Professor of the Year and winner of social justice award to speak at UST commencement ceremonies Dec. 17

Two inspiring speakers will address graduating students and their guests at University of St. Thomas commencement exercises on Friday, Dec. 17.

Dr. Michael Degnan, named the university’s 2004 Professor of the Year in March, will speak at baccalaureate ceremonies at 3 p.m. in Coughlan Field House. Degnan, himself a St. Thomas graduate (he has a 1977 B.A. in philosophy, summa cum laude), began teaching philosophy part time at St. Thomas in 1980 and full time in 1982. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Minnesota in 1990. A fall from a ladder in the summer of 1997 left him in a wheelchair but couldn’t dampen his irrepressible enthusiasm, sharp wit and strong faith.

Father Stephen Adrian, pastor of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church on St. Paul’s West Side, will speak at graduate commencement ceremonies at 7 p.m. in Coughlan Field House. Adrian will receive the university’s John A. Ryan Award for outstanding leadership and contributions to social justice.

The award is named for Monsignor John A. Ryan, an 1898 St. Paul Seminary graduate who taught moral theology there from 1902 to 1915, when he joined the faculty of Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He was an influential writer and served as an adviser to Franklin Roosevelt during his presidency.

Adrian, who has been pastor of St. Matthew’s since 1978, was named “West Sider of the Year” in 1991 by the West Side Citizens’ Organization.  Early this year, he was chosen by the General Mills Foundation to receive a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Local Legend award for community involvement and commitment to King’s vision. He co-founded the St. Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Congregations, which helps people with low incomes to purchase homes, and also helped found the Neighborhood Development Alliance, which works with government programs to enhance housing for poor and homeless people.

Adrian led the parish’s efforts to establish a child-care center in 1987; it continues to be the only center of its kind on the West Side. Under his leadership, the parish has become a beacon of community service in the neighborhood. Guests of the Loaves and Fishes program enjoy nutritious meals four nights a week at St. Matthew’s Social Hall, where 30,000 meals are served each year.  Parish volunteers deliver some 2,000 Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors each year. Volunteer doctors, nurses and other professionals serve uninsured people weekly in more than 1,000 patient visits a year to St. Mary’s Clinic, also housed at St. Matthew’s. 

The university will award about 200 bachelor’s degrees at the undergraduate commencement exercises and 526 graduate degrees at the graduate ceremonies.  The ceremonies will be preceded by a Commencement Mass at 1:30 p.m. in the university’s Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. Receptions for graduates and their families will follow each commencement ceremony.


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