By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller - OSV Newsweekly, 4/22/2012
From comedians to serious speakers, to prayer services and community projects, campus ministries at Catholic colleges and universities are using many ways to encourage students to live virtuous Christian lives. Here are some of the programs.
Moral, ethical truths
Every other Sunday evening, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, presents a speaker, discussion panel, movie or other kind of program in its Veritas series.
“This is part of our mission to help students to understand the moral and ethical truths about various topics, like dating, sex, marriage and prayer, and to help them to grow in body, mind and spirit,” said Catherine Heck, assistant vice president of student life. “We wanted a consistent way to expose students to the truth and to Catholic teaching, and what it means to be a Catholic in a world that’s bombarded by different secular opinions.”
The topics cover human dignity and understanding, and different ways of growing in virtues such as the truths of wisdom and prudence in sexuality, dating, prayer life, the use of alcohol and avoiding drugs.
“We want them to understand their dignity as a person and to not compromise that by being tossed around by opinions that are not the truth,” Heck said.
Another program is on health and stress management, and a practical session covers being safe in the world.
“The new one that they are excited about is the truth about social media,” she said. “I think that sometimes students forget that social networking can be public and the whole world can see it. If you are going to do it, that’s great. But let it be a reflection of who you are, as a Catholic student struggling for holiness.”
The Veritas series is now in its second year and draws from 50 to 250 students.
Laughs and insights
Elaine Williams tells funny stories about serious matters. She grew up in “an abusive crazy household” with a lot of physical, mental and emotional abuse, and had three addictions. Yet she can laugh about some of her experiences and make others laugh at them, too.
Williams, who lives in New Jersey, is a comedian and popular campus speaker who follows her stand up routine with important insights.
“This is a very successful way to get a message to students in a non-threatening way,” said Dr. Anna Mae Mayer, director of Mercy Center for Spiritual Life at Salve Regina University, in Newport, R.I., where Williams has appeared. “If you give the same information in the context of a retreat or workshop, students would probably be less likely to attend. Speakers like this are a good way to open the door to how students treat their own bodies and in respect to the student body.”
The Mercy Center runs many programs focused on virtues, for instance, the corporal works of mercy in community service and the virtue of hospitality in respecting the dignity of others and making them feel welcome.
Williams talks about virtues in fun and thought-provoking ways. “I tell students that moderation is sexy,” she said. “I address tolerance and respect, and peer pressure. I tell them that if they don’t think they are influenced by people they hang out with, think again. The five closest friends you hang out with — you are an average of their income.”
She passes out chocolate and tells students to eat it slowly — an exercise in mindfulness.
“How many times are you reaching for the next thing and not savoring what you have?” she asks them. “My message is that you can learn to still your mind with breathing, prayer and meditation. If you can tap into a source, in context with God, and let your mind slow down, it helps you to be present, more productive and peaceful.”
There are no explicit religious or spiritual components in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at Portland University in Portland, Ore.
“But that component is very obvious,” founder and former director Josh Noem said. “Our core values are brotherhood, seeking truth together, justice and service, and seeking an authentic masculinity.”
LXG’s logo, Virtus Unitas Valet, means “virtue united prevails.” Noem, who recently moved to Indiana, founded it in 2007 in response, he said, to men traditionally being under represented in campus ministries.
Students enter as freshmen and the first year focuses on the question, “Who am I and what do I believe?” The second year is about relationships.
“The third year is about resiliency, and that’s a code word we use with guys,” Noem said. “It’s really about suffering, the kinds of challenges we face and how to get through it. These are small groups that stay together all four years, and that creates a safety that they know they are in the long haul together. They can rely on these guys, and these guys are around for them. The fruits of their conversations are impressive.”
The fourth year is a reflection on how they grew in virtue as men, for instance in prudence in the depth of character development. They also look ahead at what they are called to be in the world, and how they will live a life of wisdom.
The University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, has a Commitment to Community Living vision that calls on students to live by conduct that builds “family spirit.”
“It’s a philosophy of what it means to be part of a Catholic and Marianist community,” campus ministry director Crystal Sullivan said. “They are the habits for living — treating yourself with respect, being honest, developing faith and other things that can be connected to typical virtuous living.”
One directive is to seek truth and wisdom, not just knowledge and job skills. Others call for exercising academic integrity, and making choices (prudence) that are safe, healthy and consistent with faith and values. Students make a pledge to the Commitment of Community Living at orientation.
“The themes are woven into our disciplinary process,” Sullivan said. “For instance, students who receive a sanction might write a paper of reflection or have a meeting where the conversation focuses on what it means to be a member of the community, and how their behavior is connected to the commitment.”
During first year retreats, students have a reflection exercise to rank values and virtues, what’s important to them and what’s important to their peers. They discuss those points and strive to take those values and virtues into their campus lives.
Students learn prudence and restraint in substance abuse prevention programs, and in Theology of the Body presentations. They perform acts of charity, mercy and love in community service.
“In the philosophy of our conduct system, students are being asked to reflect on who they are being formed to be with the choices they are making and the kind of impact they are leaving on the community, through virtuous or non-virtuous behavior,” Sullivan said. “My observation has been that those who take faith seriously have a tremendous amount of growth. Faith becomes relevant, not just a series of rules and beliefs that are outside of them. It’s something they take ownership of, that faith is active and relevant for every decision, every day.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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