Today I read this amazing message from Saint Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi, S.J. Not only did his message make me even more proud to be an alumnus but it is a message that all of us can reflect on and one that should be spread. As published in Universitas, SLU’s alumni magazine – I hope you will be inspired as I was:
A NEW REALITY
We live in an increasingly secular and superficial world. How can we expect our students to pursue truth, to find God in all things, to lead lives of significance, when reality television stars have become our cultural icons?
While college students seem less likely to embrace religion than they did when I became president of Saint Louis University 25 years ago, I firmly believe that we at Jesuit institutions can reverse this trend, primarily because we do not have to look very far for inspiration. The religious conversion of St. Ignatius Loyola changed the world, and nearly 500 years later his message his mission still resonate on our campuses and in our communities.
At SLU, we communicate the value of religion in many ways. We require all students to take theology courses. We celebrate a Sunday night Mass that draws 1,000 students of varying religious backgrounds. And we structure many service projects in St. Louis and beyond to include faith and reflection, challenging our students to become agents for change. These worthy endeavors are expected at a place like Saint Louis University, of course. To further help students understand the power of religion, sometimes it is necessary to do the unexpected, which, for us, means focusing on other faiths, too.
With the hope of nurturing the faith lives of all our students, the campus ministry department works closely with such groups as our Hindu Student Community, Muslim Student Association and SLU Jews, as well as religious leaders and ministers of different faiths from the external community.
A newly chartered Interfaith Alliance, created by students, develops programs that build bridges and encourage understanding. The student founders consciously connect with others of diverse religious backgrounds and find common ground by performing service projects and going on retreat together. I am immensely proud of these students and the example they set. I am also aware that the University could do more to foster interfaith dialogue and interreligious cooperation. I believe all Catholic colleges and universities must do a better job of reaching out to and serving non-Catholic students. If Catholicism is to thrive in these increasingly secular and superficial times, we must not be afraid to stand up for all religions.
Efforts to further our connection with other faiths do not make us any less Catholic or Jesuit. Quite the contrary. It is our charge and our responsibility as Jesuit institutions of higher education to help shape a world of depth and dignity that celebrates all faith traditions. And when we do, we rise to the challenge of St. Ignatius to combat superficiality and secularism as we inspire our students to seek substance and to actively live their faith, whatever it may be.
Now that is a reality worth watching.