Wyoming Catholic College (WCC), only recently founded in 2005, is for pioneers. Nestled in a small town near the Wind River Mountain Range and the Pope Agie River, the Great Books college is perfect for nature and outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who want to stretch themselves intellectually in ways they never dreamed possible.
The founders’ statement, “Born in Wonder, Brought to Wisdom: The Philosophical Vision Statement of Wyoming Catholic College,” explains that WCC intends to educate the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—emphasizing seven key objectives: Catholic community, spiritual formation, liberal arts education, integrated curriculum, Great Books, immersion in the outdoors, and excellent teaching.
Students study a prescribed four-year program. Eight Catholic theology and five philosophy courses are required, as well as logic and rhetoric. Graduates all receive the same Bachelor of Arts degree.
The College eschews the excessive use of technology in order to foster direct human contact and communication between students and faculty. One of the College’s trademarks is its Freshman Leadership Program, a three-week backpacking trip in the pristine Wyoming wilderness in August and a one-week winter adventure in January.
The lay-run, independent college has a strong connection to the local bishop, who ex officio
will always be a member of the Board of Directors. The bishop appoints two of the members of the board of directors and can veto any move away from the College’s educational mission. The corporate structure requires that at least two-thirds of the board members are practicing Catholics, and at least two-thirds of the faculty and administrators are practicing Catholics. In reality, the percentage is 100%.
There are a total of 14 full-time faculty members and two part-time instructors. WCC president Father Robert Cook, a diocesan priest, has been a practicing attorney and pro-life advocate and sits on the board. He announced in 2012 that he would soon retire, and the College is in the midst of searching for a president who can lead WCC forward in its next stage of growth.
Until the College is able to begin a permanent campus capital campaign, it uses an assortment of buildings in downtown Lander, Wyoming, for classes, library, computer lab space, and student dining. An old hunting lodge adjacent to Lander City Park serves as the administration building, and the College uses Holy Rosary Catholic Church and parish for daily Mass and temporary residence halls.
The College has received pre-accreditation from the American Association for Liberal Education and is also pursuing accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Tuition, room and board, and books and materials are priced at $24,150 for 2012-13. However, the average student actually pays much less due to generous financial aid packages. Total enrollment is approximately 125 students, with a goal of 400 at the future permanent campus.
In addition to the theology and philosophy courses, students take nine courses in humanities; eight in trivium or grammar, logic, and written and oral rhetoric; four in Latin; two in art history and two in music; and three each in science and mathematics. Uniquely, students also take two courses in horsemanship. Honors courses in outdoor leadership and in Latin are also available.
The goal is a classical education. According to Father Cook, “We want our students to graduate being able to find joy in learning, able to learn, think critically and clearly in speech and writing . . . We want a fully educated human being.”
The added outdoor component offers hands-on leadership skills that build self-confidence. “Students learn how to choose a goal, plot how to get there, the food and equipment needed, resolving conflicts, teamwork, and handling things you never dreamed would happen, such as coming to a creek that’s too big to cross,” explained President Cook. “Learning all of this is different from the theoretical study of leadership in a classroom.”
The 21-day orientation involves all incoming freshmen, split into two male and two female sections with their own chaplain, student leader, and two instructors from Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries (SROM) . SROM also works with students in risk-management training. All freshmen take a two-and-a-half day wilderness medical training course to learn how to manage injuries in the wild.
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors are expected to go on at least two of four week-long outdoor courses that are offered each year. These consist of everything from white-water rafting and kayaking to canyoneering, to backpacking and mountain climbing and are built into the academic calendar so they do not conflict with class.
Another unique component of the Wyoming Catholic curriculum is a field-based science course during the sophomore year that includes botany, wildlife, astronomy, and geology.
Wyoming Catholic has a distinct conversational Latin program that uses an immersion style of teaching where only Latin is spoken in the classroom. It also offers a Great Books curriculum in which courses are a combination of lecture and Socratic discussion.
All faculty members must agree not to undermine Church teaching or Vatican authority and to support WCC’s spiritual vision. At the Convocation Mass each fall, Catholics profess their faith and recite an Oath of Fidelity in the presence of the Bishop or his delegate. In addition, any faculty who teach theology are required to obtain the canon law mandatum.
Holy Rosary parish Mass is said at 8 a.m. daily. The College chaplaincy Masses are at noon and 9:15 p.m. An Ordinary Form Mass is celebrated in English with Gregorian chant at noon on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. The Extraordinary Form is celebrated on Wednesday at noon, Saturday at 11 a.m., and Sunday at 8 a.m. (a sung High Mass). Occasionally, visiting clergy celebrate a fully-sung Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
Approximately 60 percent of students attend daily Mass, and all attend Sunday Mass. A sizeable number of students have expressed interest in a priestly or religious vocation.
