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Vocations: New Encouragement on Campuses
By Carol Ann Morrow
Lilly Endowment has given $176 million to 88 U.S. colleges and universities to encourage Church-related vocations. Three schools are Franciscan.

Q U I C K S C A N

Lilly RSVP: Religious Scholars Vocation Program
Rebuild My Church
The Journey Project
They Went About Doing Good
Lilly Endowment: What? Who? Where?
Check It Out

 

Photo by Dan Horan

Think you know the hot topics on college campuses today? Think again.

• “I was always hearing that the Church needs vocations, but I never felt that I was being helped on my journey to see what I could do. When I heard about Marian’s San Damiano scholars, I knew this college was actually doing something that would help me achieve my goals.”—Beth

• “I didn’t think I was being called to be a religious, but I do want to help people and act on my faith beliefs. I wasn’t sure how to achieve that goal. Then I heard about this scholarship and applied.”—Kathleen

• “God is at work in this.”—Annie

Table talk of this sort may sound unlikely among collegians, but it’s becoming more common at 88 campuses across the country. I know, because I heard it from quite a few students on an Indianapolis campus firsthand.

Such conversation has been encouraged at a variety of liberal-arts institutions with some religious history by Lilly Endowment Inc., which has awarded millions of dollars to underwrite Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV).

Grants enable many institutions to thrive and expand, but can they really encourage vocations? It would seem so.

Generous funding has led to remarkably creative programs to inspire and assist college and university students who feel called to Church ministries of all kinds. The ripple effect has been to increase interest in Church callings and involvement on entire campuses.

Of the 88 grant-receiving institutions, 20 are Catholic. Three of those have Franciscan roots: Cardinal Stritch University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), founded in 1937 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi of Milwaukee; Marian College (in Indianapolis, Indiana), founded in 1936 by the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana; and St. Bonaventure University (in St. Bonaventure, New York), founded in 1858 by the Franciscan friars and now part of Holy Name Province, New York.

This article focuses on these three grant recipients, whose extensive and energetic efforts mirror the good news spreading coast to coast, good news underwritten by Lilly Endowment.

SPONSORED LINKS

Lilly RSVP: Religious Scholars Vocation Program

On the Milwaukee campus of Cardinal Stritch University, there’s a buzz—and it’s about vocations. Some students are simply curious to know how priests and sisters think—and are coming to pizza parties to ask questions. Some are participating in book discussion groups around titles such as Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer, and The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren. Other students welcome the concept of a spiritually driven life choice, whatever it might be. And a few have “RSVP”-ed.

RSVP stands for the Religious Scholars Vocation Program, which offers scholarships to students interested in ordained or lay ministry. It is the most intense commitment to vocational discernment among Stritch’s Endowment grant-funded offerings. Three such scholarships were awarded in the grant’s first year and eight students—including three considering priesthood—have been accepted for fall 2005. The scholarships include half of the total tuition and complete room and board for a four-year program—and are the most generous offered at the university.

Scholarship students are required to choose a religious-studies minor, but may major in any other field of study. The minor is intended to provide students with the theological understanding needed to prepare for ministry.

The Lilly Vocation Fellowships (numbering 25 this first year) are another funded—though less rigorous—outreach to students. Fellows are supported in exploring their life calling through individually designed discernment and activities, which include theological reflection and mentoring. They receive tuition grants and co-curricular support to encourage their efforts.

Tony Phillips, 37, is a Vocation Fellow. A nontraditional student, he’s already an assistant minister in the American Baptist Church. But Phillips has been unclear about his next step. Being a Vocation Fellow has helped him discern his future.

As a religious-studies major, Phillips finds it inspiring to be able to “express my relationship with God openly” and to talk with others about “God’s plans for our lives.”

Of 7,600 students enrolled at Stritch, over 300 students and 40 alumni have participated in programs directly sponsored by the Office of Vocation Development, begun with Endowment money. Dr. Trinette McCray, who heads that office, wants to build on that number, which she sees as a “good start.”

Dr. McCray’s office also encourages efforts implemented by other departments at the university. For instance, a departmental seminar billed as “Discovering Your Path” was designed for 12 and had to be closed when the enrollment hit 25 (Stritch’s average class size is 15 to 20). The vocation message is threaded through new student orientation sessions, student leader training, academic service-learning, Vocation Week activities and workshops.

One-time events such as “Pizza With the Priests” and “Supper With the Sisters” have attracted many inquisitive students, who may be drawn by the promise of food but come with plenty of questions as well. Dr. McCray describes it as a “precious and valuable exchange.”

While Stritch is a Catholic university embracing Franciscan values, fewer than half its students are Catholic. Dr. McCray, who is herself an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, USA, and a 16-year veteran on Stritch’s campus, finds the environment invigorating. Lilly Endowment assistance is offered to students of all faith traditions. “When we come together, we want to make the world a better place,” explains Dr. McCray, who says her office is not so much creating a major as it is assisting students—and faculty—to recognize a call.

Phillips, who had thought himself on the road to a pastorate, says the assessment tools and discussions sponsored by the Office of Vocation Development have identified in him a “passion for helping people in the justice system.” He now ponders a ministry assisting those who’ve been incarcerated to get their feet—and their families—on a more productive path.

