Here's the 1st installment on the Book of Seton. I've included the graduation speeches in their entirety.
Graduates of the Classes of 2013 and 1999 and 1984
“Will the Class of 2013 now rise.” Mrs. Carroll looked down upon the 51 seniors as they prepared to turn the tassels on their caps. Another graduation, another group of students leaving the behind the walls and halls of Seton. Fourteen years earlier, Michael Isenberg was doing what the ‘13’ers were doing this night. Here’s what he had to say in an interview with Catie Bergman, reporter for, Seton’s school newspaper about his time at Seton and the events that brought him to living the high life from Manhattan to a Floridian island.
Inquisitor: Tell us about the impact Seton had on your vocation.
Mike: When I started at Seton as a freshman in 1995, I did not have priesthood in my mind at all. I went to public school before Seton, receiving a good education, but I just was not happy with the friends I had. I was looking for a school where I did not have to be embarrassed about living a moral life. I did very well in math and science, but struggled in English and history! Religion I had only been taught in CCD; therefore, I only had a basic understanding of theology before Seton. I cannot say that religion was my favorite subject, but it definitely changed the way that I think and make decisions. I began to understand why the Church teaches what it does. This allowed me to think with the Church, which helped me when I left Seton. Seton left me with the impression that the Faith is something reasonable and not just made up. This later would prove very important because I am a systematic thinker and things need to make sense before I can understand or believe them. One of the great inspirations that I had to the priesthood came in the form of a guest lecturer in senior religion, Fr. William Most. He demonstrated a thorough knowledge and love for Holy Scripture, which I have not seen in anyone else. I remember him reading his Greek Bible, translating it on the fly for us, and then explaining what it meant and how it applied to our life. I still remember his explanation of the downward spiral of sin, which led to a great reflection later in my life. I had a fleeting thought that maybe God was calling me to something similar, but I quickly dismissed it. I wanted to be an engineer who lived the American dream. I was content with this and planned college around it. Simplicity of life was a constant theme that I found at Seton, from the appearance of the school to the low tuition. Mrs. Carroll and the other teachers sacrificed many comforts in their lives in order to educate students in the Catholic Faith. In my later quest for wealth, they provided opportunities for me to contemplate where true happiness is found. I was living for the fleeting happiness of this world and not the eternal happiness found in God alone. They all lived the Gospel and were not ashamed to do so.
Inquisitor: You went to Virginia Tech after Seton. What was its importance in your life?
Mike: I graduated in 1999 and began the Engineering program at Virginia Tech. I had made many good friends while at Seton some went to Tech with me, and others went to nearby universities. Having these friends was helpful because I was not completely alone in a world of misunderstood freedom. I had a group of moral friends with whom I could begin this new experience. We would quickly realize that the Newman Center at Virginia Tech was not what we were used to from Seton. As a group, we went to St. Mary’s in Blacksburg every Sunday. In college it is extremely easy to slip away from the Church because it is not the cool or easy thing to practice the Faith. Actually, I found that people make fun of you for not living on the wild edge of life. I had a wonderful college experience despite the religious hardships that I went through. I could not appreciate this until much later, but Seton prepared me to deal with all the problems in life because they taught me how to think with the mind of the Church. I think the other thing that helped me stay out of trouble at VT was that Engineering was so difficult that I did not have much free time. I was in the labs until 1 or 2 a.m. most weeknights, and classes resumed early the next morning . One of the most valuable things that I learned while at Seton was how to study effectively. I do not think I would have been able to manage my time and studies otherwise.
Inquisitor: What happened after college?
Mike: I had some great summer internships in college. For a couple summers, I worked at Micron Tech right here in Manassas. But my last internship offered me a great job upon graduation. Everything in the plan of my life was falling into place. I now had a consulting job that involved traveling and an amazing salary. I bought my first sports car while still in college with the down payment from the signing bonus. My first project was in Manhattan. My company paid for all my travel expenses including airfare, housing and food. I lived in an apartment in Times Square. During those six months, I was supposed to be happy and loving life; however, I was completely miserable. I tried everything to fill a void within me. I was making it to Mass on Sunday and I was living a moral life, but I was filled with the love of money and everything the world offered. I did not have God in my life. That project ended and I was sent to Tampa, for two years. There I lived on a beautiful island in Tampa Bay. The money began to pile up, so I decided that I needed a bigger, more expensive vehicle and a condominium next to Dulles to make traveling easier. Life was supposed to be fantastic, but the HDTV and the fast, expensive cars were not making me happy. I had a wonderful girlfriend and I still had this emptiness. I was obviously missing God and prayer in my life, but I did not want to admit that I needed anyone but my possessions and myself. I truly thought that I could buy my own happiness!
