St. Gregory’s University was founded by Benedictine monks in 1875 and is Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher education. With a diverse but close-knit community, the University’s strong Benedictine tradition should appeal to a growing number of Catholic families as it becomes better known outside Oklahoma.
The University’s impressive, multi-story brick Benedictine Hall rises from the prairie, dominating a 75-acre campus surrounded by miles of farmland at the edge of Shawnee, Oklahoma. With about half its 738 undergraduate students in accelerated working-adult programs at various locations, St. Gregory’s is a small university for traditional students.
But given its location in the heart of Indian Territory, the University can boast a higher proportion of Native American students (8 percent) than any other Catholic university in the country. With another 12 percent international students, 13 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African American, and 10 percent multi-racial, the University has one of the most unique and diverse campuses in its region.
Half of St. Gregory’s students are Catholic. That of course colors campus life and student relationships in ways that are different from colleges that have primarily Catholic students, but the Benedictine influences and the University’s commitment to authentic Catholic education are strong. The University is not shy about integrating its commitment to Catholic teaching in the classroom and in campus life, and the campus ministry is decidedly Catholic.
In recent years, leaders have sought to re-emphasize the University’s core values and refocus on campus ministry, the relationship between the University and St. Gregory’s Abbey, and Catholic student recruitment. Simply being Catholic in Oklahoma is to stand apart.
“They’re building up the Catholic community here and bringing in people who are on fire for Christ,” said student Kelly Hogan. The University seems intent on attracting more students who match that description.
Students in the College of Arts and Sciences are provided with a solid foundation in the liberal arts through a common core curriculum, the heart of which is a four-semester “Tradition and Conversation” program that offers students the opportunity to engage some of the greatest minds and discuss some of the most influential texts of the Western and Catholic intellectual traditions.
Students can then choose from more than 30 majors, including several business-related disciplines, social science, natural science, teacher education, health and sports science, and traditional liberal arts majors. A quarter of undergraduates major in life sciences such as pre-medicine, and about 20 percent major in business and behavioral sciences.
The University’s primarily lay board of 26 members, including five Benedictines and the Archbishop of Oklahoma City, selected D. Gregory Main to be the fourth president in July 2011. Dr. Main came to St. Gregory’s after a two-year term as president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. He also served as Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce. The University requires the president to make a public profession of faith and oath of fidelity.
Abbott Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B., head of St. Gregory’s Abbey, is former president and current chancellor of the University and helps keep focus on the University’s Catholic identity. The monks serve in various capacities as administrators, teachers, and staff.
The Archbishop of Oklahoma City and the Bishop of Tulsa have expressed their intention to become sponsors of St. Gregory’s University. Archbishop Paul Coakley and Bishop Edward Slattery joined St. Gregory’s University Board Chair Rev. Don Wolf and Abbot Lawrence Stasyszen of St. Gregory’s Abbey in signing a memorandum of agreement and declaration of intent that solidified the Church’s involvement in the University’s future.
The partnership signifies St. Gregory’s commitment to serving the Church of Oklahoma through its academic and student outreach programs, and the Church of Oklahoma’s commitment to the advancement of Catholic higher education.
The price is right at St. Gregory’s. Total tuition, room, and board in 2011-2012 was $26,379—well below the average for private institutions in Oklahoma, where higher education is offered at a relatively low cost compared to other states. The University offers scholarships, some of which require the recipient to be Catholic or to be discerning a religious vocation.
St. Gregory’s offers a solid 56-credit core curriculum including theology, philosophy, ethics, English composition, communication, fine arts, government, and leadership. The highlight is a four-semester “Tradition and Conversation” seminar program, which offers a modified Great Books curriculum taught in small groups utilizing the Socratic Method. Students read and discuss books of the Bible and works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Augustine, and a variety of mystics.
Theology courses are explicitly Catholic and are intended primarily to prepare students for pastoral work in parishes, schools, and youth ministries. All theology faculty are required to have the mandatum
The University’s successful pre-med graduates have gone on to their first choice of medical school. Housed on campus is the National Institute on Developmental Delays, an international cognitive psychology program founded by Father Paul Zahler, O.S.B., that utilizes various therapies including equine therapy for those with developmental issues. Pre-med, psychology, and pre-veterinary students are able to pursue internships to work with the Institute.
Campus spiritual life revolves around the Abbey Church where Mass is celebrated daily. Sunday and Wednesday 9 p.m. Masses are intended especially for students and are preceded by the Rosary, led by the campus pro-life club.
At the beginning of the academic year, all participate in the Opening Mass of the Holy Spirit. A University Community Mass is celebrated on the first Thursday of every month. There are no classes scheduled during the Community Mass, and all offices on campus are closed to allow attendance.
Eucharistic Adoration is held once a week. Confessions are heard twice weekly. Students are invited to pray morning, midday, or evening prayers in the Abbey Church with the Benedictines.
