PA Secretary of Corrections is Commencement Speaker
Chestnut Hill College will hold its 91st commencement on Saturday, May 12, in Sorgenti Arena beginning with the procession at 10:30 a.m. followed immediately by the ceremony.
This year’s commencement speaker is Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections, John E. Wetzel. Secretary Wetzel began his career in 1989 as a correctional officer who worked his way through the ranks as a counselor, treatment supervisor, director of the Berks County Training Academy and Warden of Franklin County Jail. He has held his current position since 2011.
His legacy is strong, including decreasing the jail population by 20 percent; improving long-term outcomes for offenders; and implementing innovative programs, such as a Day Reporting Center, a Jail Industries Program and services for offenders with mental illnesses.
Wetzel was chosen to be secretary by then-Governor-elect Tom Corbett in 2010 and promptly began the first prison population reduction program in Pennsylvania in more than 40 years. He is a nationally recognized leader in penal issues such as inmate labor concerns, managing persons with mental illness in correctional settings, working to sustain family structures for inmates and developing system-wide solutions to jail overcrowding and staffing challenges.
Secretary Wetzel is a native Pennsylvanian and is one of 30 leading policymakers from around the country working to shape the future of corrections policy in the United States as a member of Harvard’s Executive Session on Community Corrections. He also is a founding member of the St. Seraphim Homeless Shelter, a team member of the Brother 2 Brother mentoring initiative, a part-time instructor at an evening truancy school and an ethics panel speaker for Leadership Franklin County.
Secretary John E. Wetzel also will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
In addition, Chestnut Hill College will recognize two other outstanding individuals with Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees at this year’s commencement.
Marianne Valvardi Dwyer is a member of CHC’s Class of 1976, when she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 2015, Dwyer received CHC’s Libris Society Award, which recognizes alumni who have lived lives fashioned around the values they polished at the college: those of Fides. Caritas. Scientia. (Faith. Charity. Knowledge.) and honed since their graduation.
Valvardi is a former executive director of Teenagers, Inc., which she served for more than 17 years. Teenagers, Inc., provides Philadelphia-area teens with events that are fun while offering opportunities to learn and be of service to others. She and other adult volunteers led trips to Antigua and Guatemala where they built homes, and helped at an orphanage, medical clinic and home for the elderly.
After stepping down as executive director of Teenager’s, Inc., in November 2013, Dwyer continued as president of the board and served as a board member of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. She also was the Catholic Youth Organization Director at Our Mother of Consolation Parish for 15 years.
Dwyer is married to Timothy Dwyer, a financial advisor at Principal Financial Group. They have seven children.
Father Francis Limo Riwa is a priest of the Diocese of Meru in Kenya, Africa. He also is pastor of St. Rita Parish in Nchiru and a Diocesan Medical Director, responsible for seven hospitals and 46 dispensaries. Father Riwa is perhaps best known for his work with orphaned street children, whom he rescues from the streets, providing them a home and education at the children’s Village in Nchiru. Currently, more than 600 children are cared for—and receive an education—on two campuses: St. Clare Centre for Girls and St. Francis Home for Boys.
As a young priest, Father Riwa was touched by the plight of young women who were relegated to being the wives of older men, responsible for caring for babies or working in the fields—always subservient to men. He made a new law stating that no girl could marry before graduating from secondary school and then he raised funds to build schools and educate the young women.
In 2000, Father Riwa became the pastor of St. Rita Parish and discovered hundreds of young boys living on the streets, orphaned by poverty and the HIV AIDS epidemic, ignored by Kenyan society. He took them in and founded the St. Francis Home for Boys. Today, more than 1,000 young men have received an education there, and have gone on to become teachers, politicians, agricultural managers and more.
In 2005, Father Riwa established the St. Clare Centre for Girls, after his reputation as a “champion of the voiceless children” had spread and people began bringing girls to him for help. Since then, more than 500 young women have lived there and been educated, escaping arranged marriages, female genital mutilation, severe poverty and prostitution. They have become professionals and hold positions in which they are valued.
Father Riwa also cares for the sick, elderly and HIV/AIDS babies, growing herbs, and teaching people how to heal themselves through healthy diet, exercise and good nutrition. He has established St. Philomena Homes for Hope, where HIV infected children receive good nutrition medication, education and are cared for in a loving community.
Please visit https://www.chc.edu/2018-commencement for more information about this year’s ceremony.