Criticized for preaching the truth

Criticized for preaching the truth

Imagine this scenario: Graduation ceremonies at a large midwestern Catholic university. An outstanding student, who plans to enter seminary, is asked to give a speech. He courageously defends Church teaching and makes a call to faithfulness to the Gospel. Sounds great, right? Sounds like something the Catholic priest who is president of the Catholic university would praise, right? You know where I’m going with this.

Ben Kessler was named “Tommie of the Year,” an honor given to an outstanding graduating senior at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, and was asked to give a speech at graduation. In that speech,  Kessler called on Catholics to stop being selfish, naming, among others, women who use birth control and professors protesting a university policy against unmarried employees bunking with girl/boyfriends on school-sponsored trips. He even named himself as selfish.

And the reaction was that selfish graduates and their selfish families began booing and catcalling because Kessler dared to speak the truth of the Gospel at the graduation ceremony and to name a spade a spade rather than blowing sunshine up their butt telling them how “truly great” the class of 2006 is. Some even walked out. And rather than back up the courageous student, the university administration threw him in front of the bus:

The university’s president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, also expressed regret “that graduates and their families and guests were offended by Mr. Kessler’s remarks.” Dease said he told Kessler it was inappropriate for him to use commencement to express his opinions.

Those weren’t mere “opinions.” Kessler was preaching the Gospel, and if those students had heard a smidgen of that Gospel during their 4-years at the college perhaps it wouldn’t have come as a shock during commencement.

Kessler was a defensive tackle on the St. Thomas football team and had a 4.0 grade-point average. He majored in philosophy and business, was an undergraduate seminarian at the university and plans to become a Roman Catholic priest.

I hope he continues pursuing his call, and if the Archdiocese of Minn.-St. Paul doesn’t want him, he can come to Boston. Although I’m pretty sure that St. John Vianney Seminary, which is on the grounds of Univ. of St. Thomas and is an excellent seminary, will be happy to have him.

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  • Dom:

    If you track down a text or recording of his talk, that’d be interesting.

    Also, they asked him to give a speech; what kind of speech did they want?

    I am inexpressibly astonished at the “tolerance and inclusivity” crowd consistently coming down on the side of condemning and censoring expression they don’t like.

  • He could also be sent to the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, which is also on the campus of St. Thomas University.  I only came to know of both seminaries due to a friend who is being ordained Penetecost weekend and who attended St. Paul’s.  It sounds like it has improved quite a bit since he started six years ago.  Sorry for the thread drift.

    Anyway, it’s nonsense like what happened to this fine young man, Ben Kessler, that makes my blood boil.  Sadly, contrary to what fellow student Darin Aus said, if someone had got up and spoke out in support of gay rights, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the administration fully endorse such comments.  Hopefully, I’m wrong about the administration, but not standing behind Kessler’s comments doesn’t give me much confidence.

  • reluctant penitant,

    “…and it may portend the kind of Catholic university that St. Thomas is on its way to becoming…”

    Sounds like Mr. Mikolajczak is afraid that St. Thomas University will become, well, Catholic.  I hope his fears become reality. wink

  • Echoing David Borer’s observation…

    “must model Catholic values and teaching, I am not surprised that the student speaker felt empowered to speak as he did.”

    ‘Felt empowered’  yes, the tolerant elite seems to be afraid. Their ideals and teachings are now subject to challenge by students and this is very threatening to them.

  • I went and watched the exerpt at “you tube” provided above. I didn’t see anything wrong with what he said; he said it without rancor or ugliness; his comments about people sleeping together without marriage, and birth control, were on point, but relatively brief. He proceeded to contrast selfishness with self-less-ness. I daresay if he’d omitted reference to sex and birth control, he’d have had no problems.

    As it is, the heckling and booing serve only to punctuate his point! What does it say about the audience that they couldn’t bear to hear what he said?

    I truly regret that he felt the need to apologize; and that the university threw him under the bus, as Domenico said above.

  • I wrote this to the President of the university:

    Dear Father Dease:

    I read about the speech Mr. Kessler gave at your commencement, I listened to a (faily lengthy) exerpt of it via “You Tube,” and read your comments at your web site.