The Buckley Outreach Team consists of approximately 10 student volunteers who organize and run retreats for Catholic high school students in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. Established in 1990 from a bequest by the parents of Academic Vice President Father Charles Buckley, O.S.B., the Buckley Team promotes evangelization at about 20 retreats in 50 parishes for 1,000 students each year. Team members are awarded scholarships annually.
Campus ministry frequently hosts coffee house events with speakers on various spiritual topics and special Lent and Advent programs. It also hosts four cycles of courses on Catholic teachings, a catechetical program that is separate from the academic departments and is open to anyone of any faith. Topics include the Sacraments, the Eucharist, God, moral theology, and the works of mercy.
St. Gregory’s features two female residence halls and one male residence hall. There are no coed residence halls. Freshman men are housed in Mark Braun Hall, and have shared community-style bathrooms. Non-freshman females reside in Felix DeGrasse Hall, where two students per room share a private bathroom with two other students. Non-freshman male students reside in Thomas Duperou Hall.
Residence Hall entrances are monitored by camera 24/7 by Security staff. Intervisitation hours are noon to midnight on Sunday through Thursday, and noon to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The residence halls provide free telephone, cable, and wireless Internet access. All full-time students are required to live on campus through their junior year, unless exempt by virtue of age, marriage, or local residency. Beginning in fall 2012, all new student athletes are required to live on-campus as long as they receive an athletic scholarship.
The University is a “dry” campus that is also drug-free and tobacco-free. First-time alcohol violations result in both a fine and a four-hour online education course with follow-up. Additional offenses can result in off-campus counseling and possible suspension.
St. Benedict Chapel is located between the halls. Students utilize the chapel for personal and group prayer and choir practice. Groups of students pray the Liturgy of the Hours and Divine Mercy chaplet there.
The main dining area is Bernard Murphy Hall and features an assortment of home cooking, grilled, or made-to-order items, as well as beverages and desserts.
Although Shawnee’s crime rate is generally at or above the U.S. average in most categories, the campus is safe, and crimes that do occur are usually petty violations.
The 14 active campus student organizations include two honor societies, one local fraternity and three local sororities with service components and groups such as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Hispanic Awareness Student Association, and a Student Government Association. The Pro-Life Team is very active and has participated in the 40 Days for Life campaign and annual March for Life.
The SIFE club allows students to create business plans and compete nationally. St. Gregory’s has traditionally taken home many prizes in the SIFE competition.
Catholic-oriented groups include Kappa Phi Omega, a Catholic-Christian sorority, the Knights of Columbus, and the Pro-Life Team, which partners with the Shawnee chapter of Project Gabriel to help women facing crisis pregnancies.
The hub of student activity on campus is the Patricia Flanagan Rockwood Center, the student union built in 2000. Students can congregate in the common lounge, play pool, eat at the Cyber Café, use the computer lab, gather in a meeting room or the campus ministry lounge, and purchase books and supplies at the student bookstore.
The on-campus Mabee-Gerrer Museum was founded in 1915 and is one of the oldest museums in the state. It contains artifacts from ancient Egypt, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and China, as well as religious art. Items on display include an Egyptian mummy, shrunken heads, and the official portrait of Pope Pius X, painted by Father Gregory Gerrer, O.S.B.
The Performing Arts Center houses a 250-seat theater that is used for plays, speakers, and other special events. St. Gregory’s offers majors in dance, theater, and visual arts.
The Mabee Aerobic Center houses a weight room, indoor pool, racquetball courts, and gymnasium that are used by students and the broader Shawnee community.
St. Gregory’s is affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I, and the Cavaliers participate as one of the 12 members of the Sooner Athletic Conference in cross country, track, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, women’s golf, volleyball, and cheerleading/dance. More than half of the campus’ students are athletes, for whom some partial scholarship money is available.
There are also outreach activities including the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., each January (approximately 29 students attended in 2011); the Soles for Souls program that provides shoes to victims of natural disasters and underprivileged persons across the world; spring break mission trips; and Habitat for Humanity. Some have helped with hurricane relief in Louisiana. The student life office hosts a yearly Alternative Spring Break trip in which students give up their Spring Break to serve others.
There is also a student and monk community dinner and the Observation Program for University Students (OPUS), through which young men can live in the monastery and experience monastic life firsthand for a semester.
Nearby Oklahoma City has a population of nearly 550,000 and is home to cultural attractions such as museums, a zoo, sports teams, and the Will Rogers World Airport.
The Bottom Line
St. Gregory’s University maintains its identity through its relationship with the Abbey, the presence of Benedictine monks, and its commitment to the Catholic and Benedictine tradition. This carries through to the substantial core curriculum for liberal arts students.
The attractive array of majors includes business-related subjects and the sciences, which are not available at the strictly liberal arts colleges. It is not always easy to marry a strong Catholic identity with career-oriented majors, but St. Gregory’s seems to be doing a good job of it, especially in recent years.
Not least important, the price may put St. Gregory’s high on the list for Catholic students looking for a solid Catholic education, eager to reap what was sown by the Benedictine monks a century and a half ago. And it just keeps getting better.