May 11, 2024
jonathan roumie
Actor Jonathan Roumie received an honorary degree from University President Peter Kilpatrick on Saturday. (Catholic University/Denny Henry)

Hours before he was to address graduates of The Catholic University of America’s 135th annual Commencement exercises, actor Jonathan Roumie gathered with school officials inside McMahon Hall. He took photos with fans who have seen him depict Jesus of Nazareth in the streaming series, The Chosen.

It was six years to the day since Roumie reached a personal inflection point. 

“The Chosen didn’t exist for me,” the star told graduates in his address. “I had 20 dollars, a negative checking account, weeks without any jobs, thousands of dollars of debt, food to barely last a day, empty cupboards, zero opportunities, and not a single Chik-fil-A coupon.”

In that dark moment, Roumie, a faithful Mass-goer and parish volunteer, got on his knees and prayed to God, promising to surrender his life to Him. He spent his last $20 on brunch and returned home to four life-changing checks in his mailbox. 

For protection and guidance, Roumie said he turns to the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, and the rosary. 

“You must surrender,” Roumie shared with students. “You’re not in charge, God is. I cannot underscore this enough. I would not be here with you today if God had not brought me to my knees in utter desperation to surrender my entire life and specifically my career – something I had never done before – over to Him.”

Roumie’s life has changed dramatically. He has played Jesus on The Chosen to international acclaim since 2019. He is a contributor to the Hallow prayer and meditation app, where he reads the Gospels as Jesus and leads prayers as himself. Roumie also starred in the 2023 movie, Jesus Revolution.

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Actor Jonathan Roumie shared messages of encouragement with the class of 2024. (Catholic University/Denny Henry)

During his struggles, he never could have imagined receiving an honorary doctorate from Catholic University, along with fellow honorees Rabbi Jack Bemporad, John Finnis, Teresa Pitt Green, and Father Piotr Nawrot. Despite the success, Roumie has maintained a self-deprecating persona that was evident in his address to the University’s students. Roumie listed prominent international, political, and faith leaders who have addressed previous graduation classes.

“No pressure,” he quipped, before calling his address, the “Sermon on the Mount – 2024.”

The actor has been approached by thousands of people conflating his role on screen with the real Christ.

“You don’t need to play Jesus for the world to be Jesus to the world,” Roumie said. “Just because you’re not an actor playing Jesus or a priest or a nun doesn’t mean you’re not meant to represent Him at all times, wherever you go.”

Roumie encouraged graduates to defend life at all stages and advocate for causes with the Gospel as inspiration.

“Don’t let the enemy tempt you to pick up a can of gasoline and add to the flames of the chaos,” Roumie said. “Be the one standing by with a hose filled with words of comfort and consolation ready to put out those flames. Offer a blanket of peace – the peace of acting in accordance with the Holy Spirit, providing the solace and wisdom of Jesus so desperately needed in our times. This is your testing ground!”

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Jonathan Roumie, after receiving an honorary doctorate, lifts up a stethoscope during his address to graduates on Saturday. (Catholic University/Denny Henry)

He emphasized that unceasing prayer, fasting, and repentance should be integral to graduates’ personal and sacramental lives, as cornerstones in his practice of faith.

“By this, I’m granted peace, I’m given wisdom in areas of my life experiencing conflict beyond my human understanding, and I’m strengthened to go forward and to handle situations that seem otherwise overwhelming,” he said.  

Parent Eileen Pinsonault, whose daughter Mia graduated Saturday, was moved by Roumie’s message.

“How amazing just to share his story and to give so much encouragement for our graduates, his fellow graduates,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

Watch Jonathan Roumie's full address below.