For Some Faith-Based Institutions, Trump Represents a Reprieve
Obama’s sustained assault on religious liberty is finally over.
Perhaps more than any other sector in America, the ivory towers of academia are mourning the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the departure of President Barack Obama, and the election of Donald Trump.
For our faith-based university, however, the changing of the guard cannot come soon enough. Read on…
As students at Ave Maria are just waking up and heading to their first morning class, nine thousand miles away, in a small village in West Bengal, there are students turning on solar-powered lights and sitting down to spend the evening in study. The village is called Bamandanga, and the students are at Emily House, a hostel—or boarding school—for girls.
Emily House ran for nearly two decades without a reliable source of energy. Massive power cuts at night meant that the girls could not rely on having light to work by in the evenings. The unpredictability made it difficult for them to use their time productively, and often left them sitting in the dark.
Light is something frequently taken for granted in the U.S.—perhaps especially in Southwest Florida, the “Sunshine State.” Getting bright light at any time of day is, quite literally, as easy as flicking a switch. But for most of the villages in rural India, light after sunset is a precious commodity.
Over the years, some of the related hostels for boys have had solar lights installed. But by 2014, not one of the girls’ hostels could rely on a power supply at night. It was at that time that Ave Maria University was given the opportunity to help out.
Emily House is one of the many initiatives of Seva Kendra, the official social service center of the Archdiocese of Kolkata. The center is run by Fr. Franklin Menezes (photographed to the left), who has been overseeing and leading Seva Kendra’s efforts in “bringing hope and healing” to the impoverished and underprivileged of Calcutta, with a special emphasis on sustainability. “He is just an extraordinary priest,” AMU President Jim Towey remarks, calling special attention to Fr. Franklin’s entrepreneurial investment in “green” alternatives. One such instance of this is the system by which Seva Kendra is powered: stored rainwater. Another example is its Alternative Energy Solutions Project, through which young men and women are trained in how to assemble and install solar lights—which is where Emily House and Ave Maria University come in.
Each year, AMU’s Mother Teresa Project takes a group of students on a mission trip to serve the poor alongside the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Of course the aim of the trip is to offer physical service to those in need, but there is only so much that can be done in the space of a week’s visit. The mission trip has the far more lasting effect of enriching the lives of the students who go to serve. Without exception, all of the students return home with countless stories of how they have been inspired and touched by the people of Calcutta. “Our student ambassadors to Calcutta are building a bridge,” President Towey says. “But it’s not enough for our students to be educated and enriched by the experience. We wanted to do something to help educational advancement there as well.” The true aim is to build a reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving between AMU and the Archdiocese of Kolkata. It is easy to see how the people of Calcutta enrich the lives of the AMU students who visit them, but what more can AMU do in turn to enrich the lives of the poor? President Towey, who has known Fr. Franklin Menezes for many years, saw the opportunity to do just that when he heard about Emily House and the need for solar lighting.
With a $5,000 donation from Ave Maria University in 2014, Seva Kendra was able to install solar lighting at Emily House, finally allowing for the girls there to have a normal evening life of recreation and study. One year later, AMU made another donation, this time to set up solar lighting for a boy’s hostel, Henry House, in Kearchand. Just this past summer, the University helped set up lighting for a third hostel in Serampore. These three hostels, which each house around 100-130 girls and boys, are now lit for four hours every night—from 6-10pm—thanks to Seva Kendra’s groundwork and the donations from AMU. The installation of solar lighting for the students in West Bengal is a step towards President Towey’s hope for a relationship of giving and receiving between the University and the Archdiocese of Kolkata.
