I got to Franciscan University late Wednesday and had a dinner pizza party with our new ISI Group there. Led by a freshman standout, Billy Valentine, this group has decided to go with the name, “Ronald Reagan Conservatives Club” to attract people to the group. About 10 students from the group showed up for the meeting so that Billy and myself could further explain the purpose of both ISI and the campus group and how it differentiates from other group some of them are involved in, such as College Republicans and Students for Life, among many others. The first book the group is taking up this year is Rick Santorum’s It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, which is perfect for this conservative group on a Catholic campus – since that’s what defines Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic (or maybe a Catholic conservative?)
Later in the evening, there was an ISI lecture by Notre Dame law professor, Gerard Bradley on the topic, “Unification and Education: Orestes Brownson and How Our Constitution Depends Upon an Autonomous Civil Society.” It was a great talk and Professor Stephen Krason, who helped host the lecture, concluded the talk by informing the audience this was the 20th (and last?) year of “The Orestes Brownson Lecture Series” at Franciscan University. Over the twenty years they have had many notable speakers address this series, notably one of them was Russell Kirk! How cool. Dr. Krason himself used to work for ISI about 20 years ago, as the “Eastern Director.” He was responsible for organizing events and chapters in all the regions “east of the Mississippi.” He was glad someone from ISI could make it out to the ISI-sponsored lecture of which about 60-70 people attended.
Franciscan University is situated in a beautiful location, with many hills on campus and literally just a mile or two from the border with Pennsylvania. Basically, a river located about a 1/2 mile away or so, separates the university from the Keystone State. Billy was very gracious and gave me all the history of the school and a tour. According to him (and others) the school used to be known as a party school and not very Catholic at all, particularly back in the 60’s and 70’s. But, one president came in and made a huge difference. Today, the school is about as Catholic as you can get. I might even say “more Catholic than the Pope.” The student life is filled with activities rooted in the student’s deeply cultivated Catholicism. There are reminders on campus and the students seem to all take part in the breadth and depth of Catholic life.
The students also don’t just stay on campus. From my day at Franciscan University, I would argue that the students’ faith is well-cultivated on campus, from the classroom to student life. But then, they don’t just isolate themselves on campus – they go out and have an impact on the real world. Over 150 students from the school (which has a population of about 2,200) go into Pittsburgh every Saturday morning and hand out literature in front of abortion clinics. While some distribute literature, others simply pray. On campus, prayer life is well cultivated with a 24-hour adoration of the Eucharist. No matter what time of day it is, someone on campus is praying and adoring the living Body of Christ.
Also on campus, there is a “Tomb of the Unknown Fetus.” There were several babies rescued from dumpsters some years back, and their bodies were buried there on campus. The culture of life is omnipresent at this school and it shows through the students.
This morning, Billy met me for breakfast and then I checked out the bookstore – where I not only grabbed by typical “bumper sticker and postcards”, but also a nice rosary, which I really need, and a book on the Catholic faith for my parents and a mug for an ISI colleague. My rosary will remind me of Franciscan University because it also displays little pictures of St. Francis of Assisi on it – and I also picked up some stationary cards I could use in the future, with the prayer to St. Francis on it. My name “Francisco” is actually rooted in St. Francis of Assisi – that’s where it comes from (or rather, was “popularized” from). So, who wouldn’t have thought I’d like this university this much.
The school is also very good academically – rooted in a theological foundation, but also has a solid liberal arts program, with great professors and intellectually curious students. One thing I remarked to the students about – regarding their student life – is that every time I get onto a very morally uplifting campus, such as Franciscan or Grove City, the one thing I always notice right away are how many people are out playing sports. This is particularly evident during the warmer months. But, what I think is striking about this is what large percent of the student body actually takes up sports as a community-building event to get involved with. So, the old adage “sports, not drugs” would certainly apply (at least from what I can observe). Sports does give a sense of purpose to the day – students interact with each other in a fun way and a healthy way.
Lastly, I cannot close this post without saying how impressed I was by the faith on this campus. You just feel it. Faith is something that they say can’t be seen, but I feel like I can “see” it on this campus for sure. What’s great about the ISI Group here is that the student leaders are young and Billy (who is probably reading my blog by now) is an exceptional leader who has a great future ahead. I’m just glad he’s still got 3 more years in college. Perhaps by the time he graduates in 2009, all 2,200 students at Franciscan University will find their way to ISI membership. This campus has already cultivated great leaders and it is on its way to cultivating plenty more. It also serves as an example for every Catholic college and university in this country – that there is hope. These schools can be reformed to truly be Catholic in every sense of what being “Catholic” truly means.