Michael’s life from Seton into the “real world” was one that outwardly was pure success. Internally, it is clear that Michael did not have that same sense of success. He was experiencing the rocky roads that one often has to bump along before reaching the real destination.
Mrs. Carroll had experienced some bumpy roads of her own this graduation day of 2013. The Virginia afternoon was a typically hot and muggy June day. Thinking ahead, Mrs. Carroll decided to roll down the windows on her car so that she could ride to the graduation in as much comfort as a Saturn can provide. Then a thunderstorm hit, and the rain poured through the ventilating windows, soaking the driver’s seat. Mrs. Carroll ventured out to her car with an armload of towels so that her cool car would be inhabitable.
Also in hand was the second commencement address she had written that day to deliver before the diplomas were distributed. Why a second? She had written her speech using some well-chosen quotes of Pope Francis. She then read through the salutatorian and valedictorian speeches. The students, obviously having adopted the mind of their principal and teacher, had used exactly the same quotes she had chosen.
Along with towels and new speech, Mrs. Carroll brought to the car the diplomas. This was the second set of diplomas that were intended for the Class of 2013. Why a second set? The first set had been delivered during Easter week with the gold embossed name of each graduate of his diploma cover. They had not been seen since Easter Week. Now there were the navy blue covers with little white stickers with the unembossed name of a graduate on each.
There were other problems: lectionary difficulties, the missing copy of Bishop Loverde’s homily, and then the climax was reached after the graduates processed out to the singing of “God Bless Our Pope”. Mrs. Carroll was standing in the courtyard with happy graduates and their families, teachers and friends, when a student came up to her to ask where the reception was being held.
“In the All Saints gym where it always is,” Mrs. Carroll replied.
The student responded, “I was just in the gym and there is nothing there.”
That’s when Mrs. Carroll quickly realized that she had never put anyone in charge of the reception, so no arrangements at all had been made.
Mrs. Carroll just as quickly said to the student, “Go back to the gym and announce that the reception has been cancelled.”
Off trotted the student to make the declaration.
Announcement made, the reception that never was was cancelled, and the courtyard gathering under a star-filled sky became the quasi-reception. It had been a bumpy ride to a beautiful end to a great graduation.
2013’s Salutatorian, Tim Cook, talked about some of the “bad luck” his class faced during their years at Seton.
Your Excellency, Mrs. Carroll, teachers and faculty of Seton, family and friends of the Class of 2013, fellow students and graduates, welcome. On behalf of my fellow graduates, I would like to thank you all for coming to support us on this special and joyous occasion, and I am honored to be able to speak to you tonight.
Now I know what you’re all thinking: “Oh I hope this guy manages to be a little funny and not too cliché…” Well, let me tell you something: this is a graduation speech; it is going to be somewhat cliché.
Here we are. The Class of 2013…13…a number which has always been seen across the world as “unlucky.” And some may look at our class and say, “Well that kind of fits.” Why? Well many of us have had some small, unfortunate things happen to us, whether they happened because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they were just the result of plain stupidity… Some examples: Trying to hit a classmate with a French fry, but missing and nailing a police officer instead; Bending over to pick up some papers for a teacher, and hitting the fire alarm with your backpack, bringing the whole fire squad of Manassas to Seton; Mindlessly playing with your fingers and getting one stuck in the picnic table outside the school, leading to a teacher’s having to get a saw to cut the table in order to set you free; being told by a 7th grade teacher that the world would end during senior year; and there were many other small things which I don’t have time to mention here. But in our time at Seton, we did also experience some more serious trials. We lost some of Seton’s greatest contributors and loved ones: Mrs. Jones, the beloved 7th grade grammar teacher; Mr. Vander Woude, the loving father and coach; Michael Pennefather, the joyful inspiration to many, and a spiritual member of the class of 2014; Mrs. Akers, the caring office lady and mother who was always there to greet you with a smile; and, of course, Dr. Carroll, avid supporter of the school and husband to its founder, whose presence in class was always enjoyed. We are so blessed to have encountered these inspiring people in our time at Seton. But “unlucky” thirteen seemed to kick us again, when, before we even entered high school, our class watched our country elect an anti-life and anti-Catholic administration. Things definitely did not look good for us as Catholics.
