By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller - OSV Newsweekly, 4/22/2012
At the University of Great Falls, incoming students are pushed to their limits in the Corps of Discovery that challenges them in the wilderness of Montana. At Franciscan University in Ohio, men and women can join faith households to grow in virtue and common prayer life.
And at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., the virtues of charity, respect, justice and perseverance are immersed in service projects, campus ministries, the Greek community and academics.
“Our mission is not carried out just by specific activities, but also by the various departments,” said Father Daniel Sinisi, TOR, vice president for Mission Effectiveness and Integration at St. Francis. “There are ethics talks sponsored by the athletics department with a big emphasis on sobriety and staying away from drugs and underage drinking. The Greek program has talks on various aspects of human and moral behavior, and our health care majors get different aspects of ethics in their courses.”
Like many other Catholic colleges and universities, these institutions strive to encourage students of all faiths to live virtuous lives on campus and to carry those experiences into the future.
St. Francis University has five health care majors and offers a course in health care ethics in the Franciscan tradition, composed by Franciscan theologian Father Thomas Nairn.
“One of our philosophy teachers teaches on business ethics, the fact that business obviously exists to make a profit, but that it is to serve the common good as understood in the Catholic tradition,” Father Sinisi said. “There are ethics in science, and political science classes cover ethics, too. Across the board, we try to emphasize character formation in the university as a whole, with a big emphasis on service.”
Students can participate in more than 125 service activities in the local community and Central America, with the focus, he said, on supporting “the aspect of charity and mercy towards people in various needs.”
Outdoors, inner life
The Corps of Discovery at the University of Great Falls builds a sense of community and team work while helping freshmen develop an inner life.
“We want them to have the ability to reflect, pray and be introspective in an era when everything is so immediate with text messages and emails that demand that we respond,” University President Eugene McAllister said. “We want our students to step back and think deeply about themselves and the world around them.”
Some of that takes place in the classrooms, then on weekends, students hike, climb, fish and float the Missouri River. In the winter, there’s snowboarding and snowshoeing. Then in smaller groups, they talk about developing their inner lives.
McAllister is one of the discussion group leaders.
“We talk about ideas like dignity, respect and finding one’s life passion,” he told OSV. “We give them the Apostles Creed, the Hippocratic Oath and the Army Ranger Creed and ask them to write not what they know, but what they believe. I am often very surprised with how many students talk about forgiveness. They are 18 years old, and forgiveness is very high in their minds.”
The outdoor adventures teach them to trust each other and to realize the courage they have within.
“It’s really important for us to get our students to believe they can do these extraordinary things,” McAllister said.
About 900 of the 2,000 students at Franciscan University are in faith households that aren’t actual locations. Rather, they live in the residence halls with other students and gather in common rooms. They have group names like Brothers of the Eternal Song, Fishers of Men, Daughters of Jerusalem and the Little Flowers. They grow in their faith by growing in their friendships.
“They have faith sharing and hold one another accountable,” said Father Gregory Plow, TOR, coordinator of Household Life. “When they do this, they grow most in the virtues of prudence and temperance, and the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. As they grow in virtue as brothers and sisters, they grow in their relationship with God. That helps them to follow the imperative that the Catholic Church gives to all Christians to go out and evangelize the world. That can be preaching the Gospel, or doing works of charity, social justice, areas in the prolife cause and working with the poor. It requires going out of ourselves and from ourselves to live the Gospel.”
Faith households form many lasting friendships beyond the university. Father Plow has officiated at weddings for alumni whose faith household friends were in the wedding party, and a group of women in one of the first households held a 35th anniversary reunion.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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