Three groups of AMU students on the Calcutta mission trip have had the opportunity to meet Fr. Franklin, tour Seva Kendra’s headquarters and get a glimpse into its work in the slums. Unanimously, the first thing that struck the students was Fr. Franklin’s joy. The second thing was his clear delight in wearing the “AMU” t-shirt President Towey had given him the year before. “He kept pointing at the shirt, laughing and smiling,” alumna Mary Katherine Lee recalls. Corey Blanchard, an AMU senior, agrees. He also remembers being struck by how Fr. Franklin’s work at Seva Kendra empowers individuals to take initiative. “Fr. Franklin’s idea is that it’s better to build leaders, to show them how to lead in their communities, in order to create a better economy,” he explains. For junior Marisa Helms, something Fr. Franklin said sticks out in her mind particularly. “I remember Fr. Frank telling our group that through our efforts with the Mother Teresa Project we are putting into light what was meant by the words ‘Come be my light.’”
“Come, be my light.” Those are the words Jesus used in calling St. Mother Teresa to serve the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. And, echoing the theme of light, Mother Teresa expressed the desire to light up all of India with “the fire of charity.” As the sun rises over Ave Maria’s campus, it is also setting over Emily House in West Bengal. In that moment, the two are united, not just in the pursuit of learning, not just in the physical link between a donation and a solar light, but also—and more importantly—in the great blaze of charity, that flows out of the heart of God, is passed among his people, and then brought home again, into the Light that is Love.
by Sarah Blanchard
AVE MARIA, Fla. (November 3, 2016) — Ave Maria University announced today its plan to build a new $11 million academic building in honor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta that will house the University’s nursing program and provide venues for the performing arts.
The new academic building will provide over 37,000 square feet of space for classrooms, a nursing laboratory, 13 private offices for faculty, and staff space for Campus Ministry and the Mother Teresa Project. The building also will include a permanent home for the Mother Teresa Museum, as well as a 400-seat performance hall and a 125-seat auditorium with a thrust stage. The auditorium is designed for AMU’s nationally-acclaimed Shakespeare productions that take place annually under the direction of Dr. Travis Curtright, chairman of AMU’s Department of Humanities. The auditorium also will accommodate academic lectures, students on retreat, and groups who visit the museum.
Ave Maria University will host a ceremonial groundbreaking on Friday, November 11th at 11:45 a.m. to commemorate the construction of phase one of the new academic building. The University has raised over $6.5 million to fund the costs of phase one which will consist of the construction of the main structure of the building and the completion of the interior of the wing that houses the auditorium. The final phase of construction will commence once the remaining funding has been secured. The new academic building will be located on the main quad of the campus, north of the Paul M. Henkels Academic Building and east of the Bob Thomas Student Union.
“This is a great day for Ave Maria University and our community,” said Jim Towey, president of the University. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the many trustees and donors who believe in our mission to provide an authentic and affordable Catholic liberal arts education.” Chairman of the Board of Trustees Michael Timmis added, “It is entirely fitting that we will be breaking ground on a building that will house America’s only Mother Teresa Project and museum at the very time the Vatican has declared her a modern-day saint. It was Tom Monaghan’s dream from day one that Ave Maria University would graduate students who would follow in the footsteps of the saints, and these new facilities will help enable that.”
The ceremonial groundbreaking on November 11th will be attended by Mr. Monaghan and other trustees and friends of the University, as well as members of AMU’s student body, faculty, and staff. Phase one construction will begin in early 2017 when the permitting process is completed, and should be completed by year’s end.
AMU was founded in 2003 and occupied a temporary site in Naples, Florida until it moved to its permanent campus in the fall of 2007. The new academic building will be the first construction project at AMU since the Tom Golisano Field House was completed in 2010. The additional academic space to be provided will support the 70% growth in undergraduate student enrollment at AMU since the spring semester of 2011. AMU has 1,102 students, including 1,042 undergraduates, offers 33 majors as well as graduate studies in Theology, and has 92 faculty members, 67 of whom are full-time. Students from 45 states and 20 countries comprise a student body that is approximately 85% Catholic, 25% minority, and evenly-divided between men and women. AMU’s state-of-the-art campus includes residence halls with a capacity for 1,300 students and rests on a tract of over 300 acres. AMU’s affordability is unmatched among its peers with fall 2017 tuition and fees remaining under $20,000, and virtually every student receiving generous scholarships to offset much of these costs.
