The University of Mary (U-Mary) is part of a second generation in the renewal of Catholic higher education. The 56-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, U-Mary 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 U-Mary 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 U-Mary’s unique program to develop “servant leaders of moral courage” in their chosen fields.
Monsignor James Shea, a diocesan priest who became president of U-Mary 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.
Monsignor 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 U-Mary president prepare for his position—the very capable Msgr. 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,” Msgr. 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. No doubt that played a part in the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to name him "monsignor" and "Chaplain to His Holiness" in December 2012.
While students from out of state may require some time getting used to North Dakota winters, U-Mary 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, room and board for 2015-16 is just $21,578, not including options for financial aid.
The general education requirements ensure that even pre-professional students are exposed to the liberal arts. Students are required to take two theology and two philosophy courses, with courses ranging from basic Catholic instruction to a study of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Students are required to take a foundational philosophical ethics course, "Search for Truth," and then one additional course in 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 Msgr. 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 nearly 60 academic programs, 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 U-Mary’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 U-Mary’s general education requirements.
Enhancing the relatively small liberal arts faculty, Msgr. Shea 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, U-Mary’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 the University Chaplain (a priest from the Diocese of Bismarck), a lay director, and two additional staff members.
The four campus chapels are Catholic, and Mass is offered at least once each weekday and on Sunday. Daily Mass attendance is about 180 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.
The University has needed to significantly expand opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration and Confession; the latter is scheduled Tuesday through Thursday and by appointment, while Adoration is scheduled from morning to late afternoon or evening Monday through Friday. Students pray the Rosary and Morning Prayer four days a week, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy three days per week. 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.
U-Mary’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, 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 the diocese’s new director of vocations, Fr. Joshua Waltz. U-Mary has also launched a similar hall for women, St. Scholastica’s, with two Sisters living in the hall with 40 young women.
University of Mary completed the process of transitioning from a mix of single-sex and coed residence halls to all single-sex residences for students in 2014. Only single-sex residences are offered to students, and the University is continuing to construct new student housing facilities.
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. However, students at the University under age 21 are not permitted to have alcohol on campus. The University sponsors several programs to discourage substance abuse and allows students to choose a roommate who is also committed to sobriety. Students who are 21, live in one of two specific residences, and have completed a special class are eligible to have alcohol in their rooms so long as everyone present is 21 years of age. Such students may also consume a limited number of alcoholic drinks at an on-campus club.
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 U-Mary 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 120,000. 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 U-Mary 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 U-Mary, 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 U-Mary Marauders field eight teams for men and nine 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, swimming, tennis, and volleyball for women. FOCUS's Varsity Catholic program and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes work 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 move to discernment-based residence halls, the Rome campus, and other factors combine to make U-Mary a wonderful college for The Newman Guide
But U-Mary is also unique among most Guide
colleges, with its heavier emphasis on career preparation in health, business, and education. We anticipate that its impressive renewal is not complete, as Msgr. 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 U-Mary. The University is seeking students who are eager to take advantage of the current offerings while contributing to U-Mary’s development.