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Future Shock

New Pope, New Hopes for Catholic Higher Learning

University Business, May 2013

With international attention focused on Rome, the election of a new Pope rang out a welcoming chime that now resonates deep within the Catholic higher learning community. As the Cardinals were deciding who would be the new pope, Twitter accounts flickered with photos of the “Sistine Seagull” perched on the chimney waiting for white smoke to rise. A reporter and editor of The New York Times tweeted “I was about to report the seagull had left, then it came back, then it left again … clearly a symbol of the coveted undecided voter.” Pope Francis’s natural humility and simple humor were conveyed in his opening remarks: “You know it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one … but here we are …”

Importantly, Pope Francis’s faith-based core values provide a wonderful backdrop for celebrating the special mission of the Catholic higher learning. The 266th Pontiff’s noble dedication to care for the poor embraces the heart and soul of Catholic scholarship, compassion, and social equity. These faith inspired reverberations can be felt from Spokane, Wash. to Cleveland, Ohio to Standish, Maine to Worcester, Mass.

Just consider the Cinderella story of Gonzaga University’s number-one-ranked Western NCAA men’s basketball team. Beyond the basketball court, Gonzaga also ranks at the top among colleges and universities in producing alumni appointed to the United States Peace Corps, carrying out missions around the world, placing Catholic higher learning in a real world context.

In Ohio, John Carroll University takes considerable pride in student athlete success stories. With over thirty John Carroll alums playing on the field or behind the scenes in the NFL, JCU produces role models like Washington Redskins linebacker, London Fletcher, the 2012 winner of the Bart Starr Award, exemplifying leadership and character. On campus, we listened in on faculty-student conversations focused on global peace, justice, human rights, mediation, and conflict resolution topics that reflect the JCU summer institutes in South Africa and Ireland. Community service is embedded in the curriculum, graded, and assessed like any other academic experience. Collectively JCU’s student body clocks 57,000 hours of volunteer community service. JCU President Father Neihoff captured the announcement of the new Pope this way: “It’s a great time to be in Jesuit education. John Carroll’s campus was electric when Pope Francis was announced. The excitement from our students and from alumni who called me from all around the country was phenomenal. This news was galvanizing for the John Carroll community—we know this is a huge opportunity for the world to learn more about the Jesuits and our 450-year tradition of excellence in higher education.”

Nestled on the shores of Sebago Lake in Maine, the Sisters of Mercy founded St. Joseph’s College in 1912, creating an international community of Roman Catholic women leaders, dedicated to addressing poverty, sickness, and education - joining their brothers in the Jesuit tradition. President Jim Dlugos explained, “Our mission calls us, in part, to advocate for justice and peace in recognition of each person's responsibility for the welfare of both humankind and the environment. Engagement in community service with academics, athletics and campus ministry is an important part of student life and learning at St. Joe’s."

With NCAA Division III championships in baseball and softball, St. Joe’s student athletes demonstrate a serious commitment in the classroom and on the field. For St. Joe’s students, a sport kayak is a learning and discovery tool; while new courses like the Gulf of Maine Environment by Sea Kayak Class introduce students to a confluence of oceanographic, ecological, biological, and geological processes.

“Pope Francis’s presence brings a whole new spirituality into the Papacy. He has been trained to find God in all that we do," says Assumption College (Mass.)President Francesco Cesareo, an internationally renowned papal expert. Distinctively, Assumption students bring that same social justice devotion to their winter breaks, rebuilding homes destroyed by tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and other missions throughout the US, Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba, and Canada.

When Amerigo Vespucci set sail for the Americas from Italy in the 15th century navigating the internet was unfathomable. Indeed, for those explorers the trip from Europe to the Americas must have felt like a journey around the world. Whether in the classroom, on the court or in the Chapel, this next generation of forward looking Catholic higher learning students and faculty will be the stewards of a sustainable planet earth—taking their rightful place among global scholars, business CEOs, career professionals, and importantly, as servants to the larger Catholic higher learning community.