On many occasions we’ve described our work at Catholic Studies to be that of offering our students an education that is both “faithful and intellectual.” You’ve heard a lot about the intellectual formation of students, but what about the faithful dimensions? How does our commitment to a “faithful” formation shape our sense of what Catholic Studies is about?
It begins with a committed faculty. Last year we inaugurated the first Catholic Studies retreat for our program faculty. The retreat provided an opportunity for all of us to gather in prayer, reflection, conversation and fellowship, renewing our central commitment to a comprehensive formation of students. The director for the weekend noted that we were particularly blessed to have a group of faculty committed to each other and our students who go beyond the ordinary academic boundaries. He was right. Catholic Studies is unique in its life as a community of faculty dedicated to the overall formation of both the students and themselves.
Last spring, 36 students gathered for a threeday retreat focusing on the theme of faith, hope and love. Led by a team of directors and encouraged to observe extended periods of silence, the students took on the deliberate task of placing themselves in the care of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide them in their weekend. The retreat was designed to supply some muchneeded renewal in the midst of a busy semester. It also was meant to plant the seeds in their own minds about the value of taking time aside for prayer and reflection – an important lesson for when life begins to pick up pace after graduation.
It was satisfying to see so many young people giving up their cherished free time for a weekend of prayer. Participants also included one former Catholic Studies graduate, Amanda Osheim, and one current graduate student, Natalie Martens. Both Osheim and Martens serve on our Campus Ministry staff at St. Thomas, a satisfying confirmation that our efforts to offer a faithful and intellectual education are having results.
Still other signs of a lively, faithful community include recent efforts of Stephen Maas, a current graduate student and former undergraduate major. Recently, Stephen’s small production company produced a video that focused on the pilgrimage experience of several youth who journeyed to World Youth Day in Rome, 2000. The video is a savvy blend of orthodoxy and videography, and is likely to offer hundreds of youth ministers an excellent venue to raise questions about contemporary challenges to youth and the issues of evangelization. Moreover, he and a few of his friends recently won an Outstanding Catholic of the Year award for their work in promoting the use of the catechism among recently confirmed Catholic men and women.
Students also have been committed over the past three years to hosting a First Friday Holy Hour, which includes an evening of recollection, prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and this year hosted an evening of prayer and recollection for the women of Catholic Studies.
Beyond these more traditional practices, a faithful formation at Catholic Studies also includes other events. Students gathered to watch a recent video-biography of John Paul II, hosted by George Weigel, and shared reflections on their own experience of life under his pontificate. It was a chance to bring to mind the impact of this extraordinary figure and, for some at least, to enjoy memories of their personal experience in Rome in our Catholic Studies Rome program.
Still others take advantage of the many opportunities for service supplied by the broader St. Thomas community. Catholic Studies is especially blessed to be offering itsprogram within the context of a broader university that is itself committed to creating a lively, Catholic environment.
In the coming year, Catholic Studies will be implementing other programs due to the generosity of the Lilly Foundation. A special set of initiatives designed to encourage students to develop a sense of their lay vocation in the world will begin to take shape. It is a unique opportunity for Catholic Studies to continue to develop its program.
And all of these things are happening in addition to a complete undergraduate and graduate program of studies. In many ways, Catholic Studies is providing the kind of educational environment that most of us barely imagined possible in our college years.
The committed faculty, the ever-optimistic students, and the generous donors have made our program a model to others in the country. We have every reason to feel pride and hopeful expectation for the Center for Catholic Studies. We have every reason to be so very grateful for the faithful formation we ourselves have received from those who have shaped us along the way.