My home – the meaning of the word “Immokalee” in the Mikasuki language. Located about 20 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and 8 miles from the Ave Maria University campus, the city of Immokalee is an agricultural center and leading supplier of tomatoes in the United States. Historically, the area has been demographically diverse, originally settled by the Calusa Indians, and followed by the Seminole Indians, who were joined by traders, hunters, ranchers, escaped slaves, and pioneer families. Today, Immokalee still reflects that diversity and consists of a community in search of a better life, with a population largely made up of immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti.
For many in Immokalee, the “better life” still eludes them. Migrant workers labor under harsh conditions with little pay, and employment opportunities are constantly in flux with the seasons. According to some studies, 43% of the population live below the poverty line.
When Ave Maria University first broke ground to build its campus in the middle of tomato fields, some wondered why it was making a permanent home for itself so far removed from the beaten path of nearby Naples. But not AMU’s founder Tom Monaghan, who saw AMU’s siting as providential. He envisioned the role Ave Maria could play as a bridge between the affluence of the Southwest Florida retirement communities and the needs of those in neighboring Immokalee.
Since arriving on its permanent campus in the fall of 2007, the University has been working towards building a relationship with families, individuals and institutions in Immokalee. For example, the Mother Teresa Project provides AMU students with opportunities to serve and volunteer on a regular basis in Immokalee. Last year more than 10,000 service hours were logged through the program, with the majority of hours served in Immokalee. AMU’s newly-formed department of Education provided an additional track of engagement. The Elementary (K-6) Education Program is working in close association with the Collier County Public Schools to offer AMU students the opportunity to work as aids or student teachers in the schools of Immokalee, which for decades have ranked among the lowest-performing in the state of Florida.
As part of the requirements for the Education degree, AMU students complete three semesters of practicum experience, which consists in one full-day per week spent in the classroom under trained cooperating master classroom teachers. This experience culminates in a full-semester teaching internship. AMU students typically serve at least two of their semesters in Immokalee schools. These placements afford AMU students the unique opportunity to work with at-risk students in migrant schools. For many undergraduates pursuing a teaching career, these experiences are powerful ones. “Our students all wind up loving the experience of working with the children of Immokalee,” Dr. Seana Sugrue, Vice President for Academic Affairs, remarked. “It is often a life-changing experience for our teacher-candidates who, more often than not, then actively seek out their first teaching jobs in at-risk schools.”
Their search does not take them far from campus. Three AMU program graduates—Mary Eckard (’15), Katie Ely (’16), and Jill Riordan (’15)—are currently teaching in Immokalee. “It has been challenging to meet the diverse needs of my students,” Mary said of her experience so far, adding, “but I have loved every minute of it. My greatest pride and joy comes from my students, their efforts to learn, and their growth.”
Several of the faculty in AMU’s Education Department are themselves active in Immokalee schools on a day-to-day basis. Dr. Joy Bonnaig, for instance, teaches a University course on identifying and working with diverse and exceptional students. She is also an Intervention Support Specialist at Lake Trafford School in Immokalee. Ms. Shirley Rainwaters, the Literacy Coach at Immokalee High School, also teaches the AMU course EDUC 310: Teaching Social Studies in the Classroom. These professors, and the entire Education faculty, are well equipped to prepare AMU students to flourish in any educational environment, no matter how challenging.
Katie Ely is grateful to have been taught by professors who were also active in the Collier County Public Schools, since they were able to present information with the expectations and procedures of the local school system in mind. “My AMU education prepared me for my professional work by connecting me with professionals working in the school district,” she explains. “These professors provided insights and practical knowledge that was current with educational philosophy and research, and held us to the expectations of the district.”
AMU’s Elementary Education Program is approved by the state of Florida as an initial teacher preparation, and is in line with the most recent expectations for excellence in teacher preparation. Program graduates qualify for Florida professional certification for grades K-6, including ESOL and Reading Endorsements. Two of the program’s required courses focus on teaching English language learners (ELL), and seven of the required courses are ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) infused. These aspects of the program prepare AMU graduates well for working in migrant and at-risk schools.
