CNN Sr. Vatican Analyst, Crux Editor to Deliver Address at Assumption’s Centennial Commencement

Jan 03, 2019

This spring, Assumption will celebrate its centennial commencement, an event that has evolved and grown tremendously, from two graduates in the Class of 1918 to nearly 700 in the Class of 2017 who will receive either an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree or certificate of advanced graduate study. While much has changed since that inaugural ceremony, the institution’s commitment to educating students in the Catholic tradition has endured.

To commemorate this milestone, John L. Allen, Jr., editor of Crux, a publication that focuses on news of the Vatican and Catholic Church, will deliver the address at Assumption’s 100th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 14 at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. Allen, Mary Lou Jennings, executive director of the Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation, and Roberta Schaefer, Ph.D., founder and former president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, will receive honorary degrees during the ceremony recognizing their dedicated work to community service and living lives that reflect the values of the institution’s mission that include critical intelligence, thoughtful citizenship and compassionate service

Allen—who is a senior Vatican analyst for CNN and served as correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years—has written nine books on the Holy See and Catholic affairs, and is a popular speaker on Catholicism both in the United States and internationally. According to the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, his reporting is “possibly the best source of information on the Vatican published in the United States.” The London Tablet has called Allen “the most authoritative writer on Vatican affairs in the English language,” and renowned papal biographer George Weigel has called him “the best Anglophone Vatican reporter ever.”

“John Allen is a prolific journalist and the institution is proud to welcome an internationally renowned writer to address the candidates for graduation during our 100th Commencement ceremony,” said Assumption President Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D. “Through his work as editor at Crux, Mr. Allen has worked to soften what he calls ‘the Catholic divide.’ Having Mr. Allen deliver his message to our students during this historic 100th commencement ceremony is a reminder that the institution was born from the rich, Catholic tradition, and of our duty to continue to ‘Light the Way’ for others.”

Allen received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Fort Hays State University and a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Kansas. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Ontario; Lewis University in Romeoville, IL; St. Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.; and the University of Dallas, in Dallas, TX.

In addition to delivering the Commencement address, Allen will receive an honorary degree. Honorary degrees will also be conferred upon Mary Lou Jennings and Roberta Schaefer, Ph.D. 

About Mary Lou Jennings

Jennings serves as executive director of the Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that empowers African-Americans to pursue their dream of a college degree. The mission of the foundation is to “establish the means by which to rekindle and enliven the hope and the opportunities that Catholic schools can offer to black children.” Under Jennings’ stewardship, the Foundation has provided scholarship assistance to approximately 200 African-American students to attend a Catholic college or university, including some who have attended Assumption. The Foundation also supports single mothers who are managing the demands of motherhood and college classes.

Jennings, who was raised in a family that was taught to give back and work for those in need, spent her early career working as a nurse in Florida before meeting Sr. Thea Bowman in 1984. The two, who shared a passion for education and believed that a Catholic education was a way out of poverty for African Americans, created a foundation that reflected that mission and ministry and would carry forward Sr. Bowman’s legacy. Jennings received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in French from Michigan State University. She also completed post-graduate studies in French from Michigan State, in spirituality and scripture from Fordham University and in theology and scripture from St. John’s University.

About Roberta Schaefer

Roberta Schaefer, Ph.D., is the founder and first executive director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, a center for information and expertise on public policy in Central Massachusetts. Under her direction, The Research Bureau grew from one-person who studied city and town matters to a five-person operation that examined pressing public policy issues throughout the region. During her three decades at The Research Bureau, the organization dedicated itself to keeping the community informed, writing hundreds of reports, hosting programs and forums, and ultimately, in 2000 under Schaefer’s leadership, creating a “citizen-informed government performance measurement program, which received widespread recognition for its citizen engagement and collaboration with the public sector leading to measurable improvements in government performance.”

The Research Bureau is located on the Assumption Campus. When Schaefer started the organization in 1985, the Assumption offered her room on campus where it was located until 2002 when The Research Bureau outgrew the space. The Research Bureau returned to Assumption ten years later, and has been housed in one of the College’s buildings on Old English Road since 2012; many Assumption political science students have worked for the Bureau as interns.  

Outside of her work with The Research Bureau, from which she retired three years ago, Schaefer was, and continues to be, an advocate for education. Schaefer served as an adjunct political science professor at Assumption and was also a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education from 1996 to 2007. She has co-edited two books and is the author of numerous articles, including a recent op-ed in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in regard to school board governance. Schaefer holds a bachelor’s degree from Queens College of the City University of New York; she received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.