Legendary Coach Lou Holtz Headlines Benedictine’s Opening Convocation

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Julianna Bryan, Lou Holtz, President Stephen Minnis at the Opening Convocation

Benedictine College celebrated the start of another record-setting academic year on Aug. 30 with a formal All School Mass and Opening Convocation. Nearly 600 freshmen, one of the largest freshman classes in the history of the college, attended the events, which included a traditional class photo around the Benedictine "B" on campus and the March of Light when students placed candles in Mary's Grotto. The Convocation signals the end of “Beanie Week” when incoming freshmen and transfer students are officially welcomed into the college community.

Benedictine College alumnus Reverend Fr. Adam Wilczak ’07, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, delivered the homily at the Mass. Fr. Adam played football while at Benedictine and graduated with a degree in Theology.

“The beginning of laying the foundation of my ability to become a priest was on this campus, and it was here that I first fell in love with Jesus Christ. And when he asked me to be his priest, it was here that I said yes,” Fr. Adam said.

He reminded the gathered freshmen that the Rule of St. Benedict tells monks to spend an hour in prayer each day. He told them it was important for them to do the same.

“Find time to spend time with the Lord,” he said. “Take your studies before him. He is the teacher of all good things; therefore, he is the teacher of all you will learn here. Let Him enlighten your studies. Let him enlighten all of the aspects of your formation and your education.”

The annual Convocation recognizes academic accomplishments and this year, the keynote address came from Lou Holtz, legendary football coach, author, sports analyst, and inspirational speaker.

“I’m not going to preach to you. I’m not going to lecture to you,” Holtz told the packed house in the Nolan Gym. “I’m going to share the things I believe from the bottom of my heart.”

Holtz, known for his “Do Right” philosophy, proceeded to advise the gathered freshmen on how to be successful in life. He said it is not complicated, it’s a few simple rules: just do what’s right, do the best you can, and show people you care.

“I promise you this, those three rules will never let you down,” he said.

“And I hope you realize how fortunate you are to be at a college where you can express your faith in God,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you how important that has been in my life. I hope that you will always cherish the religious freedom you have and that you continue to maintain your faith and beliefs long after you leave Benedictine College.”

Julianna Bryan, a new freshman at Benedictine who is the recipient of the Lou and Beth Holtz Scholarship, helped with the presentation of a commemorative plaque at the end of the speech.

During the ceremony, Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis recognized the 2022 NAIA Women’s Lacrosse National Championship team and had them unfurl the championship banner. Holtz, who won a national football championship with the University of Notre Dame in 1988, congratulated them and posed for a picture with the team.

Champions - Lou Holtz poses with the 2022 National Champion Women's Lacrosse team.

Minnis also recognized Madison Sutton, a junior who is the reigning NAIA National Champion in the Discus, as well as students who had worked for the Value Them Both Amendment over the summer.

“Thank you for transforming the culture,” Minnis said. “As THE pro-life college in America, we are proud of the work you have done for the pro-life movement.” 

As part of the academic nature of the event, Minnis reminded everyone of the importance of academic rigor, pointing out the displays of President’s List and Dean’s List recipients as well as mentioning the number of graduates earning cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude honor cords. As part of that, he recognized the college faculty and their care for the students in helping them succeed.

“One of the things that sets Benedictine College apart is our teaching excellence and our faculty’s commitment to loving our students,” Minnis said. “This is not just my opinion. Every year we honor a large proportion of our faculty, because your evaluation of their courses puts them in the top 10% of all college teachers in the country.”

Following the keynote address, the freshman class and transfer students were welcomed into the community of Ravens, removing the beanies they had worn for the past week. The practice of freshmen wearing beanies dates back generations and Benedictine College may be the only college in America that still observes the tradition. Students consider Beanie Week a rite of passage at the college and many freshmen will proudly wear their beanies under their mortarboards four years later at Commencement.

Minnis offered the freshmen the ceremonial language of acceptance into the Benedictine community that each successive class hears at the Opening Convocation. “Having experienced the benefits of a Benedictine College tradition, and been welcomed into the Raven family, you are now fully incorporated into the college,” he said.

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.