So when you add up all of these unfortunate things, thirteen seems to fit its unlucky reputation. But I believe otherwise. During our senior year, 2013, we experienced another election, the election of Pope Francis I. And Pope Francis tells us, “We must undergo many trials if we are to enter the Kingdom of God,” and they are “part of the path that leads to God's glory.” Knowing this, and understanding how important these “unlucky” things, these trials, really are, I can’t imagine being any luckier than having gone through these experiences with this class.
For us graduates, this is the close to a long (well, long in some ways, but too short in others) but important chapter of our lives. After tonight, we move on into what many call “the real world,” which seems to be full of a lot of nasty stuff. Here at Seton though, we’ve been given the tools we need to move out of our comfort zone, to clean up some of that nasty stuff. At Seton, we prayed in school. We prayed in public. We prayed in front of the local abortion clinic. We marched at the annual March for Life. We gave our pro-life speeches. All of these were steps to build us up as Catholics who could not only stay strong in our Faith, but who could spread it to others as well. None of these things are done nor would they be accepted at public schools, because those at public schools are taught to just “go with the flow” in the nasty stuff in “the real world.” As Setonites, we were taught to do the exact opposite: to go against the current. But it will not be easy, and we won’t be able to do it alone. We were given one more weapon to help us in our battle, and that’s Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said to a group of recently confirmed youth, “To go against the current, this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage.” As we head off to different colleges, each of us will be thrown into the tide, and I beg you to remember what you have learned here at Seton; not everything (well, everything you can), but most especially the things that are so unique to Seton, both inside and outside the classroom, which strengthen our Faith and help us realize the responsibility we now have in this world. Now we must bring these to our counterparts who have not been fortunate enough to have been given what we have been here at Seton. The next chapter in our lives is the time to swim against the tide and accomplish great things.
So as the-now-lucky-class, let’s go out into the world and build some bridges to Christ (Yeah, that’s a Pope Francis expression, too). And let me conclude with yet another quote from a man named Pope Francis: “How beautiful it would be, if each of you, every evening, could say: Today at school, at home, at work, guided by God, I showed a sign of love towards one of my friends, my parents, an older person!” Remember this next year and in the years to come.
Thank you. God bless the Class of 2013 and God bless Seton!
How were the bumps in the road smoothed over for Michael?
Inquisitor: What happened to change things?
Mike: Before my 24th birthday, I started to think back to all the times I was happy and why. None of this happiness was due to anything I owned but was from my experiences in prayer while at Seton and the friends I made there. I knew that I needed to start praying again and started to go to adoration a couple evenings a week. It was hard to do because I had to drive 30 minutes to find a Holy Hour. My entire life changed at that point and material things began to mean less to me. I had a compulsory feeling to go to daily Mass and found a church right next to my office. I kept feeling drawn into the church through prayer and I could not explain why but I loved it. This is probably the only time that I actually gave the priesthood any serious thought without immediately dismissing it. In high school, my excuses were that God did not make me a good writer or public speaker; therefore, I could not do the job! Through college and work I knew that I could do both of those well, so that was no longer an excuse. My list of excuses was running thin, so I gave it some good thought for months and kept debating it. A strange transformation happened and I began looking forward to the priesthood before I had even decided to enter the seminary. It was not an escape from my life or job because I liked the work that I was doing and I was good at it. I made a big jump, but I trusted in Divine Providence the whole way. I cannot say that it was an easy transition from having everything to having nothing, but it has definitely been rewarding. During Adoration in Tampa, I met a great friend who was there to help me through many of the tough decisions I had to make. After theology, one of the most important things I learned from Seton was about what a true friendship is. True friends are what got me through Seton, Virginia Tech and supported me on my journey to the priesthood.
Inquisitor: You are now a seminarian in Rome – what is it like?
