By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller - OSV Newsweekly, 4/22/2012
In order to see how the virtues are being applied in college life on Catholic campuses, Our Sunday Visitor spoke to a handful of students about their experiences. Here is what they had to say.
Maria Fernanda Cuevas
School: Holy Names University, Oakland, Calif. (Sisters of the Holy Names)
Maria Fernanda Cuevas, 19, chose Holy Names University because of its nursing program and the opportunities for community service.
“Nursing is a rewarding job that I’ve always had a passion for,” she told OSV. “I’ve always liked to help others. I just think it’s a rewarding job giving a hand to others and caring for them, and being nurturing and helping them to get back on their feet.”
Cuevas, of Azusa, Calif., was influenced by her parents and family, which she said “is the most important thing in my life.”
She has been in student service projects with Catholic Worker, feeding people in the park and helping newly arrived Hispanic immigrants — something that comes naturally to her from her background. Her parents are from Mexico and Spanish is her first language.
“Even if you do just a little bit for them, it can be a big change that will make a difference in their lives,” Cuevas said about the people she encounters in performing works of charity. “And that impacts you as well.”
The experience at a Catholic university and the service projects, she said, have helped her to grow.
“You can be quick to judge people and they are really going through some hard times,” she said. “Being here has helped me in trying to look at the world through different lenses. There’s something that everybody can do to make the world a little better.”
School: University of Great Falls, Great Falls, Mont. (sponsored by Sisters of Providence)
Major: Art with a communications minor
Being in the Corps of Discovery at Great Falls University gave Catherine Gray more than opportunities to hike at Glacier National Park and to experience other outdoor adventures in Montana.
It gave her a sense of spirituality being in nature, she said, and in having the kind of stillness that isn’t necessarily found in a classroom.
“There’s time to think about your own life and how you can positively impact other people,” the Helena resident said. “It gave me a space and a set time to think about my goals as a human being and to ask myself questions about what I am passionate about doing, and who I am passionate about helping.”
The corps is required of freshman, but the effect of the experiences stayed with her beyond those first semesters.
“As I go through my education, I find myself revisiting those questions and it’s really rewarding to find that I have more complete answers now,” she said. “The program really starts a sort of thinking process that you can go to through four years of college.”
Gray does not consider herself very athletic, so the physical rigors of the Corps of Discovery broadened her life with the new challenges. And that, she said, made the program “a metaphor for life.”
“You take that kind of resilience and courage and try to apply it to your everyday life,” she said. “That’s the real value of the program. It changed and enriched me in the sense that when you are 17 or 18 and going into college, there are a lot of social things going on in your life. The program encourages you to think farther into the future about the type of impact you are going to make in the world.”
She also finds meaning in the opportunity to be in a diverse student population. Her peers, she said, extend “acceptance and corroboration” and are willing to share ideas and support, a positive attitude that she attributes to centering on God and “the dignity of every human person.”
“I’m a Catholic and it’s really nice to not only have that additional support, but also to interact with students of other faiths and kind of share ideas and find common grounds,” Gray said. “Being on a Catholic campus has really helped me to grow as a person because here, they encourage you to seek out your spiritual self. And the Corps of Discovery really taught me how important it is to have some time to think about the particular gifts that you have to offer. ”
School: Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans (founded by Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament)
John Wright learned about focusing on faith at Xavier University of Louisiana. A turning point was listening to an “almost frightening” homily about hell, then hearing the priest pray, “Look not on our sins but on our faith.”
“So I really learned to concentrate not so much on what I’m doing wrong, but on what I am doing to remain faithful,” he said. “That has helped to make a whole lot of experiences make more sense. It has even helped me in listening to Scriptures.”
Wright has family ties to Xavier, the only historically black Catholic university in the United States.
His grandfather was a pharmacy major and his grandmother majored in secondary education. They met there in 1946 and graduated in 1949. His mother is a 1985 graduate with a major in chemistry pre-med.
“The biggest challenge in coming to college is free will because you are really on your own,” he said. “Nobody is telling you what you need to do anymore. It’s all up to you. Nobody is telling you that you need to do your homework, or that you have to go to class or go to church.”
