Leiby Soto delivered a three-minute speech from the heart to Cardinal Dolan and her classmates at a Mass for the class of 2017 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral April 24.
“If there is one thing I’ll always remember, it’s this—God is our companion,” said the senior at St. Raymond Academy for Girls in the Bronx. “We learned this from our parents, and thanks to them we received the gift of a Catholic education where we learned it from our teachers.
“Your Eminence, we rely on your continued prayer for us. On behalf of all these young people here today, thank you for your loyalty and support for Catholic schools in this great Archdiocese of New York. In return, we will strive for continued excellence and help make this world a better place, together with your prayers, your love and your blessing for each of us.”
Ms. Soto was called over to meet and speak with Cardinal Dolan for a moment before he concluded Mass.
“I wanted to be true to myself and I’m really grateful for the archdiocese, the Catholic Church and the values I learned in school. That is how I came up with the words (for my speech),” Ms. Soto told CNY after the Mass. She will attend Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
“My message was mostly love. I really wanted to come out with a positive vibe and the positive impact the Catholic schools had in our lives. I learned how to be kind and one of my passions is service, helping others. In Catholic schools, you are really like a family and it’s like your second home. You really grow a bond with each other.”
Cardinal Dolan, who was nursing a sore throat, celebrated the first of the two Masses for the archdiocese’s class of 2017 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The second was offered April 27.
“These two Masses each year really mean a lot to me because it’s a gift from God for me to be able to see the results of good work here in the Archdiocese of New York,” Cardinal Dolan told the 2,000 students and educators at St. Patrick’s. “This gives me a chance to congratulate you. I know you still have six weeks or so to go before graduation, but you’re in the top of the ninth and the end is near.
“We’re very proud of you. We love you very much. You remind us of who we are as the Church in coming together in faith, in teaching and in helping one another.”
Cardinal Dolan provided several messages to the students in his homily, including one from the Gospel where Jesus tells Nicodemus to look above because his meaning, purpose, dignity and identity comes from God in heaven. He later connected the Gospel with the mission of a Catholic education that goes beyond helping students advance to college and find a good job. “Our real goal is to get you into heaven,” the cardinal said.
“We come from God, and our goal in life is to get back to Him in heaven. Catholic schools help us do that.”
Following the Mass, students shared the impact of Cardinal Dolan’s homily and how attending Catholic school helped them.
“No matter what goal you have, it’s always important to keep what’s true and always follow Christ’s message in every decision I make,” said Tyler Young of St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island.
His St. Joseph by-the-Sea classmate, Chris Cammarata, added, “Always strive to be the best you can be and remember how Catholic schools help in our environment and how we should keep them going because they really produce good students and successful futures.”
Giulia Rammairone, who will study communications next year at Fordham University, summed up her morning at St. Patrick’s and her 14 years of attending Notre Dame Academy, a girls’ school on Staten Island.
“It was really a blessing to be here with the class of 2017 from Notre Dame Academy to celebrate together and go forward into college with the blessing of Cardinal Dolan and God,” she said.
“My 14-year-long Catholic education at Notre Dame Academy has made me a better person as a women’s leader, to be a woman of courage, conviction, faith and the Gospel.”