Lauren Svacina, 21, is about to conclude a year as a Vocation Fellow at Stritch—and it’s caused her to rethink her future as well. “I was lucky enough to go to the National Catholic Student Coalition conference over winter break. It was a big experience for me.” Svacina attended workshops on social justice and the spirituality of finding your career. “They really struck a chord in me,” she says. Spring break found her at the United Nations for lectures on Catholic Social Teaching: Women and Development.

Now Svacina, whose major is psychology, is combining her minor in women’s studies with her passion for social justice. While she knows it will take further education, Svacina is thinking globally. “I couldn’t have taken these opportunities without the help of both our campus ministry and the Lilly Vocation Fellowship.”

Stritch’s Office of Vocation Development offers assessment tools to all students and encourages them to look through a spiritual lens at their future. Grant monies have also encouraged faculty and staff, who can be trained as mentors to walk with students in their vocational discernment.

Is this path becoming more traveled? Dr. McCray says it takes time to develop a sense of ministry in the broader sense, “life lived out on the basis of faith. We are all called to ministry,” she says with conviction. “There is talk now. The word is getting out.”

SPONSORED LINKS

Rebuild My Church

The word is getting out at Marian College in Indianapolis as well. “It’s a prophetic voice,” say Donna Proctor, program coordinator, as she lays out the three circles of Marian’s ambitious program, called “Rebuild My Church.”

In the inmost circle is a new degree in Catholic studies, especially designed for those interested in ordained ministry or religious life, but open to all. One Endowment scholarship recipient, Aaron Thomas, is now in residence at Bishop Bruté House of Formation (for seminarians), located right on the college campus.

Rebuild My Church’s second circle includes programs to prepare Church leadership—such as teachers, DRE’s, youth ministers, music ministers, medical-mission nurses and not-for-profit business managers. For both these circles, Marian can offer generous scholarships with help from the Endowment and other magnanimous donors.

These students are called the “San Dams,” an inevitable collegiate abbreviation for San Damiano Scholars. (San Damiano is the church St. Francis of Assisi began rebuilding with his own hands, when he heard Jesus say, from the cross, “Go, rebuild my Church.”) Currently, Marian College has 34 “San Dams,” a significant number of whom receive full-tuition scholarships from the college.

Proctor explains the rationale. Many times, the choice for ministry also means a decision to earn less money. A full or largely endowed scholarship means that students will not be in debt when they graduate and can more easily afford to launch a career in service, even on a nonprofit salary scale.

The third circle is an ambitious plan to engage all 1,300 students on campus in considering their calling, through specially designed classes, enhanced campus ministry, retreats, mini-service grants and spring-break service opportunities.

Andrea Beyke, a sophomore San Dam from Mt. Carmel, Illinois, says, “My dream is to turn this campus upside down by encouraging more participation in campus-ministry activities.” She wants to engage her fellow students the way St. Francis was engaged and involved.

Beyke recalls her favorite story about the saint, who had ambitions of knighthood. As he lay sleeping, he heard this question, “Why do you seek the servant instead of the Lord?” The 20-year-old Beyke wants to hear—all over Marian’s campus—the question Francis asked in return: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

To serve all these circles, new courses such as Catholic Literature and Liturgical Music have been added to the curriculum. In cooperation with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the college has also designed courses to give faculty and staff in Catholic elementary and high schools ongoing education credits in theology so that the schools might more effectively carry out their ministry of Catholic education. These courses are also available to education students on campus.

Proctor, a lifelong Catholic, is confident that these and similar offerings prepare Marian students “to carry their faith into the world.”

Sophomore Sean Winningham, 20, is eager to see that happen as well. “I want to be able to explore my faith while being of service to the community. I want to have other people that I can share with.” On Marian’s campus, Winningham’s hope is becoming the status quo.

The Journey Project

St. Bonaventure University, near Allegany, New York, already had a wealth of ministry and service programs for its 2,200 students. So what’s different now, given the Lilly Endowment grant?

Andrew Kneller, 21, says he can see a big change from his early days on campus as he now concludes his final year. “Vocation is a real buzzword around here. It’s a really positive thing. On this campus, there’s a strong sense that there’s more to life than getting a job.” Kneller himself has experienced a call to become a Franciscan friar.

The Journey Project, begun like Stritch’s and Marian’s in 2003, has created a new synergy on campus. In fact, after Year One, a project goal was added, flowing from St. Bonaventure’s experience with its three initial goals of discovering vocation, exploring ministry and changing campus culture.

That fourth goal is promoting institutional change. The collaboration required to implement the Endowment grant has nudged faculty and staff toward even more interdisciplinary cooperation.

Interim program director Mike Williams, under 30 himself, needs quite a bit of that cooperation, with 120 interns out in the community. Williams, who is Episcopalian, finds that the internships funded by the Endowment excite him most.

These “community partnerships,” as Williams calls them, have their roots in a parish internship program begun in 2002 by the Franciscan Center for Social Concern (FCSC), with 12 students a semester. Through the Endowment, 80 more interns are actively involved in surrounding communities. Endowment money, explains Williams, “frees students up” to volunteer. Otherwise, only more prosperous students could afford to choose this option. The Endowment has leveled the economic playing field.

