May 14, 2024

From left to right: The Catholic University of America at Tucson’s first graduates: Isabella Cordova-Minder, Samantha Reynolds, Maria Paula Celaya Pesqueira, and Cassandra Lopez are all smiles at Commencement 2024. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan) 


The first graduates from The Catholic University of America’s pilot program in Tucson, Arizona journeyed to Washington, D.C. this past weekend to celebrate their milestone moment with their fellow Cardinals at Commencement. 

These four trailblazers are among the rapidly growing student body at the Tucson satellite location at Pima Community College. This program opened in 2020 to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Management with a hybrid educational model, combining online coursework developed by the University’s main-campus faculty and in-person class time. 

Tucson Assistant Dean Keiran Roche said since opening their doors in 2020, they have grown from 14 to 65 students and are aiming to double enrollment this year. It’s the only Catholic higher education institution in Tucson and is especially catered to the Hispanic community because so many are hungry for a faith-informed education. Even as he looks toward the future, he fondly reflects on the past few years with the trailblazing graduates who took a chance on the then-fledgling program. 

“We promised them all these opportunities, all these connections, a degree from a prestigious university and it’s beautiful to see all of that come to fruition,” he said.  

The business management program forms ethical business leaders grounded by Catholic values and then fast-tracks their professional careers by connecting them to a network of local employers via built-in internships. Since the Tucson location’s launch, the program offerings have since expanded to include a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies where students can transfer up to 84 transfer credits. 

Maria Paula Celaya Pesqueira, landed an internship at a property management firm, was hired full-time, and then got promoted all in a year before she even completed her degree. She said she’s grateful for faculty, staff, family, and her faith in God for “keeping me shining and bringing light into my life every day.”  

“It’s so exciting to see the D.C. campus, to be able to be at the headquarters of the place that I love and the best educational opportunity I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. The weekend trip to the nation’s capital for the graduates and their families was made possible thanks to two of the top donors to the program, Tucson business magnates, Jim Click and Humberto S. Lopez. 

Metropolitan School Dean Vincent Kiernan has overseen the program’s expansion with the goal of replicating its success in other communities across the country to broaden the reach of the Catholic University experience. He said it was important to honor the first cohort at the same Commencement ceremony to show them that the University is “one campus, one institution, and one community.” 

“I’m very happy and honored to shake their hands at the diploma ceremony,” said Kiernan. “They are great gifts to the university who will go forth to change the world for the better and build the kingdom of God.” 

Cassandra Lopez, graduating summa cum laude, was attracted to the program because of her deep roots in Tucson and in her Catholic faith. She celebrated her graduation with her husband and young son, whom she gave birth to as a student, and plans to go into marketing for small businesses. 

“I wanted to prove something to myself, and I pushed through – and here I am today. And that in itself is a big achievement,” said Lopez.   

Reflecting on her journey, she said “What really stuck with me was how they taught us about developing our moral compass by applying Catholic social teachings and how this makes you an overall better person in your personal and professional life, whether you are Catholic or not.”