his words on St. Paul.

She was referencing the new priest’s homily, in which he contrasted himself with the “celebrity” status of Father Mike Schmitz, whose Bible in a Year Podcast set records this year.

Each year, Benedictine College invites a Raven priest to be a homilist at the Opening School Mass on the day of the Convocation. This year the honor went to Father Brungardt who was ordained to the priesthood in 2018.

Father Brungardt grew up in Wichita as the fifth of 10 children of Dr. Jerry Brungardt, a member of the Benedictine College board of directors. He is a fourth generation Raven, attending the school his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather attended, along with several of his siblings.

Brungardt, whose blog is called “the Beggar,” told students, “True greatness has nothing to do with how many followers you have. True greatness comes from being an instrument in the hand of God.”

He also mentioned that two of his siblings were currently attending Benedictine College, including one freshman.

For freshmen, the convocation is the day they get to remove their beanies.

The beanie tradition, in which new students in college wore skull caps to identify themselves as newcomers, is all but extinct today, but is a proud Benedictine College tradition.

“CEOs, Bank Presidents; eight 21st century University Presidents; the former Vice-Chair of the FDIC; seven 21st Century Bishops; and the recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, have all worn a beanie their first week at Benedictine College,” said President Minnis.

The Convocation ended with Minnis telling freshmen: “Having experienced the benefits of a Benedictine College tradition, and been welcomed into the Raven family, you are now fully incorporated into the college. You may remove your beanies.”

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Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.