Andrew Kneller says his parish internship has given him lots of insight into pastoral work. He explains, “The pastor only sees people once a week! It’s a real constraint and a big challenge.”

He and Rachel Faber, also 21, interned at St. Patrick Parish in Limestone, New York, last semester. Both Faber and Kneller are particularly proud of one project they led. In a coffee-and-doughnuts setting, they invited parishioners to reflect on Catholic social teaching as it connected to last fall’s elections. “It was wonderful,” Faber says. “So many people came.” Kneller adds, “We pray together on our way [to any parish activity]. It’s nice to be able to relate to someone on that level.”

Faber agrees heartily. She likes working in a setting where faith plays an obvious role. Recognizing this has helped her discern a future in social service or nonprofit management.

Other internships, says Williams, have been as varied as after-school dance clubs, gun-safety projects and accounting research for nonprofits. Always the question is, “What is the wisdom here?” Williams observes, “Students often experience emptiness in their lives.” The Journey Project has encouraged the kind of “deep reflection on vocation, calling and sense of purpose” that confronts that emptiness head-on, he says. “This deep reflective process connects with the goal of liberal education—the acquisition of wisdom that allows for a life well lived.”

St. Bonaventure’s Journey Project has other components as well: retreats, service trips, curriculum development, discussion groups, mentoring and faculty and staff development. Many of these undergird and encourage the parish and community internships. And that’s as it should be. Mike Williams sums it up as “generating creativity and doing good things.”

They Went About Doing Good

Students touched by the programs at Cardinal Stritch University, Marian College and St. Bonaventure University are talking about priesthood, religious life, youth ministry, teaching in Catholic schools, nursing, pastoral work and social services. They’re working on- and off-campus to enrich their own understanding of faith active in the workplace, their grasp of mission.

This is good news. Beth Starczewski, Marian College sophomore, says it’s “working from the inside out.” Students are engaged and faculty are en-thusiastic.

Lilly Endowment has invested nearly $200 million in the PTEV multiyear grant, which continues into 2007. Already, it appears to be money well spent—though it’s still early to assess all the dividends.

On these Franciscan campuses, other grants, endowments and assistance are being sought to ensure that 2007 doesn’t mark the end of vocation cultivation at their institutions. It’s a story of optimism and courage, young David facing the Goliath of declining vocations.

Will these efforts bear fruit? At Stritch, Marian and St. Bonaventure and, undoubtedly, at the 85 other grant-receiving institutions, they al-ready have. Marian sophomore Patrick Verhiley, 19, states it plainly: “I am going to live like Francis.”

Reneé Willey, 21, a senior at St. Bonaventure, plans to volunteer a year with the Franciscans. Her internship has given her greater clarity, but she’s still pondering the question, “How and where do I feel God’s presence?” The Endowment has given her the support to frame the question and seek an answer. The Church—and the world—will be the richer for her response and that of every student seeking to say yes to God’s call.

Eli Lilly and Company, now a global pharmaceutical research, development and manufacturing giant, was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, 129 years ago this month. In 1937, Lilly Endowment was created by three members of the Lilly family through personal gifts of their stock in the pharmaceutical company. The Endowment is a separate entity, with a distinct board, staff and location.

In 1968, a second foundation was established, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation. This foundation, unlike the Endowment, operates through the Matching Gifts program of United Way; and its causes, often related to health and medicine, are employee-driven.

The Endowment

Gretchen Wolfram, Director of Communications for the Endowment, explains how the grant-giving corporation is organized. “‘Mr. Eli,’ as the founder was called, was a religious person. When he died in 1977, his personal wealth was distributed among many organizations, but he left endowments for several churches in Indianapolis. He thought that being a member of a congregation was an important personal and civic responsibility, so that conviction has lingered through the years.”

The Endowment gives grants in three areas, Wolfram explains: education, community development and religion. She adds, “Religion is, by far, the most national of our grant-giving divisions.”

In this arena, they give special attention to clergy, ”providing opportunities for them to strengthen their contributions and their skills,” Wolfram says. But the Endowment recognized the need for new vocations, new blood to work in the Church. “Ministry has just not been on young people’s radar screens as far as what they’d like to do with their future,” she notes.

That may be changing, thanks to the $176.2 million investment of the Endowment. Wolfram says they know Endowment initiatives will not suffice to replenish the supply of clergy and other Church vocations, but “We just want to have ministry be considered and be thought of as vocation and calling.”

www.lillyendowment.org (to see the complete scope of Lilly Endowment grants.)

www.ptev.org (includes list of all grant recipients) 615-341-0506

vocation.stritch.edu (Cardinal Stritch University) 414-410-4750

rmc.marian.edu (Marian College) 317-955-6783

journeyproject.sbu.edu (St. Bonaventure University) 716-375-7643

 

Carol Ann Morrow is an assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger and managing producer of audiobooks for St. Anthony Messenger Press. She earned her B.A. in English from Marian College in 1970.

 


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