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A genuinely Catholic university: faculty, students & curriculum

I can say with Adam, “I was there at the beginning”. Though it wasn’t the Garden of Eden, it was nevertheless full of glimpses of glory. I have wonderful memories from my seven years at Ave Maria.

Of course, the most essential thing is that it is a genuinely Catholic university. A university, at its core consists of three things: a faculty, a student body, a curriculum. (Administrators, of which I was one, and as the Latin roots of the word show, are meant to “minister to” the faculty and students.)

The faculty, from the beginning was exemplary: competent scholars and teachers with great hearts both for their discipline and for their students. They were also exemplary in the practice of their Catholic faith, not passively, but as apostles. And their spouses and families only enhanced their witness.

The curriculum, of course–though it’s not ‘of course’ elsewhere these days (and though a “curriculum” is a “course”)–is outstanding: a Liberal Arts core of 64 units, with opportunities to major in a good number (quite enough) of other disciplines.

Ah…but the students. What a glorious time it was for me to get to know these young people from around the country and the world. Not just serious about their faith (they were that), not just very bright (they were that also), not just hard-working (that too–I speak generally here of all these qualities), but talented in so many ways. It seemed like everyone could either sing, dance, act, or play a musical instrument. And well. When there were only 350 students or so, they put on a full-scale performance of “My Fair Lady”. They did everything: production, direction, acting, singing, musical accompaniment, stage construction–even original choreography. And it was magnificent! If any of our sport teams played against a professional team (imagine, say, the football team playing the Green Bay Packers), I’m confident it would be a total disaster; they wouldn’t score a point. But if that group of students performed on Broadway, it would be a creditable performance. (I attended my first Broadway musicals after I had seen this student performance. And I had the explicit intention of answering for myself the question: How would our students compare? Of course, the Broadway professionals were amazingly good. But the Ave students would have been able to hold their own–and an audience.)

The students of Ave gave me great hope for the future of the Church and our country. So many graduates have already started families and are engaged in culture-changing activities. So many graduates are priests, seminarians, and religious. So now, when I’m at a time of life where there’s a lot more past than there will be future, and reminiscing of the “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” of bygone times gives a particular pleasure, I can sing my Nunc Dimittis with confidence that the torch of vibrant faith is being passed on to the next generation.

Deo gratias!

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Founding Provost, Ave Maria University

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