Wright, of St. Louis, credits the presence of chaplains, and the leadership and support of staff as influencing factors in his faith journey and in encouraging his campus ministries as a lector and retreat leader.
“One thing that I love about retreats is that they are not only an opportunity to listen — they are an opportunity to be heard,” he said. “At retreats, students realize that they are going through the same issues, even if you would never guess by looking at others. Retreats give students a chance to express themselves and realize that we aren’t the only ones in the struggle. They let me ease my mind and get away from all the troubles that college brings. ”
School: Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio
By his own description, Joseph Krilich was “a wild kid” when he came to Franciscan University.
“I didn’t have a very deep spiritual life or faith,” he said. “One of the biggest issues with students and that I had to work out is that when you get to university, there are so many things you can spend time on and you have so much freedom that people really struggle with finding the right balance between spiritual life and all the things that go with it. It was through the examples of others around me and seeing their joy that I saw that there was something real in this faith that I wanted.”
Krilich recently joined the Disciples of the Lord, one of the university’s Faith Households, the groups of students who share faith experiences.
“It’s a completely new experience for me, and I have more to learn and more to grow,” he said. “I strive every day to practice the virtues, especially charity and humility. There is no limit to how much you can practice them and how much more you can achieve in them.”
Krilich is captain of the soccer team, and at Franciscan, sports are taken seriously in a different way.
“It’s never just a game,” athletic director Chris Ledyard said. “It’s a means by which you can become a better human being.”
Krilich has learned to serve by example, not just by leading. “When you are given the responsibility as team captain, you are expected not only to have that leadership role in fitness, but also to be an example in a spiritual sense,” he said. “You are calling the men on the team to higher standards of holiness, and when you see them off the field, you are making sure they are focused on other students, and that they continue to have a prayerful life. We offer up our practice and games like a sacrifice, and everything we do is for the glory of God. We are representing Christ and that puts the game in perspective.”
Krilich, of St. John, Ind., hears another message at the university — that each young man and woman is living out a vocation right now as a student.
“That vocation will change after graduation,” he said, “but it’s a vocation now that is definitely a commitment, and it’s serious.”
School: University of Portland, Oregon (Congregation of Holy Cross)
Brock Vasconcellos of Honolulu, Hawaii, was lured by free pizza and root beer that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen gave out on recruitment night, then he was attracted to what they represented.
“College life is busy and there’s a lot going on, so I thought it would be a great way to set aside some time and do a little reflection,” he said.
LXG is a men’s group at the University of Portland that focuses on four themes during undergraduate studies.
“As freshmen, we explore our identities,” he said. “Looking back, I would say that then, I didn’t really know who I was and what I believed. I was grasping at answers and I would say that I probably don’t know who I am fully, but now I have a better understanding of who I am as a man and who I am as a person.”
In the second year, members look at a variety of different relationships with men, women, siblings, families, friends and between generations. The third year focuses on adversities.
“That can be kind of a tear jerker in small groups, and it’s something that we take seriously,” Vasconcellos said. “What seems to come up a lot is dealing with things that we can’t control, that are totally out of our hands, for instance, the passing of a family member. I spoke about my grandfather and I spoke about the sense of hopelessness you can feel, whether it’s a grandmother or close friend. There’s a strong faith element, and we’ve all reflected that through adversities, there’s a bigger plan that God might have set up for you.”
Being at the university, he added, opened his eyes to virtues in new perspectives.
“Receiving and sharing love with people who live in the community is one example,” Vasconcellos said. “Justice is one of the tenets of LXG, and how masculinity fits into justice as a whole. I got involved in a summer immersion program and we are heading South to explore the Civil Rights movement as it happened before and as it continues today.”
He likes the brotherhood on campus, the support of students and staff, and that priests and brothers live and teach there and are available to talk to.
“Receiving and trying to share love with people who live in the community is another example of virtue,” he said. “There’s a strong sense of community here, and people are always looking out for one another.”
The personal growth that Vasconcellos has experienced at college extends beyond campus.
“I notice that my parents treat me different,” he said. “They give me a little more slack and trust me a little bit more. It must be a sense of maturity that they see.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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