Mike: Living in Rome as a seminarian is an indescribable experience, but I am going to attempt to do so for you. The North American College is right next to Vatican City and from our roof there is a magnificent view of St. Peter’s and all of Rome. When I was working, I traveled in the United States, but I never had a chance to travel anywhere else in the world. It was incredible and overwhelming to arrive in Rome to the foundations of the Catholic Church and the home of the Ancient Roman Empire. Even though I never did well in history class, I always found it thoroughly fascinating. I have found it a tremendous blessing to be able to be able to attend a history or archeology class and then walk right down the road to where it all happened. In this year of St. Paul, I have been able to visit the jail where Paul was imprisoned, ‘Tre Fontane” where he was beheaded and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall where he was eventually buried. At the Angelicum where I attend class, we have Dominican professors and religious students from all over the world. Despite all of our differences, it is wonderful to gather in class to learn the one true Catholic Faith, which does not change, no matter where you are from or where you are going. I cannot forget to mention Pope Benedict XVI. While I had not had an opportunity to meet him personally, he has had a great impact on me. I love going to the Sunday Angelus to listen to him and to see pilgrims who have traveled around the world just to see him. During the Easter liturgies, some pilgrims’ eyes were filled with tears at the sight of Benedict. Seeing the faith of the pilgrims inspires me never to take for granted the incredible opportunity that the Church has given me.
Mrs. Carroll, before the diplomas were awarded, chose a triplicate of typical things to inspire the graduates.
I want to talk to you about three things: tattoos, skydiving, and pickled peppers. And how do I tie these disparate ideas into a single theme, a theme with a spiritual message? Through Pope Francis, your Pope.
Francis is surely a Pope of surprises. He surprised us just two weeks after his election when he chose to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper at a juvenile prison in Rome, away from the television cameras, and away from the worldwide media attention that a Papal Mass on a major feast day normally commands. As part of the liturgy, he washed the feet of twelve young prisoners, teaching us by example the importance of unconditional love. One of the feet he washed and kissed, so I’ve heard, was tattooed. A tattooed foot is not the normal image that comes to mind when we think of Papal ceremony. I doubt that very many people are thinking that the way to get the Pope’s attention would be to get a tattoo. And I’m in no way intending to address the question that comes up about once a year in religion class: Are tattoos moral? But I do want to say something about tattoos.
I’m quite sure that few if any of the persons in this church right now have a tattooed foot. [Actually one Seton alumnae did—she showed me the tiny tattoo after the ceremony.] But I’m equally sure that almost all of us who are much above the age of reason have a tattooed heart. Each one of has some sin we keep committing, some imperfection we just don’t try to get rid of, some worldly attachment that is quite comfortable, some very bad habit we don’t want to change. That sin, imperfection, attachment, habit is tattooed into our heart. There’s an image there that is not natural, not healthy, not attractive. Just as a physical tattoo is put into the skin by little injections of dye, so the spiritual tattoo is put into the soul by little choices, one by one, day by day, saying no to God and yes to self. And just as a bodily tattoo is difficult and painful to remove, so that tattoo of the heart is difficult and painful to remove. And if a tattoo is removed, the skin is never quite as healthy as it was before. But here the analogy breaks down. If we remove that spiritual tattoo—by prayer and the Sacraments and fasting and practicing the virtue that is opposite to the sin that is painted into our soul—if we remove it, our soul can become healthier than it was before. We can love God more than we did before we paid our money to the spiritual tattoo parlor.
So, Class of 2013, begin your post-Seton careers by getting rid of your spiritual tattoos. It will surely take awhile, and it will hurt, but the time to start is now. And as you open yourself more and more to Christ’s love, you will be ready for an adventure, and so we come to skydiving. In a recent homily, Pope Francis was describing one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus, the one where he took Jesus to the top of the Temple and suggested that Our Lord jump off so that the angels could come to catch Him. Pope Francis described the temptation as skydiving without a parachute. Satan wanted Jesus to become a media star, to perform magic tricks. But Jesus had a real adventure in mind. He was headed to Calvary. The temptation, said the Pope, is to try to have Christianity without the cross. And it’s a temptation we all have—to be, as Francis says, half-way Christians, to want the perks of Christianity without the sufferings, to skydive without a parachute into the temptations of the modern world. But if you want to land safely, you need life support, and that life support is the cross. In practical terms we need to hold fast to all of Jesus’ teachings, even the difficult ones, the ones about life and about love.
So, Class of 2013, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage to hold on to the cross. And when you do, you’ll find that you can’t always go exactly where you planned. Christ will often lead you in another direction. Pope Francis tells you that you can’t keep Jesus to yourself. You must go to the peripheries, to leave your comfort zone and reach out to the “victims of idolatry, of worldliness, of weak thinking”. You’ll need courage for that too.