    Please explain to me: what does Mr. Kessler have to apologize for? I heard him reflect authentic Catholic teaching, as he contrasted selfishness and selflessness. It did not seem to me that he went a centemeter beyond Catholic teaching, nor did he venture into any area that is in dispute.

    Since when is controversy in speeches at commencement something surprising or upsetting?

    You said: “I had hoped that he would focus on the accomplishments of his fellow graduates and challenge them to continue their efforts ‘to advance the common good,’ as our mission statement urges.”

    Well, perhaps he could have said more about the former; but do you really dispute that his comments pertained to the “common good”—and as such, were indeed a “challenge”? Or did you mean, a challenge that was less challenging?

    Alexander Solznitzyn said, “what strange times these are, when a statement of basic moral truth becomes an act of great courage!” What strange times indeed; especially that a young man courageously proclaims the Gospel at a Catholic University, and the University considers that offensive.

    Perhaps there is something I am missing.

  • It’s ironic that they called him intolerant and a bigot. Here they are at a Catholic college graduation and they can’t bear to hear the Gospel to such a degree that they shout derisive comments and slurs on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just who is the intolerant bigot?

    Frankly, it reminds me of Cardinal Arinze’s speech at Georgetown’s commencement a few years ago that elicited a similar response. Kessler’s in good company.

  • Absolutely amazing speech.  Ben is certainly in my prayers.  I pray that he fulfills his calling to the priesthood, because we need more young priests like him, and I hope his meeting with Fr. Dease did not water down the love he has for Truth.

    It is absolutely shameful that he was heckled as he was when speaking Catholic doctrine at a Catholic University, I too pray that he will one day be a Bishop.

    We all need to pray for this young man!

  • By the way the SJV website says that he is a seminarian of the Diocese of Madison.  I pray that he continues to grow closer to the Lord during his time at the NAC, and hurry back, we need you here!

  • I was thinking he would be going to the NAC and he is.  He will be a good priest, God willing.  Madison is very blessed to have him.

    The Archdiocese of Minn.-St. Paul is a interesting place these days.  Give the Archdiocese 5 years because things are going to be very different there.  It may not look that way on the surface, but I think Archbishop Flynn is doing a good job.  It has not been an easy assignment for him.  The next Archbishop will be very grateful for letting Roach’s Mafia die out.

  • “We need to find out how to contact Ben to support him. “

    You can support Ben by sending him an email:

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    I have sent him a note of support.

    Is anybody up for creating a Ben Kessler Fan webpage?

  • Really? Because it’s in the Catechism and as we all know Catholics are not sola Scriptura and we believe that Word of God is both written and oral, passed on through the Apostles and safeguarded by the Magisterium of the Church. They didn’t teach you that at UST? Quelle surprise.

  • Walker: You’re only confirming what many people already believe about UST. Why did you choose to attend a Catholic university if you reject it as you do? Isn’t that hypocritical?

  • “It’s odd…I don’t quite recall the Gospel saying anything about birth control. “

    “Oh and I’m pretty sure the women Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might have been sleeping around with didn’t exactly have the choice to use the pill. “

    Birth control…the great ‘sacrament’ of the secular age…we were told by advocates that birth control would result in 1) more respect for women, 2) an end to prostitution and 3) more respect for marriages.

    The last 40 years show this to be a false promise with women and children bearing the brunt of the abuse. Yet this is deemed so important by the intellectuals of our age they fail to see the harm.

  • Looking at the video, there was some cat-calling but not too bad for a graduation.  Most of the noise seemed to be coming from other’s high-jinxs.  He did get a bad reaction from some people, especially near the camera, but most people seemed to listen respectfully.

    Also, did you notice the ChiCom flag infront of the podium?  I think another was German.  I didn’t see Old Glory.

    Andrew Balet

  • As I’ve said before, Google chooses the ads based on keywords on the page. If an inappropriate ad comes up, give me the URL and I’ll ban it. A direct email to me would be more effective than pointless kvetching in the combox.

    And since the ad hasn’t appeared when I loaded the page, I don’t know which site to ban and have to wait until it does.