Jill Riordan spoke about the challenges in working with ELL students, and the joy she experiences when progress in the classroom is achieved. “I never imagined the amount of planning, repetition, and assistance we need to provide,” she says. “It is all worth it to see the growth and ‘ah-ha!’ moments in the classroom. The greatest joy comes from working with students of different backgrounds, and watching them grow into successful students.”
These three AMU graduates are bringing their own diverse backgrounds, and their formation in the liberal arts, into the lives of the elementary students of Immokalee. In turn, they have been welcomed into the community as one of their own. “I feel at home teaching in Immokalee because the sense of community and family at my school,” Jill shared. “It is not always easy to teach at a Title 1 school, but the staff at Village Oaks Elementary is like a family, always looking out for each other and working together to ensure the success, safety, and well-being of our students.”
“Home is where the heart is,” Mary added. “And that is exactly how Immokalee has become home for me. My heart is with my students here in this community.”
For Mary, Katie, and Jill, Immokalee—“My Home”—has become theirs.
By Sarah Blanchard
Just recently, the Canizaro Library hosted a demonstration of “The Ancient Art of Illumination and Gilding,” led by artist
and scribe Valerie Weilmuenster. Weilmuenster spoke on the process of illuminating, from the preparation of the paper to the mixing of pigments, from applying accentual gold leaf to designing the balance of text and image and the contrast between black and white, shine and matte.
Working with words and not just pictures, she explained, demands a level of accuracy that images alone do not. “It’s a challenging art form,” she said. Not only must every word be spaced evenly and precisely, but also the text as a whole must be in balance
with the images that surround it.
Members of the University community had the opportunity to watch Weilmuenster as she applied gold leaf to an illuminated text, tooled the gold with patterns, lay down colors on the decorative vines surrounding the text, and wrote out sample script. As she demonstrated these various practices, she answered questions from those gathered and spoke on the history of her craft and its development in modern times.
“It’s very meditative,” she went on. “You get lost in the process, really, and the words become important.” For that reason, she cautioned, it’s important to choose your text and subject matter carefully. The illuminator spends a lot of thought and quiet mediation on the subject before her. “I’m a monk!” she joked towards the end.
The Canizaro Library is holding a Special Collections display on Calligraphy and Illuminations until November. In the display cases on the first floor of the library (to the left after entering the building) is featured samples of Weilmuenster’s work, as well as descriptions of the tools and process of illumination. In the Rare Books Reading Room (Library 222), the display continues with a facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible, an illuminated version of the Sermon on the Mount, and more.
Stop by the Reading Room during open hours to view the display.
[Below: Some of the pieces now on exhibit in “Calligraphy and Illuminations.”]
Valerie Weilmuenster is a resident of Naples, Florida. After graduating with a degree in fine arts, she began work as an engrosser at B.C Kassell studio in Chicago, where she designed and lettered certificates. Her practice at this work is what led to her becoming a scribe and illuminator. She offers classes and workshops around the country, and her work has been exhibited widely.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program is just one-year-old, but this academic year promises to be another milestone: the first cohort of majors is due to graduate in May 2017. A lot of work goes into developing and writing a brand new curriculum, hiring appropriate faculty, creating lab space, and securing clinical experience opportunities for students. In spite of the challenges of being a “start-up,” AMU’s nursing program has already landed some significant milestones. Besides meeting all of the requirements set by the Florida Board of Nursing, AMU’s B.S.N. program is the first one in Collier County, and also the only Catholic nursing program in all of Southwest Florida.
“Our students stand out in the clinical setting,” Dr. Denise McNulty, founder and director of the program says. She means it quite literally: AMU’s program is one of the few in the area that requires students to wear a white uniform. “Many patients and staff have made comments that our students stand out and look so professional in their white uniforms,” she goes on to explain. “We want our nursing students to look like nursing students—and future nurses!”
