“There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear!” Saint John Paul II gets right to the point when describing the head-on, Christ-centered life he is calling today’s youth to live. There is absolutely no room for selfishness or fear anywhere in the world, but this is especially true on college campuses. It’s easy to be scared of college sometimes, especially as an underclassman. Will I like school? Will I make friends? Will I get good grades? Will they make me to go daily mass? These are questions most students had running through their mind during orientation at Ave Maria. Consequently, getting wrapped up in one’s own worries can easily lead to selfishness– it is easy to focus on your concerns, your desires, your preferences. Thankfully, JPII sees this trend among the youth, and joyfully encourages us to be exactly the opposite! He wants us to let go of our worries, most famously proclaiming “Do not be afraid!” from the balcony of St. Peter’s. Although it is easy for universities to become selfish and fearsome places, Ave Maria has certainly not succumbed to this worldliness.
The devotion that the faculty, staff, and students on campus have to JPII is really quite remarkable. The professors are constantly giving of themselves to the students to make sure that they’re getting the most out of their education. From staying late in their offices, answering emails at all hours of the night, to meeting up at the pub to talk philosophy, Ave professors have done it all to ensure that each student reaches his or her academic potential. As a result, the students reciprocate the love of learning they witness in their professors. The teaching style in most classrooms is discussion based, so that everyone can voice their opinion. The unselfish nature of this education style is immeasurably valuable, for students and teachers work together to achieve the academic excellence cherished by Ave Maria University.
Academia isn’t the only realm on campus affected by Pope John Paul. He had a great love for sports, particularly skiing and swimming, and his positivity and competitive spirit reverberate with the Gyrenes. Each team on campus has a marvelous work ethic, and demonstrates sportsmanship in victory and defeat. The camaraderie on the teams builds a community that John Paul II would be proud of, one that encourages self-discipline as well as pride in Ave athletics.
Not only does Ave Maria embody Pope John Paul’s advice in the classroom and on the sports fields, but also embodies a spirit of service which John Paul II held dear. This was evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. While the 130 mph winds were approaching, students, faculty, staff, and President Towey himself bustled around campus, making sure everything was safe and secure. The field house was a shelter for residents of surrounding areas whose homes were in danger. After the storm, the community united to clean campus and provide assistance to more severely impacted areas. Ave Maria is truly blessed to have such serving hearts present on campus. Whether it’s assisting in hurricane cleanup, working in soup kitchens, or doing mission work in Africa– the students and staff of Ave Maria do not hesitate to give of themselves every day in extraordinary ways, living out John Paul’s command to the fullest: “Wherever people are suffering, wherever they are humiliated by poverty or injustice, and wherever a mockery is made of their rights, make it your task to serve them.”
Saint John Paul II didn’t only preach about courage and love– he lived these messages each and every day. Born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18th, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, he was destined for greatness right from the start. After losing his mother and older brother at a young age, he went on to study at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. During World War II, the Nazi’s closed down the university, so the young John Paul II had to continue his studies in secret with the Archbishop of Krakow. After the war, he returned to school and was ordained a priest in 1946.
Pope John Paul earned his doctorate in theology after two years of fruitful study in Rome, after which he returned to Poland and served in parishes near Krakow. His brilliant mind was recognized early on, and after becoming an Archbishop, he was invited to participate in the Second Vatican Council in 1962. John Paul II’s contributions to this council were immeasurable. In 1967 he became a Cardinal. JPII was elected Pope in 1978- the first non-Italian Pope to succeed Saint Peter in over four hundred years. He exhibited a great love for the youth throughout his reign as Pope, but it was most evident in his founding of World Youth Day in 1984. John Paul II invited young people from all over the world to join him in Saint Peter’s square on Palm Sunday for an International Jubilee of youth, and over 300,000 attended. He smiled on this massive crowd and declared with great joy, “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?” JPII would say the same words to the youth of Ave Maria, who are afire with love for Christ and are ready to spread Christ’s love to the world.
From the JPII dorm on campus to the budding St. John Paul the Great leadership program, Ave Maria University embodies Saint John Paul II’s giving spirit, courage, and love. His presence on campus is very real, and almost tangible– the way in which his spirituality is imitated is part of what makes Ave so unique, and is what makes its students such wonderful witnesses of the Catholic faith. Happy feast of St. John Paul the Great. John Paul II, pray for us!