Special Homily given at Notre Dame’s mid-year graduation ceremony

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 4-8-2009

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



Staff, family and friends and University supporters witnessed over 280 students graduating from The University of Notre Dame Australia’ Fremantle Campus at its mid-year graduation ceremony held on Sunday 26 July.

Many of those who attended the graduation also attended the special Graduation Mass which preceded the ceremony. Recently retired, Dean of Philosophy and Theology, Professor Peter Black was the Principal Celebrant at this Mass. Notre Dame’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Celia Hammond, said that Professor Black’s homily gave an interested parallel to a favourite Bible story.

“Father Black made reference to the story of Jesus feeding five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. He challenged the students to ‘Engage whatever resources you have even if at the time they seem inadequate, and call upon the advice and practical help of others.’

“Graduation ceremonies are wonderful occasions for the University at which the students’ achievements are acknowledged and celebrated.

“The homily gave a profound significance to the occasion because it made Christ present today in their achievements,” said Professor Hammond.


Media contact: Michelle Ebbs, 9433 0610, 0408 959 138

Professor Peter Black’s Homily for Notre Dame’s Fremantle Campus Graduation Mass, July 2009

The prophet Elisha fed one hundred people with twenty barley loaves when there was famine in the land of Gilgal. Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. The miracle of Jesus took place on a hill overlooking the north eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps many people had initially flocked to Jesus to have their immediate needs met, namely, to be cured of their many diseases. As the day wore on and they listened to Jesus teaching they became hungry and needed to be fed. Out of compassion Jesus feeds them. However this miraculous feeding is really a sign of the greater miracles that He can perform for them. He can satisfy their deeper hungers. Some no doubt could only see the obvious bread and fish before their eyes and feel the satisfying food in their stomachs and not the spiritual food he wanted them to taste and enjoy.

We can draw a telling parallel between this miracle of Jesus and the thoughts of the Trappist and author Thomas Merton, on the nature of true education. Merton suggests that the important bread and butter, as it were, of education, such as professional expertise and academic degrees, can be mistakenly substituted for the full meal of education, namely, the cultivation of a certain type of person, the formation of a particular character, the schooling of a right attitude so that the student sees self, others, life and God in a particular light. The light he suggests is a passion for knowledge and goodness and a heart open to service and compassion.

Graduands, when you arrived at the University of Notre Dame to commence your studies, you may have had similar thoughts and feelings to those of the disciples on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Have I got enough to cope, survive and succeed? My limited resources and gifts and 5,000 essays and exams to deal with! Here I am near the shore of the Indian Ocean with my few small loaves and little fish. Can the miracle happen? Well it has, for here you are today about to graduate. The lesson Jesus gave to his followers on that day of the miracle of the loaves and fish is one we all have learnt and need to remember. Engage whatever resources you have even if at the time they seem inadequate, and call upon the advice and practical help of others. Then have faith and believe that Christ can work with the little we bring, even with our limitations and apprehensions, and turn our efforts not only into sufficiency for the day but abundance for the future.

We hope that your experience at Notre Dame will stay with you forever. The memory and lasting legacy of great companions, the dedication and inspiration of your teachers, the excitement that comes from a mind and heart that opens up to new ideas and visions. In a Catholic university we praise the hard work and excellence of our students, we acknowledge the quality of all our staff but we also firmly believe in what the early Greek theologians of the Church referred to as energeia hagiastike, sanctifying energy. In other words, the Holy Spirit of God is at work within us and our university community. This reality is in fact stated in less theological terms in the very Objects of the university passed by an Act of Parliament, namely, to provide a university education within the context of Catholic faith and values.

Later today at the graduation ceremony you will write your name in our graduation book. In a few moments you will each be given the university cross. These are concrete reminders or signs of the deeper realities that you have touched during your time with us at Notre Dame, especially the mysterious hand of the Lord at work in the journey you have just completed and the adventure you are about to start. Graduands, parents, family, friends and staff of Notre Dame we have good reason to rejoice and marvel today and to be proud because our graduating students will leave us with a certain Notre Dame quality. They will have an expertise in their profession but also a sense of service and a true education in the full sense of the word.

There is a small chapel at a place called Tabcha which is said to mark the place where Jesus and his disciples landed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on the day of the feeding miracle. On the floor of the chapel is a mosaic depicting two fish and four loaves. No, it was not an embarrassing mistake made by the artist, the message is to bring what you have, even one loaf, and know that the Lord will provide the rest.