Denise McNulty, DNP, MSN, RN-BC, ARNP, not only oversees the program’s operations, but she also teaches a number of the courses. McNulty developed a nursing model of healing for AMU’s program inspired by Mother Teresa’s words about faith, love and service. She describes the experience of opening a new program—from the drafting of a proposal for the Board of Trustees to the acceptance of a second cohort of students—as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Over the past year, what have our nursing students been up to?
The first cohort of students, who came into the program as juniors, began their clinical training at local hospitals and healthcare agencies. They were accompanied by clinical instructors who are also currently practicing nurses—something not all nursing programs can boast, and a unique advantage for our students. Our nursing students also began attending the local Collier County Nurses dinner meetings, which afford many opportunities for the students to meet and network with nurse leaders and staff nurses in the area. Another project the students worked on this past year was a class on Diabetes, which they presented to seniors at the Golden Gate Community Center in Naples.
This year, while the second cohort of eight new students is starting on their clinical training, the first cohort is finishing senior year and preparing for graduation, a step that will make them eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination.
Nursing student Michelle O’Loughlin, who is preparing to graduate in May, reflects on her experience thus far and offers an insight into what sets AMU’s B.S.N. program apart from other programs: “The nursing program has helped me learn not only the science of nursing, but also the art. While the science is taught exceptionally here, it is also taught well elsewhere. However, here at Ave, we also learn the art of nursing, which unlike the science, includes both the therapeutic element and the caring element. I now understand the difference between having a job as a nurse and being one. Being a nurse involves treating the whole human being—both soul and body. Love your patients and you will begin to see Christ in all of them. My favorite part of the nursing program is the people to whom I bring healing. I am empowered to do so by this program, which has trained me both as a professional and a person.”
By Sarah Blanchard
President Jim Towey spoke to 400 attendees at a Union League Club dinner raising funds for Aid for Women, a faith-based charity that fights abortion by helping pregnant women have and care for their babies. The organization conferred its highest award on the Missionaries of Charity in honor of their pro-life work and in recognition of the canonization of their foundress, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Four of the seven Sisters serving in the Chicago home attended President Towey’s talk.
Aid for Women runs two Chicago-based residential programs for pregnant mothers, and provides job training, counseling, and health care services. One out of four pregnancies in Cook County end in abortion.
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage answers questions about his forthcoming book and how his graduate studies at AMU prepared him for entering into contemporary theological debate.
One of the marks of success for the Graduate Theology Doctoral Program at AMU is that of those who have been graduated, all of them have found placement at various universities, colleges, and seminaries. (For a complete list, check here. ) In addition to being an external confirmation of the quality of the program, the diffusion of graduates throughout these various places allows them to engage in the current theological conversations and debates in a multitude of forums and ways. Of course, one of the principal methods of engaging in the current conversation is through publishing. Thus, it is always a moment to celebrate when one of our alumni has a work published.
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College, is the latest to contribute to current discussion with his latest book, Jesus Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels, set to be released January 2, 2017. This book is a sequel to his last, Dark Passages of the Bible. In Jesus Interpreted, Dr. Ramage attempts to answer some of the major challenges presented to the Christian faith by some current New Testament Scholarship.
Some interesting statistics from the WSJ on the economic advantages of earning a liberal arts degree, such as in philosophy. The payoff, although delayed for the first few years, is substantial compared to other majors over a twenty-year period: a median annual earnings of $97K for philosophy majors (see the chart in the article, ‘How Pay Stacks Up’).
‘“I love hiring liberal-arts graduates,” says Dave Elkington, founder and chief executive of InsideSales.com, a Provo, Utah, company specializing in customer-data analysis. “They think broadly and communicate effectively. They aren’t stuck in a rut. They can challenge ideas.” Mr. Elkington, a philosophy major himself, says he came up with a lot of the ideas for his company’s analytic tools by reflecting on Aristotle’s classifications of knowledge.’
Thanks to my colleague Joseph Yarbrough for the pointer.