This article was originally published on Detroit Catholic.
DETROIT — Sacred Heart Major Seminary celebrated 101 graduates April 29, sending forth laity and clergy to work in God's vineyard during a baccalaureate Mass and commencement ceremony for the class of 2023.
This June marks 100 years since the laying of the seminary's cornerstone, said Fr. Charlie Fox, vice rector of Sacred Heart, who gave the homily during a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron.
But while the physical cornerstone marks the presence of Sacred Heart in the city of Detroit, its graduates will bring the heart of Christ to those they serve in parishes, schools and ministries across the Archdiocese of Detroit and beyond, Fr. Fox said.
“What we celebrate on this commencement day and baccalaureate Mass is that our hearts have been formed according to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Fox said in his homily addressed to the graduates. “St. Paul actually describes this urgency in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: ‘For the love of Christ compels us because we have judged that one died for all, therefore all have died, and He died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sakes died and was raised.’”
During the 98th annual commencement ceremony, Sacred Heart graduates received a combined 75 degrees, seven diplomas and 33 certificates.
Honors awarded included 32 Certificates in Catholic Theology (CCT); three Basic Diplomas in Catholic Theology (BD); one Basic Diploma in Music Ministry; two Intermediate Diplomas in Diaconal Studies; one Associate of Arts in Ministry (AAM); six Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (ABP); 10 Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.); six Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS); eight Master of Arts in Theology (MA); 16 Master of Divinity (M.Div.); 16 Baccalaureates in Sacred Theology (STB); 10 Licentiates in Sacred Theology (STL); and one Alumnus Certificate.
While for many, the commencement marked the next milestone in their journey to the priesthood, for lay graduates, it marked the beginning of a journey to evangelize and bring Christ's light to their parish communities.
Christina Ihlenfeldt graduated with her Master of Arts in theology after many years of setbacks. She began her studies at Sacred Heart in 2015, but left to care for her husband, who suffered a stroke and later passed away in August 2020. A year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It's definitely been all God,” Ihlenfeldt told Detroit Catholic. “Through various things in life, I said, ‘Lord, if it's meant to be, then it will be.’ I was (originally supposed) to graduate last year, but God has made a way.”
Ihlenfeldt serves as the director of discipleship formation at her Family of Parishes, the South Oakland Vicariate Family 5, which includes Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley; the Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield; Divine Providence (Lithuanian) Parish in Southfield; and Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Oak Park.
“In my role, I have so many opportunities to be able to help revive people's faith. There's a yearning, there's a hunger,” Ihlenfeldt said. “I've led a Bible study where I've realized that people really want to learn more. My hope and goal is to lead others to a real personal encounter with Jesus that's going to, I believe, revive and infuse our Church in Detroit.”
Fr. Fox told the graduates it can be easy to doubt one’s preparedness for the mission of evangelization, especially in a world where so many forces conspire to distract people from Christ.
“Sacred Heart Major Seminary is, for all of us, a place where we draw nearer to Christ. We profess our faith, and the Lord strengthens our faith as we grow in understanding of divine truth,” Fr. Fox explained.
Fr. Fox pointed out that some draw a distinction between knowing Jesus and knowing about Jesus, but said graduates of Sacred Heart seek to do both.
“Here we will know Jesus, seek to know more about him, and in knowing more about him, we know and love him more," Fr. Fox said. "Here we know Jesus in liturgical worship and prayer, intellectual study, community and pastoral service. We strive to live entirely for Christ.”
As graduates allow the Lord to order their own lives, they become well prepared to go out and proclaim Christ’s words of eternal life, Fr. Fox said.
“We must never allow ourselves to grow despondent over our sins, even when we find ourselves falling into them again and again,” Fr. Fox said. “There is something in us stronger than sin: divine grace, which is always thrusting up like a plant rooted in our souls, always claiming for itself. There is no autumn in your soul. As long as you believe in Jesus Christ and what his resurrection has done for you, it is always spring.”
Their time at Sacred Heart Major Seminary prepared the graduates to evangelize others and to live for Christ, Fr. Fox added.
“This is what St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today, means when she says, ‘Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.’”