Let's start with a few myths. We are not all lesbian, though we have women and friends in our community who are. We are a liberal arts college, but there are conservatives, progressives, and independents among us. My generation did not have curfews and guys are allowed on campus and in the dorms (though they had to be out by 1 a.m.) We do not and did not have pillow fights in our underwear, but we do wear comfy pants to class. We are a Catholic university, but we respect and learn from all kinds of religious faith and spirituality. Finally, any alumnae that tells you she didn't feed the squirrels is probably lying.
It seems like a great concept. A higher-education experience surrounded only by women. A golden opportunity for serious, focused, goal-oriented learning. In fact, the university's vision is "To be a leading Catholic university distinguished by its innovative spirit and premier baccalaureate College for women."
It's a glorious vision. Unfortunately, visions are often just that - something we see, hope for, and desire but whose reality we can only strive for. You see, the vision statement leaves something to be imagined because it is actually somewhere amidst the estrogen and the massive amounts of chemically-enhanced junk food is where the real story of St. Kate's lies. Let's take a look.
"To be a leading Catholic university..."
My faith was challenged by my experience at St. Kate's. To say otherwise would be untrue. And yet, it was in the challenges that I found my resolute in the faith of my childhood. I found myself in my faith. I better understood the intellectual challenges to the Catholic faith and was able to arm myself in knowledge and acceptance of the mystery.
Moreover, the wonderful ACTC consortium relationship provided not only expanded learning options, but it allowed me to choose the depth and specificity at which I wished to study. Half of the courses for my theology major were taken through the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies department. I rely regularly on the strict theology and doctrine from my UST courses, but I rely just as heavily on the pastoral insights and lifelong learning perspective that I received in my St. Kate's course. Without both, I would not have the well-rounded background I need for my work in today's Church.
I remember fondly a Christian Life Stages course taught by Sr. Shawn Madigan. On a weekly basis, as I face the different needs of various people of faith, I reflect back on my learning about the different faith stages of individuals. I am so blessed that she has returned to her home town and mine, where she regularly presents and reflects at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality a few minutes from our parish. The St. Kate's community never ceases to touch my life.
At some point during my time at St. Kate's I read the book "Friendship and the Moral Life" by Dr. Paul Wadell. Little did I know that a few short years later I would be listening to him speak at my own parish, being that he is a professor at the local Catholic college.
Most significant to the Catholic identity of the college for me was in the example of the late Dr. Russ Connors. My final year at St. Kate's his course on "Suffering, Compassion, and Healing" was the only theology course that also fulfilled my writing intensive requirement. The learning was meaningful, but made only more so by the living and dying of the man who taught it. Having kept close tabs on Dr. Connor's work and health since my graduation, it has been a great joy, comfort and example to watch him live the lessons he taught. He suffered his conditions with grace, lived what time he had to the fullest, and died with great dignity and love. He leaves behind a legacy that exemplifies the Catholic intellectual tradition: faith, understanding, and great love.
I was a nerd and the college experience wasn't going to change that. I was blessed to be a part of the Antonian Honors program. Interdisciplinary seminars and lectures pushed my learning to a new level and gave me the ability to flex my intellectual creativity. I was able to take my interests, my passions, and turn them into a learning opportunity. I was encouraged to read and research John Paul II's rhapsodic theater movement - for a grade! I researched, marketed, directed, and produced a play! The innovative spirit of the program taught me that I have control over my learning and my experience and inspires me to continue my learning in whatever endeavor I undertake.
Moreover, it was in St. Kate's cafeteria that I was first introduced to Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream. Many a late study (and movie) nights were accompanied by that ice cream and I like to believe that it's unique place in my experience has inspired me to continue trying new foods, new experiences and my own culinary endeavors. Perhaps ice cream cannot be considered innovative, but it sure can be considered inspiring!
The innovative nature of my St. Kate's experience is what inspired the work on this blog. It is what inspired the work I do in women's ministry. I learned to see a need and respond to it with my gifts. God has imbued the St. Kate's community with the inspiration and innovation of the Spirit.
"...premiere baccalaureate College for women."
While an education is a key aspect of the St. Kate's experience, I think the key word in the final phrase of the university's vision is "women". Community is at the core of my St. Kate's experience. Is, not was, because the St. Kate's community extends well beyond our time noshing in the Pulse, working out in Butler, studying next to Dew Drop, or worshipping in the Chapel.
After graduation I moved to Green Bay where I met my husband. We prepared for marriage at our local parish where we were paired with a preparation couple. Small world that the St. Kate's community is, Kris and Bob Fry were a Katie-Tommy pair from an earlier generation. Their marriage, family and way of life is testament to the character fortified by their SCU and UST experiences. They actively contribute to the global search for justic and stand firmly on both feet of charity and advocacy. Most importantly, they inspire others to do the same.
Last, but perhaps most meaningful to my experience at St. Kate's, is my roommate. I lived with the same roommate all 3 years we were at St. Kate's. Jessie was there through the ups and downs of college life. She's survived the guys, the jobs, and countless miles of travel. Together we've seen the late night crowd at the Highland Park Chipotle, the inside of St. Joseph's hospital emergency room, and miles of high-speed rails across Europe. She is not only one of my best friends and confidents, but she is now my son's Godmother. If I take nothing else with me from my time at St. Kate's, I take her and her unconditional love.
Not every moment of my time at St. Kate's was easy or humorous. There were days when I questioned every aspect of the vision statement above. Ultimately though, asking those questions, seeking for the answers, and experiencing the impact of the community made me a stronger person, a more supportive wife, a more loving mother, and a more dedicated woman of God. St. Kate's vision prepared me to live an even greater vision: to live and share the message and mission of Jesus Christ.
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..."
Matthew 28: 19-20
February 29th is "Shout Out St. Kate's" Day! For more insights into the St. Kate's community go to http://minerva.stkate.edu/shoutout.nsf/pages/homepage