The campus is served by a full-time chaplain from the Diocese of St. Catharines, Ontario. He says Mass and hears confessions daily, and is available for spiritual direction after lunch and dinner.
Eucharistic adoration is held at the parish Church every weekday afternoon. There are also a number of Rosary prayer groups, as well as spirituality practicums – small groups of students that meet and discuss various spiritual classics.
Until the permanent campus is built, there are three women’s residences and three men’s residences located next door to Holy Rosary. In addition, there are two apartment buildings–one male, one female. On weeknights there is a 10:30 p.m. curfew; weekend curfew is midnight. Opposite-sex visitation is prohibited, as are drugs and alcohol. Complimentary laundry facilities are provided in the residence halls.
Because Wyoming Catholic is small, meal service is mandatory. In the dining hall, students get whatever is made that day, with options for allergen-sensitive individuals. If they don’t like the entrée, a soup and salad bar is available.
The College has a unique technology policy. Cell phones and smart phones are prohibited. If students own cell phones, they are locked up with the prefect. Students traveling long distances are free to check out their phones. Every four students in the residence hall share their own cordless phone and answering machine. Students may not have personal televisions. Electronic devices are not permitted during class. Outside of public spaces, such as the library and computer lab, there is no personal use of the Internet. A number of computers are available for student use in the library and in the mail room.
Frassati Hall houses a student lounge, student-staffed coffee shop, mail room, general assembly hall used primarily as the cafeteria, and dedicated storage space for the College’s Outdoor Leadership Program.
The College has a three-tier dress code: formal, classroom, and casual dress. Classroom dress for men means a collared shirt with slacks or dress jeans. For women it means modest skirts or pants. Formal dress is for Sunday Masses and formal lectures: for men, a jacket and tie; for women, a dress or skirt. Appropriate casual dress is permitted at other times.
Lander is a thriving mid-size town with a population of 8,000. There are a number of hotels, banks, and credit unions, restaurants, cafés, a hardware store, theater, Alco, Shopko, and grocery stores all located along the main thoroughfare.
The crime rate is well below the national average and reflects property, rather than violent, crime. However, one statistic that is well above the norm is snowfall; Wyoming winters provide for an abundance of outdoor sports, including skiing.
The town has an 81-bed Lander Valley Medical Center that is supplemented by the Riverton Memorial Hospital, about a half-hour away.
Access to Lander isn’t easy. Students typically fly into Salt Lake City or Denver. Riverton, only slightly larger than Lander, has a regional airport with daily flights into and out of Denver International Airport. Salt Lake City International Airport is five hours away. A reasonably priced shuttle service is offered to students at the beginning and end of the academic year.
Student activities are developing, with significant emphasis on outdoor pursuits.
Students can join the Wyoming Catholic College Choir or drama group. Classic movie nights, dances, intramural sports, and informal social activities round out the free-time opportunities. There are four dances each year – in October, at Christmas, at Candlemas, and after the Easter vigil. There are several days of festivities in early February in honor of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, patroness of the College.
A variety of clubs have already sprung up on campus, including an Opera Society that makes an annual excursion to a live opera and a Greek club. On Sunday evenings, swing dancing is popular. There are also Latin immersion weekends and backpacking trips.
Students can use a high school gym for basketball and also participate in intramural or pickup games of volleyball, indoor soccer, football, rugby, softball, and ultimate Frisbee. They can also access a swimming pool, a rock climbing gym, and recreational facilities in town.
Students have been involved in various social projects: roadside ditch clean-up work; fasting during lunch on Friday to donate the meal money to Food for the Poor; traveling to a small parish church in Hudson once a month to provide music; and teaching classes to local fifth-graders.
Students have participated in pro-life activism both in Cheyenne and the West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco.
The Bottom Line
The motto of Wyoming Catholic College is “Wisdom in God’s Country.”
“We intend to do everything we can so that upon graduation, the students will leave stronger in the faith than when they came,” said Father Cook.
This College is likely to appeal to students seeking a different kind of undergraduate experience. With its outdoor leadership and equestrian component, its unique immersion Latin program, its four-year double focus on humanities and sacred theology, and its strong emphasis on written and oral rhetoric, there’s no other Catholic college quite like it.
In the words of one faculty member, “The students who come now and in the next few years are going to be the co-creators, actively involved in something that is going to make a significant contribution to Catholic colleges in America.”