The University of Mary (UM) is part of a second generation in the renewal of Catholic higher education. The 53-year-old University has been taking exciting steps to reinforce its academics, student life, and Catholic identity, following the example of Newman Guide colleges that have likewise embraced their Catholic mission.
In other ways, UM is unique for The Newman Guide. It emphasizes career preparation, with a majority of students majoring in the health sciences or business-related fields. Only about half the students are Catholic, and more than 80 percent attended public high schools. Many of the students do not attend UM primarily for its Catholic identity.
But seriously Catholic students will want to take advantage of the new Catholic Studies Program and the residence halls dedicated to fostering spiritual development and discernment. Exemplary students can also participate in UM’s unique program to develop “servant leaders of moral courage” in their chosen fields.
Father James Shea, a diocesan priest who became president of UM in 2009, has led the University’s renewal with the support of the founding Benedictine Sisters of the Annunciation, who reside on campus and continue to help govern. The Diocese of Bismarck and the nearby Diocese of Fargo have also taken a strong interest in the University and its growing influence in North Dakota.
Father Shea studied for the priesthood at the Catholic University of America (CUA) and observed the improvements at CUA during the tenure of Father David O’Connell, C.M. (now Bishop of Trenton). Bishop O’Connell helped the young UM president prepare for his position—the very capable Fr. Shea was an extraordinary 33 years old upon his appointment—and the path of both institutions has been similar.
“Catholic identity in education is the motivating passion of my life,” Fr. Shea said before assuming the presidency. “I am committed to the deepening and the invigoration of the Catholic identity of the University of Mary.”
That he seems to be accomplishing much faster than anyone could have anticipated. And while students from out of state may require some time getting used to North Dakota winters, UM is an attractive choice for students looking for a career-oriented university that is in good Catholic hands, and all at a quite affordable price. Tuition for 2012-13 is just $13,600, not including options for financial aid.
The general education requirements ensure that even pre-professional students are exposed to the liberal arts. Students take a foundational theology course, choosing from courses ranging from basic Catholic instruction to a study of Pope Benedict. Students also choose a foundational ethics course, and then one additional course in theology or philosophy.
Every student also studies cultural anthropology, citizenship, composition, oral communication, a science lab, mathematics, and information technology. Following one course in each of these areas, students have substantial flexibility to choose 22 credits from at least two disciplines including the humanities, languages, math, physical sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. The electives allow a student some ability to tailor the general education curriculum to more closely match the student’s major.
One of Fr. Shea’s innovations has been a complete restructuring of the University into four distinct schools: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Behavioral Sciences, and the popular Health Sciences. Students can choose among 52 majors, ranging from Catholic studies to the liberal arts, social work, marketing, and nursing.
The commitment to health education is particularly impressive. The health sciences building includes large, state-of-the-art labs and workout rooms for physical therapy and athletic training. Students are taught medical ethics and bioethics consistent with Catholic teaching.
The new Catholic studies program is modeled after the well-respected program at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota; founding director Dr. Matthew Gerlach formerly studied and taught in the UST program. The courses offer a firm grounding in the Catholic intellectual tradition, especially theology and philosophy. More than an academic program, Catholic studies students and faculty form a community that meets weekly for Mass and dinner, participates in Eucharistic Adoration and confession, engages in service activities, attends the March for Life, and comes together for social activities.
Catholic Studies students are especially encouraged to study abroad at UM’s campus in Rome, but other students are eligible to participate in the five-week or full-semester programs. The Rome program costs nothing extra—tuition and room and board costs are the same as Bismarck, and financial aid carries over. Students study and explore Rome and the Church, and courses cover several of UM’s general education requirements.
Enhancing the relatively small liberal arts faculty, Fr. Shea recently hired Dr. Carol Andreini, the longtime director of the Cardinal Muench Seminary’s classics program. Priests who studied under Dr. Andreini throughout the Bismarck and Fargo dioceses helped fund the position after the Seminary was closed.
Given the diversity of beliefs among students, UM’s campus ministry is Catholic but also ecumenical, often taking a nondenominational approach to Christian prayer and social gatherings. Student participation has grown noticeably in recent years.
The University takes a peer ministry approach, with students assisting the full-time staff including two Benedictine chaplains, a lay director, and a young sister from the on-campus Annunciation Monastery.
The four campus chapels are Catholic, and Mass is offered once each weekday and on Sunday. Daily Mass attendance is about 100 students at last count, and the University reports that most of the Catholic undergraduates living on campus attend Sunday Mass. At the beginning of students’ freshman year, each residence hall celebrates Mass and students receive a medal of St. Benedict.
