In 2001, St. Thomas was among a number of colleges and universities across the nation to receive a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment to stimulate a theological exploration of the idea of vocation on campus. The grant, applied for and administered by the Center for Catholic Studies, was designed to encourage St. Thomas students to explore personal vocation to the priesthood and religious life as well as think about their education and career plans in light of their faith. Although targeted primarily toward undergraduate students, the grant also supported faculty, staff and administrators in deepening a sense of vocation and thus helping St. Thomas live out its mission as a Catholic university.
From 2002 through spring 2007, Beyond Career to Calling, as St. Thomas’ grant was named, funded nearly 40 programs and projects that served to promote these themes. As a decentralized program, the projects of Beyond Career to Calling were proposed and implemented by faculty and staff members from across the university and representing many different departments and programs. One of the grant’s programs, the Ireland Fund for New Initiatives, provided support for innovative projects, and many faculty and staff responded.
Faculty members in the departments of engineering and classical languages designed a service project in Haiti that helped students connect their major fields with the hands-on experience of aiding those in need. Faculty in the theology and philosophy departments implemented a series of speakers and discussions for faculty and students on the vocation of Catholic women. Administrators, faculty and staff came together in summer seminars to reflect on St. Thomas’ mission as a Catholic university. A Latino student leadership initiative provided support for outstanding Hispanic students. Faculty in the School of Social Work designed a series of events, culminating in a national conference, to integrate Catholic social thought into the discipline. Through the Aquinas Fellows program, scholarships were awarded to junior and senior students who exhibited a profound sense of vocation in their lives. A faculty group met weekly throughout the academic year to consider a significant work of literature and reflect on their vocation as professors. These are just a few of the many programs funded by Beyond Career to Calling over the last few years.
As a result of the success of these endeavors, St. Thomas recently was awarded a three-year continuation grant from the Lilly Endowment designed to build on existing programs as well as continue to support new initiatives. This sustainability grant, which began last summer, particularly will fund endeavors in the Center for Catholic Studies including student recruitment, leadership and scholarship programs; faculty development; and curriculum and teaching development emphasizing the concept of vocation. The Aquinas Fellows scholarship program will continue to award fellowships to students who are outstanding exemplars of the call to vocation on campus, and the Ireland Fund for New Initiatives will continue to support new faculty and staff projects across the university. The center will serve as the focal point for the university’s efforts to sustain a theological exploration of vocation as a continuing element of the institution’s mission.