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Franciscan spirituality, traditions are simply part of campus life at these universities
The campus of Quincy University is covered in depictions of St. Francis — statues, paintings, Franciscan friars, and the living-out of Franciscan charisms.
The Franciscan friars came to Quincy, Illinois, in February 1860 to establish a parish for the German community and noticed that a school was desperately needed. The friars established a school, which would eventually grow into Quincy University.
The first week of October is Franciscan Heritage Week on campus, which includes a day of service and daily reflections on some aspect of the Franciscan heritage of the university, plus various evening programs. Additionally, there are campus celebrations commemorating the Transitus (death) and the feast of St. Francis. Of course, there are also service programs focused on the poor, the marginalized and care of creation.
The influence of St. Francis extends into academic life, as well. Theology majors have the option of pursuing a concentration in Catholic and Franciscan theology, according to Daniel Strudwick, professor of theology at Quincy. These courses focus on Franciscan history, theology and spirituality, and are open to all students. Additionally, the core theology course includes a section on St. Francis, so that all students at Quincy are exposed to the life and teachings of St. Francis.
The university keeps students engaged in service projects throughout the year, and mission trips are also made available for those who are interested.
“The deeper and more challenging invitation to embrace the radical Christocentric focus of St. Francis remains ever before all of us at Quincy University,” Strudwick said.
Joe Siemer is a junior at Quincy University, and was drawn to the school in large part because of its connection with St. Francis of Assisi. His home parish has been run by Franciscan priests for close to 200 years, and he grew up ensconced in Franciscan spirituality, including reading G.K. Chesterton’s “Saint Francis of Assisi” during his senior year of high school.
“I knew Quincy was a place where I could continue to delve deeper into the Franciscan tradition that I had been raised in,” Siemer said.
One of the first things one sees when entering the campus is a statue of St. Francis, and there are more depictions of him and other Franciscan saints around campus. Each classroom has a San Damiano Cross hanging on the wall.
“These things, like the Franciscan habit, are all outward signs of an inward spirit,” Siemer said.
The visible witness of Franciscan friars on campus also helps communicate the university’s connection to that saint of Assisi. There is a friary off campus where seven friars live, and they spend a great deal of time on campus, saying Mass, hearing confessions and getting to know the students.
“Many students are probably not consciously aware of the symbolism in our buildings and statues, and a real dedication to the legacy of St. Francis is hard to impart in a classroom or from graduation requirements,” Siemer admitted. “However, I do believe that, even if many students don’t realize it, everyone educated at Quincy University receives part of the Franciscan tradition which will, hopefully, continue to bear fruit throughout the rest of their lives.”
Focus on core Franciscan values
Jane Martin is the director of the core curriculum and professor of film at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Franciscan core curriculum begins in the fall of 2021 and is designed to reflect the values and mission of the university and the charisms of St. Francis of Assisi, particularly learning, leadership and service.
“Our core curriculum clearly identifies our education as Franciscan,” Martin said. The coursework encourages students to apply Franciscan values to discern vocation and serve the community, demonstrate leadership, and reflect on the life of St. Francis and the richness of the Catholic faith. Students are also involved in service projects which helps them engage with the community.
“We are asking students to promote community and responsible citizenship,” Martin said. “We are continuing an intellectual tradition that reflects faith and an ethical and moral development. Our students are learning to lead through service.”
One of the most visible ways in which St. Francis plays a role in campus life is the St. Francis Chapel, which was completed in 2018, and is the first stand-alone chapel the university has had in its 131-year history. The chapel plays host to the annual Transitus commemoration, which includes praying the Divine Office, songs and a re-telling of the events of St. Francis’ passing. The university possesses a relic of St. Francis of Assisi, with which the chaplain uses to bless the congregation on special occasions.
Pilgrimages to Assisi and Rome are offered each year, with costs subsidized by the university or donors. However these are not mere pleasure trips, said Sister M. Anita Holzmer, a Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, the sponsoring religious community of the University of St. Francis.
“Pilgrims are prepared by one of the sisters for several months prior to the pilgrimage so that the maximum personal and spiritual benefit can be realized,” said Sister Holzmer, who is the assistant vice president of mission integration, and has served at the university for 16 years. She is also an alumna, earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the university.
Living out eight centuries of wisdom
The Franciscan School of Theology is a graduate school on the campus of the University of San Diego, said Sister Kathy Flood, OSF, vice president of student affairs and spiritual formation.
In addition to statues, San Damiano crosses, and other physical representations of St. Francis and Franciscan life, the campus is alive with Franciscan spirituality. The theology program there takes Sts. Francis and Clare as their models, as well as other Franciscan thinkers like St. Bonaventure, Duns Scotus and St. Anthony. The “Franciscan Vision” lecture series presents a topic every month from this Franciscan heritage. A rich liturgical life is present on campus, as well, with the particularly important feast day and Transitus of St. Francis featuring beautiful ceremonies.
Other Franciscan traditions are fully embraced on campus, including nativity scenes (tradition holds that St. Francis created the first crèche) and the Stations of the Cross. The historic Mission San Diego, the first of the California missions founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1769, hosts the school’s commencement each May, giving the students another direct link to the Franciscan heritage of the city, of California and of the Church in the United States.
Brother William J. Short, OFM, is a professor of Christian spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology. He sees the mission of the school as bringing “eight centuries of Franciscan wisdom into dialogue with the reality of life and ministry in our Church and society of the 21st century, whether in California or far beyond its borders.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.