Confession is available each Thursday evening and by appointment. There is also Eucharistic Adoration throughout most of Wednesday, on Tuesday afternoons, and on Thursday evenings, Rosary four days a week, and Stations of the Cross during Lent. Campus ministry hosts retreats for students every semester in their residence halls. Lecture series and social events occur frequently to foster spiritual development and discuss moral issues.
Helping to strengthen students’ spirituality is the Catholic evangelization group FOCUS, which recently was invited to campus. FOCUS sponsors several Bible study groups and promotes Eucharistic Adoration.
UM’s Collegians for Life group is sponsored by campus ministry, adding a Catholic element to the usual pro-life activities such as a prayer night to honor St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who sacrificed her life for her child. Campus ministry also travels each month to the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center, hosting Mass and holding praise and worship nights.
The University has recently increased its emphasis on vocational discernment. The sponsoring Benedictine Sisters are available to be prayer partners for female students, who are also invited to spend a weekend living at the Annunciation Monastery. And for men, the new St. Joseph’s residence hall houses 30 students interested in living a virtuous life and possibly discerning a call to the priesthood. The hall also houses Bishop Paul Zipfel, the recently retired Bishop of Bismarck, and the diocese’s director of vocations, Fr. Tom Richter. UM has just launched a similar hall for women, St. Scholastica’s, with two Sisters living on the hall with 40 young women.
UM has a mix of single-sex, coed, and apartment-style residence halls, but the respect for privacy and chastity is greater than at many other Catholic colleges. Two halls are for men only (150 beds), and three are for women only (287 beds). Aside from the apartment-style buildings, in which men and women are separated by apartments with private kitchen and bath facilities, the only coed residence is North Hall. The 225-bed facility is large and L-shaped, with the men’s and women’s wings separated by doors that are locked at night.
Residence life staff are expected to uphold the University’s Benedictine values, encouraging students to pray and to live virtuously. Policies expressly forbid sexual activity outside of marriage, and priests and others talk to students about moral issues including chastity.
We have been told that North Dakota has problems with binge drinking as early as high school, and it carries over with some college students, especially off campus. But UM is a “dry” campus with no alcohol permitted at any age, and the University sponsors alcohol-free activities on weekends and several programs to discourage substance abuse. Students can opt to choose a roommate who is committed to abstaining from alcohol even off campus, and these students are grouped together in the residence halls.
A campus health clinic and a counseling center operate under Catholic ethical guidelines.
The campus is distinctive and quite the opposite of the iconic ivy-covered academic campus or the small, intimate colleges in this Guide. Several of the large stone and concrete structures at UM were designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer, and later construction continued in the Bauhaus style. It carries through to the interiors of the classroom buildings, residence halls, and even the Modernist-styled chapels.
The Bismarck-Mandan area is urban but not large, despite its population of about 80,000. Students can find what they need nearby, and a shopping mall is a five-minute drive away. Traveling to campus is easy along Interstate Route 94 or through the nearby Bismarck Municipal Airport, less than five miles from campus.
One of the typical benefits of a university is the greater variety of activities outside the classroom, and UM doesn’t disappoint. It offers many clubs tied to students’ academic interests, as well as a club dedicated to environmental awareness, an international club to celebrate the world’s cultures and diverse students at UM, the Student Recreation Program for intramural and fitness activities, and Republican and Democrat groups.
The Knights of Virtue (for men) and Vera Forma (for women) focus on the development of virtue and holiness, studying Scripture and the saints from a clearly Christian but not exclusively Catholic perspective. As noted above, campus ministry sponsors Collegians for Life.
The UM Marauders field eight teams for men and eight for women in the NCAA Division II. These include basketball, cross country, soccer, and indoor and outdoor track and field for both men and women; baseball, football, and wrestling for men; and softball, tennis, and volleyball for women. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes works with the varsity athletes to strengthen their relationship with Christ, while also hosting basketball and “powder puff” football events for other students.
In the local area, students can find numerous outdoor bike and walking trails, parks, a zoo, and the Missouri River which runs near campus. Out of the cold, there are many restaurants, museums, performances, and cultural activities.
The Bottom Line
The University of Mary’s renewed vitality as a Catholic university is exciting and pervasive. The faithful curriculum and attention to ethical development, the Catholic Studies Program, the responsible campus residence policies and new halls for seriously Catholic students, the new Rome campus, and other factors combine to make UM a wonderful new addition to The Newman Guide.
But UM is also unique for the Guide, with its heavier emphasis on career preparation in health, business, and education. We anticipate that its impressive renewal is not complete, as Fr. Shea and a number of committed officials and faculty members continue to strengthen the academic program and campus life, so that Catholic students will find a faithful and increasingly fervent atmosphere at UM. The University is seeking students who are eager to take advantage of the current offerings while contributing to UM’s development.