Students push for Pope Francis as 2015 commencement speaker


Linda SmithStaff Writer


Who wouldn’t want Papa Francesco to speak at their graduation? -Photo courtesy of Patheos
Who wouldn’t want Papa Francesco to speak at their graduation?
-Photo courtesy of Patheos

UD Juniors Alex Doucet, Ada Thomas, Candace Langsfeld and Alex Taylor gather around a dining room table, calmly drinking tea. One would never suspect that this relaxed setting is a meeting for the four to discuss their exciting new initiative to bring Pope Francis to the University of Dallas as the 2015 commencement speaker.

The idea came from a joke during Spring Break, when Taylor, on a camping trip with friends, found out that the 2014 commencement speaker would be George Weigel.

“I said, ‘Oh, that’s cool, we have to try and one-up that somehow,’” explained Taylor. “I jokingly said, ‘We were in Rome when the pope was elected, he should come over here for our graduation. It seems only fair!’” he added.

What started as a joke, however, soon became more serious, according to Doucet, when the four realized over Easter break that Pope Francis would be traveling to the U.S. in the summer of 2015.

“We thought, ‘Maybe this is a possibility,’” said Doucet. “And we started thinking of all the connections we have as a university and realized how … we could possibly get that to happen.”

The group, which also consists of juniors Brie Pajak and Michael Kalan, began the campaign by asking students to write letters to the Pope. The group is hosting a letter-writing and Texas-flag-signing event in Haggar Foyer, which will last from Monday, April 28 to Wednesday, April 30.

The students are hopeful that their letters will gain some kind of response from Pope Francis.

“He’s responded to letters before. He’s called people, he’s accepted visits from people who have bombarded the Vatican Post Office,” said Doucet. “He’s been known to go ahead and respond personally.”

The group can be found on Facebook under the name “Pope Francis @ University of Dallas.” Over 2,000 people have been invited, and more than 600 have responded as “going.”

Taylor has also already noticed student conversations about the event.

“Just going out around campus a day or two after we started that Facebook page, I had people talking to me, saying, ‘Oh yeah, what’s this thing about the Pope?’ … so it’s already gaining traction amongst the student body, and it can really go somewhere,” said Taylor.

Many in the class of 2015 were present for Pope Francis’ election last year, so his presence at their graduation would be extra special. -Photo courtesy of Alec deKeratry
Many in the class of 2015 were present for Pope Francis’ election last year, so his presence at their graduation would be extra special.
-Photo courtesy of Alec deKeratry

Connections are another factor that has led the group to believe that the plan could succeed. According to Langsfeld, “our legacy in Rome” will be crucial to the campaign. This legacy includes Rome and on-campus faculty like Monsignor Thomas Fucinaro, Father Brown and Father Thomas, as well as sources close to the Pope who are familiar with UD, such as John Allen, George Weigel, Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga.

“We’re going to be sending the Benedictus picture from the Rome Spring 2013 class. We’re going to blow that up nice and large and have everyone sign that as well,” Doucet said. “That is going to be sent with Father Thomas, because he’s going to Rome in the summer and is possibly going to have lunch with the Pope. He’s going to be able to deliver our formal letters as well.”

The group also plans to send out invitations asking family and alumni to write their own letters to the pope again expressing the request to visit UD. Students are encouraged to ask any religious persons they may know to write letters as well. These letters will all be added to the ones delivered by Fr. Thomas Esposito.

While the campaign is still in its early stages, the group wants to get the campaign started as early as possible in order to get preliminary results before school ends.

“The important thing is that we continue to stay motivated at least until the summer begins,” Doucet said.

“This needs to happen before the summer, because we just know that it’s natural for [student enthusiasm] to fade.”

Langsfeld also encourages students to “keep the enthusiasm going” and not to “get complacent and not continue with it.”

“I think student support is the main thing right now, because it’s not going to happen if just the four of us want it,” Thomas agreed.

“It’s going to have to be a huge, school-wide thing.

The group stressed that even if a papal visit cannot happen, anything that does happen will be beneficial not only for the students involved, but for the entire school.

“Crazier things have happened, you know?” said Thomas.

“Even though it’s an almost insane thing to hope for, the worst thing that can possibly happen is … that the Pope knows about us. We may just [draw] the Pope’s attention to the school and all the good things that are going on here.”


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