Fairfield University
| April 2014 | Fairfield University News Channel

Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients Announced for 64th Commencement Ceremonies

Fairfield University announces the speakers and honorary degree recipients for its 64th Commencement, taking place on Sunday, May 18, 2014. This year’s speakers are Sharon M.K. Kugler, University Chaplain, Yale University, who will address the undergraduates, and Mary Ann Christopher ’79, MSN, RN, FAAN, President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), who will speak at the graduate ceremony. The 2014 Commencement takes place on Bellarmine Lawn and begins at 9:30 a.m. with the undergraduate ceremony, followed at 3 p.m. with the graduate ceremony. The total number of expected degrees to be awarded are: 897 bachelor’s, 354 master’s, 14 certificates of advanced study, and 29 doctorates. Honorary degrees will also be awarded to both speakers and three other recipients, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., the Reverend John W. Padberg, S.J., and John S. Santa.

Undergraduate Commencement Speaker: Sharon M.K. Kugler became the seventh University Chaplain of Yale in July of 2007. She is the first woman, first layperson, and first Roman Catholic to hold this position at Yale. Chaplain Kugler has more than two decades of experience in ministry in higher education, interfaith collaboration, and pastoral and social ministry. She came to New Haven from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where she had served as the University chaplain since 1993. She currently serves on the executive committee of the International Association of Chaplains in Higher Education (IACHE) and is the past president of both the National Association of College and University Chaplains (NACUC) and the Association of College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA). She received her master’s degree from Georgetown University. Her master of arts thesis, “The Limits and Possibilities of Building a Religiously Plural Community,” was used by the United States Department of Defense Office of the Chief of Chaplains as a training tool for new chaplains in the military. She has honorary doctorates from St. Joseph University in West Hartford, Conn., and Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Her main focus at Yale is to further cultivate a chaplaincy for students, faculty, and staff that defines itself by serving the needs of the richly diverse religious and spiritual traditions on campus allowing for deeper dialogue, increased accessibility, personal growth, creative educational opportunities and pastoral leadership.

Graduate Commencement Speaker: Mary Ann Christopher ’79, MSN, RN, FAAN has served as President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), the nation’s largest not-for-profit home-and community-based health care organization, since January 2012. A nurse for more than three decades and a nationally recognized healthcare leader, Ms. Christopher has demonstrated a unique commitment to ameliorating health disparities in the care of vulnerable populations. Her work, shaped in significant ways by her time on campus as a Fairfield undergraduate, has strengthened the healthcare and human services delivery systems for those who need them most. At VNSNY, Ms. Christopher established the University Roundtable, bringing together thought leaders from higher education and various health and medical fields, and she has fostered international partnerships with nursing and post-acute care organizations from Singapore, Australia and Switzerland. Her public policy work has also included research for and dissemination of the Institute of Medicine’s Report on the Future of Nursing, an effort aimed at engaging the nursing profession to become an equal partner in the design of healthcare and work to the fullest extent of its scope of practice. She has published extensively in a wide range of national nursing and healthcare journals. A recipient of the American Nurses Association Honorary Human Rights Award, she serves with distinction on numerous boards of directors, including the Board of Trustees for the Visiting Nurse Associations of America (VNAA), the Seton Hall University Board of Regents, and the Fairfield University School of Nursing Advisory Board, and she is actively involved with Fairfield’s Job Shadow Program. She earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Fairfield University and a master of science degree in nursing from Seton Hall University. Ms. Christopher and her husband George, along with their four children and daughter-in-law, are all current students or alumni of Jesuit institutions. Mary Ann lives in New York and New Jersey, and is an active member of the St. Catherine/St. Margaret Parish in Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Fairfield University Honorary Degrees will be bestowed on the following:

Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City, where she teaches in both undergraduate and graduate programs. After graduating from Catholic high school, she joined the religious order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph whose motherhouse is in Brentwood, Long Island. Her formal education includes a BS from Brentwood College (1964), an MA in theology from Manhattan College (1970), and a PhD in theology from Catholic University of America (1981). Currently her work spans teaching, writing, editing, and public lecturing in theology. A recipient of 14 honorary degrees, including the John Courtney Murray Award for distinguished achievement in theology and numerous other awards,  she serves on the editorial boards of the three journals. Her public service in the Church has included being a consultant to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Women in Church and Society and on the Vatican-sponsored ecumenical conference on Christ and world religions. She is a core committee member of the Common Ground Initiative. Her book “She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse” garnered several honors, most notably the Grawemeyer Award in Religion; her work has been translated into German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Bosnian, Korean, Indonesian, and Thai. She was awarded Fordham University’s Teaching Award in 1998 and Professor of the Year Award in 2011.

The Rev. John W. Padberg, S.J., had been director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources since 1986. He has also served as rector of the Jesuit community at Saint Louis University (1998-2004), professor of history (1964-73), and Academic Vice President of Saint Louis University (1969-73), member of the staff of the Jesuit Conference headquarters of the Society of Jesus in the Unites States (1973-75), and President of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1975-85). He was for 16 years the Chairman of the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality and editor of “Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits.” He also served as the founding chairman of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education and editor of its journal, “Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education.” Over the course of the years, he has lectured at all 28 of the Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. His doctoral studies in intellectual history and the history of ideas were done at Harvard University. His current research and writing centers around the history of the Society of Jesus. Among his works are, as editor, “Jesuit Life and Jesuit Mission Today,” a translation of the documents of the 31st through 35th General Congregations, 1965-2008 (Saint Louis, 2009).

John S. Santa, after a 40-year career in marketing, finance, and finally as CEO at Santa Energy, now serves as an independent director for four private corporations. His record as a community activist as well as his ongoing commitment to social justice and community service is substantial. Having served on many community boards in the past, such as the Inner City Foundation for Charity and Education and the Family Firm Institute, he is currently an active member of the Sentencing Commission of the State of Connecticut, the board of the Fairfield Museum and History Center, and the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University. He received the Paul Harris Fellowship from the Rotary Club of Fairfield, Connecticut as well as the Volunteer of the Year Award from the State of Connecticut, Department of Correction. In 2012, he received the Graymoor Award from the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement for his work on behalf of current and formerly incarcerated men and women. He has been recognized as a prophetic voice in the modern criminal justice reform movement. He began his work in 1998, and by 2002 he and his colleagues founded Malta Prison Volunteers of Connecticut – now known as Malta Justice Initiative. Their mission is to inform and educate the business, faith, and academic communities about the opportunities available in criminal justice legislative reform. His programs were embraced as the first and only national work of the American Association of the Order of Malta. The Order now conducts prison ministry activities from coast to coast. Mr. Santa has also headed the inaugural capital campaigns at Lauralton Hall in Milford, Conn., and St. Joseph’s Manor in Trumbull, Conn. He is a founder of the National Oilheat Research Alliance, for which he was instrumental in putting a bill through Congress for its establishment.

Tickets will be required for entry. In case of severe weather, the ceremonies will be held in Alumni Hall.

Last modified:  Fri, 11 Apr 2014 18:53:00 EDT


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