Sheen helps provide shine to La Roche's graduation

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Even if some of the 20-somethings in the audience didn't know the finer points of the commencement speaker's career, they heard his words.

After Martin Sheen — an actor, social activist and Catholic — addressed La Roche College's 2013 graduates and their families in the Kerr Fitness and Sports Center, they rose, giving him a standing ovation. His final message to them was a prayer he had written in the spirit of verses by St. Francis of Assisi and Tagore, a Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner.

“Make us nonviolent instruments of your peace,” he said.

Officials of the Catholic college in McCandless invited Sheen to campus to receive a doctor of humane letters degree in the company of 262 students receiving bachelor's degrees and 40 receiving graduate degrees. They came from 13 states and 14 countries.

Sheen, of California, came, he said, “because I get their message. (The college) is building better children for our world. They're taught to be light and energy and inspiration, one student at a time.”

An honorary degree, he said, is “a sign along your journey that you're going in the right direction. You're leading an honest life.”

It was shared values that brought Sheen here.

“He uses his celebrity to shine a light on humanitarian causes,” said Sister Candace Introcaso, 59, president of the college. “We admire him as an actor, but he resonates with the mission of the college in its jubilee year.”

As part of the celebrations of the college's 50th anniversary, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also have visited the campus.

During graduation week, Sister Candace, of McCandless, had arranged for a “The West Wing” marathon, so students could acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the Emmy-award winning TV show that ran from 1999 to 2006. She chose eight to ten of her favorite episodes for viewing, explained Kathy Kozdemba, a member of college's board of trustees and a Hampton Township resident.

There never was a time when the young Ramón Estévez, Sheen's birth name, wasn't attracted to acting, he told his young audience on the brink of their own careers. The passion, “a knowing at the center of my being,” was stirring even before he saw his first movie at age 6 or 7, he said. And he learned early on about social-justice issues as the son of an Irish mother and a Spanish father.

Sheen, 72, encouraged students to hold onto “justice, healing and mercy, qualities that unite us,” a hard task “in a culture where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

He called to mind a speech given by the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1966: “'It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

To Kennedy's words, Sheen then added his own.

“Unite the will of the spirit with the work of the flesh,” he said, urging the students to serve others for their own sake: “One heart with courage is a majority.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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