“A Homily Like No Other:” Unpacking Father Peter’s “Hands On” Orientation Homily


Maddie McClay

Fr. Peter brought freshman Matthew Nawn onstage for an unforgettable homily.

Kai da Luz, Staff Writer

Welcome back, Wildcats. After a summer full of people answering your “V’s up” with peace signs, and Starbucks messing up your Holy Grounds go-to, it must feel good to be back on campus. 

The beginning of the fall semester means welcoming a new class, the Class of 2026. Like the rest of us, they were welcomed with four days of orientation, jam-packed with chants, games and OCs. And while I don’t believe any member of the Class of 2026 will be “going pro” for mascot stealing, it was a memorable Orientation nonetheless. 

One particular moment on the fourth day at the Commissioning Ceremony stands out. Freshmen gathered in the Finneran Pavilion, filling the floor and lower bleachers. The ceremony began with a prayer service led by University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. Everything seemed to be going normally, until Fr. Peter stood up for the homily. 

“It was a homily like no other,” freshman Matthew Nawn said. 

Nawn is an Electrical Engineering major from Hanover, PA. He was able to experience Fr. Peter’s homily up close, as he was actually part of it. 

Fr. Peter began talking about the second chapter of Genesis, focusing on the creation of man. 

“He asked for volunteers, and no one from the crowd stood up, so I thought, ‘Hey I’m a devout Catholic, I’ll go up and volunteer,’” Nawn said. 

Nawn assumed Fr. Peter was going to ask him a question. 

“It was not that at all,” Nawn said, laughing. “The first thing he told me was, ‘Become a lump of clay.’” 

And he did just that, as he curled up into a ball and plopped down on the stage. 

Fr. Peter then began to describe this story in Genesis, as he molded the “clay” that was Nawn into shape. 

The crowd began to laugh, look concerned and then laugh some more, as a general notion of shock fell over all those present. 

Fr. Peter continued in his narration, shaping Nawn’s arms, ears, face and head as God had done with the clay in Genesis. 

The whole molding sequence went on for at least 30 seconds, as everyone looked back and forth to verify that this was really happening. 

As Fr. Peter turned to speak to the audience, he firmly held Nawn’s head in his hands. Fr. Peter then spoke of the verse in which God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). 

“I knew that was coming, and I didn’t know if he was actually going to do it or not,” Nawn said, referring to the breath of life portion. “I didn’t know if it was going to be full contact or not, like if I was about to get CPR from the president.” 

Fortunately, Fr. Peter simply breathed off to the side rather than fully reenacting the scene. 

After such a crazy sequence, the crowd was left in a state of awe. Most were still uncontrollably laughing at the unpredictable and wild homily, sitting on the edge of their seats wondering how far it would go. 

We were all wondering, “why?’’ 

After some time to mull it over, I have developed a few leads. 

One possible motive could be that Fr. Peter was trying to instill excitement in the Class of 2026 for the performing arts. We all know Fr. Peter’s background in theater and that he returned to direct a play just last year. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to believe that he was trying to do a little impromptu promotion, right? 

Maybe Fr. Peter was looking to provide a visual aid for his homily. Certainly a veteran of his trade, he must have realized that this message in Genesis would be best communicated with a demonstration, so he took matters (and Matthew) into his own hands.

All jokes aside, Fr. Peter intended to show the new members of the Villanova community that we are all God’s creation made in his own image and likeness, and that each of us is valuable as such. Each student enters the university with unique abilities and traits, and throughout their Villanova experience, they are molded into more complete individuals who are ready to participate in a changing world. 

I believe Fr. Peter’s Homily served this purpose of welcoming the new students to Villanova with open arms, demonstrating how truly excited he is to see a new generation of Wildcats with the class of 2026.