Renowned Catholic Scholar Robert Royal to Deliver Commencement Address to Class of 2020

Apr 12, 2021

After a year of waiting due to  gathering restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth,  Assumption will recognize the Class of 2020 during a combined Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 15, at 12 noon, at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. The Class of 2020, who received their diplomas last year after a virtual Conferral of Degrees ceremony, is the last to graduate under the name Assumption College as the institution transitioned to a University last summer. The Baccalaureate Mass will begin at 12 noon followed by the Commencement Ceremony. 

Robert Royal, Ph.D., founder and president of the Faith & Reason Institute and editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, will deliver the Commencement address during Assumption’s rescheduled 103rd Commencement exercises. Royal and James T. Brett, president and chief executive officer of The New England Council, will receive honorary degrees at the ceremony. 

Kenneth J. Bates G’90, president and chief executive officer of Open Sky Community Services, will receive an honorary degree and serve as the keynote speaker during a separate ceremony honoring the Career & Continuing Education and School of Graduate Studies graduates of the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021. The ceremony will take place virtually and broadcast after the Class of 2021 Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 9.   

Royal is a distinguished scholar known for his writings that address questions of ethics, culture, religion and politics, topics he discusses in international lectures, on television and radio stations, and through his work with the Faith & Reason Institute and his online publication, The Catholic Thing. Founded in 2008, The Catholic Thing offers daily columns by renowned Catholic thinkers offering thoughtful insight, commentary and analysis on current events, complementing the work of the Faith & Reason Institute, which seeks to infuse religion into the public discourse through research, conferences, seminars, and publishing of relevant material. According to the organization’s website, the Institute is “the first Washington think-tank devoted to encouraging both of these essential dimensions of our existence,” addressing “questions of economics, politics, public policy, science, technology, the environment, and public culture, from the perspective of both faith and reason” in the context of the richness of Western and Catholic history.

“As a Catholic liberal institution of higher learning, faith and reason are fundamental foundations upon which students engage in a thoughtful and intense academic journey in pursuit of knowledge and truth,” said Assumption University President Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D. “Dr. Royal has used his influence as a public figure, through his writing and national media appearances, to engage thoughtful discourse and contemplation of religion and its intersection with modern political issues. Like Dr. Royal, Mr. Bates, who has devoted his career to the Worcester community through his work with Open Sky Community Services, and Mr. Brett, who uses his position at The New England Council to serve as a fierce advocate for crucial issues such as education and healthcare, have used their careers to improve the world in which they live. By honoring these three individuals, our graduates will bear witness to the transformational impact of the Assumption mission. These individuals are examples to which graduates may look as they begin their pursuit of meaningful and purposeful lives with their Assumption education serving as a foundation.”

In October 2016, Royal first visited Assumption when the University hosted a unique discussion on Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The event featured prominent Catholic scholars and Church leaders analyzing different aspects of the document; Royal provided a layman’s perspective on the Synod.

Royal has taught at Brown University, Rhode Island College, and The Catholic University of America, and received fellowships from the Renaissance Society of America to study in Italy as a Fulbright scholar. He has also served as vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and as editor-in-chief of Prospect magazine. He has written numerous essays that have appeared in scholarly journals and has translated books and articles from French, Italian and Spanish, and  published several books, including 1492 And All That: Political Manipulations of History; Reinventing the American People: Unity and Diversity Today; The Virgin and the Dynamo: The Use and Abuse of Religion in the Environment Debate; The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive Global History; The Pope’s Army; The God That Did Not Fail; and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century. 

Royal earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Brown University and a doctorate in comparative literature from the Catholic University of America. 

Kenneth J. Bates G’90, President and Chief Executive Officer of Open Sky Community Services

Bates has dedicated his career to serving the Worcester community. He was named the 2019 Nonprofit Business Leader of the Year by the Worcester Business Journal for his successful leadership to shepherd the July 2018 merger between The Bridge and Alternatives Unlimited, Inc. The merger resulted in Open Sky Community Services, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting and empowering families and individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse challenges. Bates joined The Bridge of Central Massachusetts in 2015 and has since developed a strong community presence, which includes helping lead the formation of the new statewide Central Community Health Partnership with AdCare Hospital, LUK, Inc., and Venture Community Services, which provides for those in the greatest of need. 

He currently serves as vice chairperson of the Board of the Association of Behavioral Healthcare of Massachusetts (ABH); as a board member of Parent Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and the Children’s League of Massachusetts; is a member of Harrington Healthcare System; a member of the governance committee of Fallon 365 Care ACO; a member of the Steering Committee and Co-Chair of the Mental Health Priority Area of the Coalition for a Healthy Greater Worcester; and co-chair of the Mayor’s Mental Health Task Force in Worcester.  He was formerly on the board of the New England Association of Drug Court Professionals.  

Bates earned his bachelor’s degree from Worcester State University and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption. 

James T. Brett, President and CEO of The New England Council

Brett is a leading advocate for education, health care, financial services and energy issues throughout New England and in Washington D.C. He has served as president and CEO of The New England Council—an alliance of schools, hospitals, corporations and private organizations working to promote economic growth and quality of life throughout New England—since October 1996, during which the organization has experienced significant membership and financial growth. He is also co-host of NECN’s D.C. Dialogue, and previously spent more than 15 years serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. While in the House, he served as chairman of a number of committees. 

Brett is committed to service, participating on and leading a number of philanthropic organizations, for which he has received several honors and awards, though most notable for his advocacy for the physically and mentally challenged. He currently serves as vice chairman of the National Council on Disability; chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability; and chairperson of the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission. The James T. Brett Chair in Disability and Workforce Development at UMass Boston is the nation’s only endowed chair in disability and workforce development and in 1996 Boston’s Bay Cove Human Services named a new community home for disabled adults “Brett House” in his honor. He has been designated by the Boston Red Sox as a disability advocate and was the driving force behind the Able Act, federal legislation that creates “a savings plan for people with disabilities for future education, training, living expenses, and other supports.”

Brett holds degrees from American University, Suffolk University and Harvard University and has been awarded with Papal Honors such as being named a Knight of Malta and Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Dorchester. 

The University’s plans for the Commencement have been reviewed and approved by the Worcester Department of Public Health. All Commonwealth COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols will be enforced by DCU Center staff. Should the public health situation decline in the coming weeks, the University will comply with any recommendations by the Worcester Department of Public Health and transition to a virtual ceremony, if necessary.