Catholic colleges and universities promote values in their mission statements that are consistent with the religious orders or dioceses that founded them, and that are within the traditions of the Catholic Church. The values are meant to promote positive spiritual and personal growth in each student’s journey into the future. Sometimes the influences are subtle, like how a student is expected to conduct himself off campus and how faith fits into a classroom discussion, or it can be in a quiet art exhibit that celebrates the beauty and mystery of belief.  

Here, two colleges share successful ways they are helping students to grow in the faith community.  

D’Youville College

D’Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y., was founded by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart and named for their founder and patron, St. Marguerite d’Youville, the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood. A widow herself who lost four of her six children, St. Marguerite was known for works of charity with the poor, orphans, widows and the blind. 

Sister Roche
Sister Denise Roche, president of D'Youville College

“She said that the poor must know that we never refuse to serve, and she did it because she believed that God was the father of everyone and that we were all sisters and brothers in obligation,” said Sister Denise Roche, the college president and a member of the order. “At the college, we try to model that whole idea of service with the faculty and the students. They come in knowing that because they have heard it at orientation. There are many service trips and no one forces students to, but they sign up on a regular basis. It’s infectious. It just seems to be the spirit of the college.” 

D’Youville has about 3,200 undergraduate and graduate students, and 60 percent of the undergrads identify themselves as Catholics. 

Sister Roche talked to Our Sunday Visitor about what D’Youville College does to keep its Catholic spirit in the forefront of student life through its mission to teach students “to contribute to the world community by leading compassionate, productive and responsible lives.” 

Our Sunday Visitor: What attracts students to D’Youville? 

Sister Denise Roche: They seem to be attracted by the mission of the college. For instance, we have a number of health care programs, and we weave the mission into those programs so that the students have a sense of empathy with the patients, and communications with clients and patients.  

They have a real sense of the people involved and what they are going through. I don’t know how much of that they come with and how much they learn here, but they do learn it here and we do expect it of them when they do their clinicals. We tell them when they graduate that they should have empathy for the poor.  

For those in education, we tell them to look for the child who gets lost in the classroom and is not learning quickly. When they leave here, they have sort of a sixth sense that they have a responsibility for those most in need. 

OSV: The college has an apartment complex and residence hall, and many more students live in the West Side neighborhood. How does that give students the opportunity to contribute to the world community? 

Sister Roche: It’s like an extension of campus and there are a lot of families in that area. The students get to know their neighbors and they learn to be responsible citizens.  

They live quietly and keep the neighborhood cleaned up. Because the neighborhood is very diverse, they tend to see and meet a lot of different people, and I think that helps them to understand that the world is just filled with a lot of different ethnic and religious groups. The students get to learn more about them and to learn to be comfortable in their midst. 

OSV: The college gives 10 scholarships to international sisters and priests, including from Africa and Vietnam. What does that mean to your other students? 

Sister Roche: We are giving service to the developing areas where the Church is growing because we know those people really want an education and they sometimes can’t afford one where they are. It has impacted our students in many ways. First of all, they see these priests and sisters who are always pleasant.  

We are in Buffalo, so even though they come from warmer climates, they never seem to complain. So our other students tend to think twice before they complain.  

These foreign students struggle with the culture, the language and money, and they work very hard and get good grades, so they are an excellent example to our other students. 

Clarke University

The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, with the core values of education, charity, justice and freedom.  

The art installation in Quigley Gallery at Clarke University. Courtesy of Louise Kames

Louise Kames, professor of art and chair of the art department, is on the strategic planning commission, which holds those values as integral to the direction of the university. There’s also a Catholic identity committee that through faculty retreats focuses on spirituality outcome as part of the university and general education outcomes. 

“I think there is generally a strong respect for the (order’s) tradition and the Catholic tradition, and it’s very open at Clarke University,” she said. “All of my own work is very much steeped in spirituality and the Catholic tradition, and has a strong spiritual base and foundation. I often work in the art studios where I teach, and I am certainly not hesitant to talk about it with the students.” 

Last year, Kames took a sabbatical leave to work at two artist residencies, including one in Germany. During that time she created additional pieces for her Lenten series, “Early in the Spring,” a collection of 40 “suggestive but not dogmatic” drawings that were exhibited this past Lent at the university. The theme focuses on drawings of palm weavings set against the smoke of incense, an inspiration she found in the rich sensory and mystical liturgical practices of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. 

“I wondered how one could draw incense wafting through space,” she said. “That inspired me to consider the interrelated aspects of charcoal, ash, incense and candle wax, all materials that are used in religious ritual as well as in my own drawing practice.” 

The series tied in with Lenten rituals and symbolism, such as burning palms for Ash Wednesday, the signing of the cross on the forehead, and the cultural practice of weaving palm fronds into the shape of crosses, flowers and birds. 

“I’ve given gallery talks to our freshman art majors, and in talking about the context of the work, I ask what they know about the spirituality of palm weaving and family rituals, and about Church traditions and intergenerational memories and how they are passed on,” Kames said. “One student said that the images reminded him of his grandmother. He said that anytime there was stress, she would say to take the palm weaving off the crucifix and pray with it.  

“I think that is invoking the Catholic tradition in a very personal way. Then this past Palm Sunday, the chaplain referenced the exhibit in his homily, so it was a nice connection with the students.” 

Art students at Clarke often take their talents to the community by painting murals in town and volunteering to design logos for nonprofit organizations.  

Art education majors work with at-risk students in the city’s arts magnet school. 

“They learn how to have mutual relationships with others around them,” Kames said. “I think our tradition calls us to be in relationship.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.