Leaders from 10 faithful Catholic colleges gathered at the Franciscan University of Steubenville last week to share and consider ways of better integrating Catholic teaching into programs and services for students.
The three-day Student Life Leadership Conference was co-sponsored by The Cardinal Newman Society and Franciscan University. It brought together 35 vice presidents for student affairs, deans of students, residence life directors and student activities directors to reflect on the theme, “Striving for Excellence.”
“This conference has been a wonderful experience to bring together other professionals in the field to encourage us to go deeper and cultivate the Catholic identities at our respective colleges and universities,” said Marisa Quinn, director of residential life at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., which has been expanding its campus to allow for a growing number of resident students.
In his lecture to the participants, Father Sean Sheridan, T.O.R., president of Franciscan University, said that Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae, requires leaders to avoid compartmentalizing evangelization and campus ministry.
“We need to be evangelizers in whatever we do,” Fr. Sheridan said, citing Ex corde, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The conference also featured Father Paul Check, executive director of Courage International, a ministry to men and women with same-sex attractions who seek to live in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and to their families and spouses.
Increasingly, student life leaders are faced with questions about sexuality and Catholic doctrine and how to craft programs and policies that are faithful to a college’s Catholic identity. Fr. Check helped the leaders discuss the Church’s teaching about these issues with confidence and clarity, focusing on the need to be both compassionate yet uncompromising about the truths of the Faith.
Other topics included religious freedom and its impact on Catholic colleges and evaluating the effectiveness of campus programs. The conference included lectures and time to collaborate with other college leaders, as well as opportunities for Mass and Adoration.
“This conference was a tremendous opportunity to network with colleagues, discuss challenges and opportunities of our work in student affairs, and motivated me to strive for excellence in my profession,” said Dr. Joe Wurtz, dean of students at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
Many of the participating student life officials participate in discussions throughout the year, led by the Cardinal Newman Society’s director of programs, Bob Laird. They work to identify and develop best practices that strengthen the Catholic identity of their institutions.
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