More than 40 senior student life representatives from faithful Catholic colleges and universities across the U.S. are meeting at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., from July 22 to 23 for the first annual Student Life Leadership Conference to share practices and policies that promote students’ personal development and faith formation. The meeting themed “Living the Year of Faith” is co-sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of The Cardinal Newman Society, and the Dean of Students at CUA.
The meeting precedes the annual convention of the Association for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities (ASACCU) at CUA and Georgetown University.
“Much is at stake in guiding students in this Year of Faith and each year of their college experience,” said Robert Laird, Director of Programs of The Cardinal Newman Society, who organized the conference. “With all the temptations of college campuslife, it is important for student life leaders to discover solutions that enhance the Catholic identity of their programs and meet the expectations of Catholic families.”
The keynote speakers include John Zimmer, Vice President for Mission Operations for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and Monsignor Stuart Swetland, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education and Vice President for Catholic Identity at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
“Pope Francis reminds us in Lumen Fidei that those who have received the faith cannot help but want to share this Good News of Jesus with others,” said Monsignor Swetland. “It is exciting during the Year of Faith to meet with one’s peers and explore ways we can be more effective witnesses to the love of Christ on campus.”
Zimmer identified three principles which guide every student life leader in their role of evangelization. The first, he remarked, is to personally encounter Christ. “We cannot give what we do not posses,” he noted. The second principle is to “invite students into the life that you are living.” He cautioned that programs are important, but “people are at the heart of student affairs.” Finally, leaders must be willing to proclaim the Gospel. He noted that even at Catholic colleges, “our institutions cannot presuppose the faith; we must propose it.”
The conference features a workshop led by Zimmer and Bill Kirk, Vice President for Student Affairs and General Counsel at Ave Maria University, focusing on the contents of Zimmer’s address. Another workshop considers an important draft document identifying competencies for student life leaders at Catholic colleges. The competencies will be presented by Dr. Joe Wurtz, Dean of Students at Benedictine College; Dr. Jesse Dorman, Dean of Students at Christendom College; and David Schmiesing, Vice President for Student Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“It is our hope that this conference will help attendees develop new ways of overcoming challenges which present themselves even on the campuses of faithfully Catholic colleges,” Laird said.
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