Campus programs promote spiritual growth & friendships
“Remember when …”—a phrase that starts a journey down Memory Lane. Depending on when you were born, your trip will include stops unlike—and sometimes unimaginable to—those of a different generation. Baby Boomers remember Captain Kangaroo and a milkman delivering to the doorstep every day, while Gen-X remembers watching the Dukes of Hazard and the amazing reaction pop rocks and soda made. Gen-Z has never licked a postage stamp, and they’ve spent their lives helping Mom and Dad understand that you don’t need to film to take pictures.
The infamous generation labels strive to explain the unique characteristics of each group—highlighting distinct differences and giving reason to why we are the way we are. Whether you agree or disagree with the defining moments of your generation, one thing we can probably agree on: “It’s a different world.”
Six generations live in our world—and all six of these generations have shaped (and continue to shape) the University of Saint Mary. Though “it’s a different world” today’s students live in, the Saint Mary mission is stronger than ever, and their desire to grow spiritually is just as clear as it was generations ago. This stands in stark contrast with what’s considered common knowledge by many—that members of the Millennial generation are rejecting religion and are not as spiritual.
“Our students are no less thirsty and no less receptive than years ago,” asserted Sr. Susan Rieke, C’66, USM English professor. “Students have the same spirit. It’s just a different world.”
USM students are welcome to live off campus, and those living on campus can have cars. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCL) no longer dominate the faculty list—in fact, only two sisters teach full time today. And Sunday Mass is optional for students.
Students have the same spirit. It’s just a different world.
— Sr. Susan Rieke
Recognizing the changes on campus in 2007, Sr. Sharon Smith, former SCL vocation director, initiated Spiritual Mentoring, a program to better connect USM students and the SCLs. “It was a ‘win-win,’” said Sr. Sharon. “It seemed like we had a wealth of wisdom and experience on one side of campus, and our students wanted to grow in wisdom and grace on the other side of campus. Beyond that, I knew the sisters would be blessed to get to know USM students on a deeper level.”
Spiritual Mentoring always kicked off the year with a dinner—where they pulled names for pairing, quickly got acquainted, and looked over themes for prayer and scripture suggestions. The goal of the program was to build relationships, both with one another and with God. Guidelines for participation were simple: make time to meet and pray. Inevitably, following the guidelines led to sharing what was happening in their daily life and their spiritual life.
For Preston Becker, U’12, and Sr. Rieke, a Spiritual Mentoring pair, that special bond has lasted well past graduation. “The program provided a safe space for me to reflect on how God was present in my everyday life,” said Becker. “I look back on my conversations with Sr. Rieke with such fondness, and feel blessed to have her friendship and mentorship still a part of my life today.”
Sr. Rieke reciprocated Becker’s memories, and said with laugh: “I was more uplifted, I’m sure, than he ever was. We prayed—just by our talking. It wasn’t just about the designated ‘holy things.’ It was about what’s going on in life.”
She added, “Because I’m a nun, I’m not holy—I’m striving the same way students are. I may have some resources, like things we can read, but I don’t have the answers. I’m moving toward God, too … and that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
The Spiritual Mentoring program has grown each year since its birth, and today is open to faculty and staff. Now spearheaded by Sr. Rejane Cytacki, USM assistant campus minister, the program took on the name “Faith Chats” last year—yet its mission remains the same: to build faith and community.
Today, Faith Chats touts 25 pairs—one pairing, in particular, is especially unique.
Sr. Julia Golkoski and Julia Harvey, USM freshman, have a family connection. “Every time we’ve met, we fill in more details on our family tree,” said Sr. Julia. “It’s just been terrific.” The pair attend Mass together, along with meeting every other week to catch up. Influenced by the pairing along with her Mom’s strong faith, Harvey has decided to receive the sacrament of Confirmation this Easter. “I never really focused on going to Church until now,” explained Harvey.
We hope to be a loving presence to the students during finals.
— Sr. Vicki Lichtenaur
Alongside Harvey, USM’s athletic teams have initiated a tradition of attending Church with the Sisters every second Sunday of the month. Mingling and rolls, coffee, and juice follow Mass—another chance for USM student-athletes to meet the sisters. “The sisters are some of our biggest fans, and this is an opportunity for everyone, including myself, to slow down and get to know them on a deeper level,”
said Head Football Coach Jay Osborne, U’04. “There is so much more to Saint Mary than football and going to class. Ninety percent of schools don’t offer an opportunity like this to students, and I can’t think of a better influence on these men than the sisters.”
USM’s Welcome Week even includes an event focused on connecting the sisters and students: Rockin’ and Rollin’ with the Sisters. The Student Life office partners with Campus Ministry to create a memorable evening of fellowship, food, and fun at the Mother House fountain. Sr. Vicki Lichtenauer, former USM campus minister, explained, “It’s like speed dating. Students get a passport, chat with four sisters, and get their signoff to be entered into a raffle. There are lawn games and ice cream, of course.” Sr. Vicki went on to recall a special moment at this year’s event: “I saw a big-time football player and sister chatting and laughing while playing giant Jenga—just truly loving their time together. That’s what it’s all about. It’s fun. You don’t have to be serious and pray.”
The sisters have also started a fun (and yummy) tradition during finals weeks. Knowing sweet treats can lead to better grades, the sisters bake cookies to feed and fuel the students’ tired minds. “We hope to be a loving presence to the students during finals,” said Sr. Vicki. “To say, ‘Good luck, and we’re praying for you.’”
New friends and college go hand-in-hand, but many students don’t expect to befriend a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth when they arrive on our historic campus. The spirit of the Sisters of Charity is alive and well at Saint Mary—one that supports a strong community and embraces the changing world we all live in. Common experiences continue to unite the sisters and students, and friendships continue to grow.
A great habit—one Saint Mary plans on keeping.