University of Portland announces 2017 Commencement speaker and honorees


February 20, 2017

The University of Portland has announced the honorees to be recognized during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies, which will be held on campus in the Chiles Center on Sunday, May 7. Commencement I begins at 10 a.m. and is held for undergraduate and graduate students of the Pamplin School of Business, the Shiley School of Engineering, and the School of Nursing. Commencement II starts at 2 p.m. and is for all graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education.

Christus Magister Medal

Sr. Charlene Herinckx, S.S.M.O. ‘78
Receiving the University’s highest honor, the Christus Magister Medal, is Sr. Charlene Herinckx, S.S.M.O. Sr. Herinckx was elected Superior General of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Oregon (S.S.M.O.) in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015. The S.S.M.O., which are the only religious community to be founded in Oregon, officially opened their convent in 1886, and in 1889, they opened an orphanage. Since that time, the sisters have been deeply committed to serving others, especially through education and health care. Through the years, the order founded St. Mary’s Home for Boys, St. Mary’s Institute, St. Mary of the Valley boarding school, St. Mary of the Valley High School (now known as Valley Catholic), and Maryville Nursing Home. Sr. Herinckx was raised in Roy, Oregon, a small community near the Tualatin Valley, where the Sisters of Saint Mary began teaching in 1912. The sisters taught her parents, siblings, and extended family, playing a vital role in her faith development. She entered the convent as a candidate in 1966 and professed perpetual vows in 1974. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst University, Sr. Charlene earned a master’s degree in education at the University of Portland and a second master’s degree from the University of San Francisco. A teacher and principal at schools across the Portland metro region, she also served on the National Religious Vocation Conference Board.

Honorary Doctorate Recipients

Celia Hammond, L.L.M.
Celia Hammond, the speaker for both ceremonies and an honorary doctorate recipient, was appointed to the top position of University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) in 2008, becoming its vice chancellor at the age of 39. The school, established in 1989 as the first Catholic university in Australia, now has 11,000 students at three campuses. One of her many achievements was the opening of the Institute for Ethics and Society in 2009, one of the university’s three national research institutes. In addition to research, it provides leadership in ethics education across the university, with a focus on applied and professional ethics, ethics education, bioethics, religion and global affairs, and indigenous research and ethics. Hammond is known as a passionate advocate of Catholic higher education who strives to create a culture and community conducive to the development of the whole person. Before becoming vice chancellor, Hammond served as the deputy vice chancellor and oversaw the university’s law school in Fremantle. She also served as UNDA’s general counsel, executive director of the vice chancellery, and assistant provost. Prior to UNDA, Hammond worked as a legal practitioner in Western Australia and taught law at other Australian universities after earning her law degree in 1991 from the University of Western Australia.

Lieutenant General Dana T. Atkins, United States Air Force, Ret. ‘77
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, a distinguished military officer and private-sector business leader, became the president and chief executive officer of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) in 2016. MOAA has 390,000 members and is the nation’s largest, most influential association of military officers. Prior to his appointment, Atkins was the president of Chronicle Media, a large media and marketing services firm in Augusta, Georgia. When he retired from the Air Force in 2012, Atkins was serving as the commander of Alaskan Command, Alaska NORAD Region, Joint Task Force Alaska, and 11th Air Force at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. During his military career, he served as a command pilot with more than 4,000 hours in fighter aircraft, as vice commander of the 7th Air Force and U.S. Air Force Korea, as director of operations (J3) U.S. Pacific Command, and as special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe during the air war over Serbia. He flew as a demonstration pilot for both the European A-10 demonstration team and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Atkins earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Portland and holds two master’s degrees, one in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and another in national security strategy from the National War College.

Rev. George C. Bernard, C.S.C.
Fr. George Bernard, C.S.C., has spent the last 48 years at the University of Portland, where he has served as a Holy Cross priest, professor, and administrator. Although he officially retired in 1987 with the title of associate professor emeritus of theology, he has remained active in assisting local parishes, praying the Divine Office and Rosary, and offering Mass on campus. From an early age, religious life appealed to Fr. Bernard and this interest grew at the University of Notre Dame where he was introduced to the Congregation of Holy Cross through classmates who were also seminarians. In 1943, he professed his first vows, and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1949 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. After six years of teaching theology at Notre Dame, Fr. Bernard became vice president of student affairs from 1958 to 1961. He then served as president and religious superior of Holy Cross College in Washington, D.C., until that college closed in 1968. In 1969, he arrived on The Bluff, serving as chair of the theology department from 1970 to 1977 and as academic vice president from 1977 until his retirement. Today, Fr. Bernard resides at Holy Cross Court on the University campus.

Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr’s 2014 novel All the Light We Cannot See has won numerous literary awards, including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. His first work, The Shell Collector, is a collection of short stories and was a New York Times and Publishers’ Weekly Notable Book of 2002. He then released About Grace (2004), his first novel, which was followed by the memoir, Four Seasons in Rome (2007). In 2010, Memory Wall, a collection of stories set on four continents, won the acclaimed Story Prize. His short fiction has also earned him four O. Henry Prizes and been anthologized in The Best American Short StoriesThe Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, and The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. Other awards and honors bestowed upon Doerr, whose works have been translated into more than 40 languages, include the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the National Magazine Award for Fiction. Doerr earned his undergraduate degree in history from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree in fine arts from Bowling Green State University. Anthony Doerr will be awarded his doctorate of humane letters when he speaks as a guest of the University of Portland’s annual Schoenfeldt Distinguished Writers Series on February 27, 2017.

Brian J. Doyle
Catholicism has long played an important part in Brian Doyle’s life and work. He was raised in an Irish Catholic family in New York and earned his degree in English from the University of Notre Dame in 1978. He was the assistant editor at U.S. Catholic magazine and was a senior writer for Boston College magazine before he became the editor of the University’s Portland magazine in 1991. During his tenure, Portland has consistently been ranked among the best university magazines in the country and, in 2005, won Newsweek’s Sibley Award as the top university magazine in America. Doyle has also authored many books of fiction, essays, and poems, including his novels Mink River, The Plover, Chicago, and Martin Marten, for which he won a 2016 Oregon Book Award for Young Adult Literature. His essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, The American Scholar, and The New York Times, to name a few, and have been reprinted in the annual anthologies from Best American Essays, Best American Science & Nature Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing. Other honors include the Catholic Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing in 2017 and for Outstanding Published Nature Essay in 2012, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008.

Rafer Owens
Rafer Owens was born and raised in Compton, California, home to the notorious Bloods and Crips street gangs. When he was nine, his brother Vincent, a gang member, was sent to prison for murder. To keep their youngest son from a similar fate, Owens’ parents encouraged him to attend church and school, with the hope that faith and education would keep him off the streets. After graduating with honors from Verbum Dei Catholic High School in Los Angeles, Owens attended the University of California, Los Angeles. Since then, he has dedicated his life to healing the community in which he not only grew up but raises his own children. Owens is now a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff working in community relations and the head pastor of Faith Inspirational Missionary Baptist Church. In 2006, he partnered with area churches to found the Compton Initiative, a 40-year commitment to improve and restore the city through painting homes, schools, and churches on quarterly workdays. In 2014, he wrote The 7 Pillars of Community Leadership so as to provide a roadmap for others who wish to make a difference in their communities. Owens and his wife Natalie have six children, including Rachelle, a communications major and guard on the Portland women’s basketball team.

More information about the University’s Commencement ceremonies can be found at


University of Portland
5000 N. Willamette Blvd.,
Portland, Oregon 97203-5798