And now we come to the pickled peppers. You need more than courage, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. You need one more Pope Francis word, joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis tells us that a pickled pepper face harms the witness of the church. A face that communicates the joy of being loved by God draws others into that love. Pope Francis is insistent. Christians who lack joy are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.
So, Class of 2013, be sure. Be sure that truth exists. Be sure that the Incarnation happened. Those are simple statements, but Pope Francis simplifies them even more. He combines them into one single concept. He says, “Truth is not a possession. It is an encounter with a Person.” In other words, truth is a meeting with the Incarnate God.
Fall in love with God and everything will change. You’ll do whatever it takes to get rid of the spiritual tattoos that dilute your love. You’ll walk the way of the cross because that’s where your Beloved is. You’ll sing with the joy of a man or woman in love and bring others to Christ. Others will know joy from you and be drawn to the source of that joy.
And for the last word, joy, there is one last quote. This one is from St. John of the Cross but it certainly sounds like something Pope Francis would say. St John says: “The person who knows God swims in joy, keeps holiday, and is always in a mood for singing.”
It doesn’t get any better than this.
Long live the Pope. Long live Christ the King. Praised be Jesus Christ.
It was Bishop Loverde who, on Monday, had said the graduation Mass, had given the homily and had handed the diplomas to the 2013 Seton Seniors. Saturday of that same week, it was Bishop Loverde who ordained Michael Isenberg a priest for the Diocese of Arlington. Father Isenberg returned to his home parish, Holy Trinity in Nokesville, Virginia, to say Mass. The pastor serving Holy Trinity and there to welcome the newly ordained was Father Tom Vander Woude, Seton grad of 1984.
Bernadette Wunderly, 2013 Valedictorian, bid farewell with these words as her class passed through Seton’s doors of a different color.
First, I would like to thank Your Excellency, Bishop Loverde, for coming to celebrate Mass and for participating in the graduation ceremony. It is an honor and a blessing to have you here. Also, I would like to thank the Reverend Fathers for being here, as well as our parents, family, and friends. And a special thanks to Father Cilinski for allowing us to celebrate our graduation Mass in this beautiful church.
This gathering of the Class of 2013 tonight, colored with striking, bold blue caps and gowns, calls to mind something legendary, something unforgettable…the blue doors. A part of Seton for many years, they were replaced this past winter by brand new glass doors. We have all passed through these doors countless times, sometimes even been shoved through them, racing to get to class before the final bell. These blue doors blocked the sun for us or simply served as a strategic meeting place. The steps leading up to them were the perfect spot to hangout and to eat lunch. A majority of our class was photographed with them while they were still intact. Ever since they have been replaced, I cannot look at that entrance the same way, and I will forever refer to it as the BLUE DOORS. Although the Blue Doors are now a memory, their name and relic remain above the new glass doors. They were an icon of the school and will not be forgotten.
Now it is our time to depart through the doors of Seton and embark on a new journey. Just as the blue doors stood out from the rest of the doors at Seton, we too, the class of 2013, will distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world; for, we have been taught the truth here at Seton and our consciences have been well formed. Mrs. Carroll recently labeled our class as the most individualistic. We have many diverse personalities which all contribute to our classes’ originality. I mean, what other class could organize the senior play in such a short time? Or host the first senior barbeque in the senior parking lot during 5-8th period? This may in fact become a tradition for all future senior classes! You should all be proud of your accomplishments, and now is the time to put what you have learned into practice and share your gifts with the outside world. As Catholics, we are unique and distinct from the majority of the world. We live in times where our Catholic faith is constantly being challenged and attacked. In Pope Francis’s advice to young people he states, “Swim against the tide. It’s good for the heart but it takes courage.” We must go against the current even when it’s difficult…especially when it’s difficult. We must avoid the temptation to follow the world and gather the strength to keep our Catholic values, especially those regarding the family. If we do this, then we will find true happiness and real success.
We have received an excellent education at Seton, but above all, we have been blessed to gain a strong foundation in our faith. I know it is the most important gift I will take with me from Seton. For, Christ and the faith have always been the center and focus at Seton. The chapel is located at the center of the main building and the door is always open even for just a short visit. We always conclude Spirit Week with the Feast of Christ the King when we honor Him by singing the school’s all-time favorite “An Army of Youth.” We have attended Mass twice a week, a holy hour every month, and confessions were available every week for the past six years. Christ has become an integral part of our daily lives. As you leave Seton, remember to continue this practice and always striv