Friday, February 27, 2009

How my kid nearly got electrocuted while flying a kite and I was away getting some "me" time

Just after posting about "permissive parents," I went off to swim at the YMCA, leaving some of my younger ones in the capable hands of soon-to-be high school grad, Lizzy.

Little did I know that while I swam, my 9 year-old bundle of energy, Paul, decided to try out his new kite in the backyard. I'm sure I've told him a million times why we don't fly kites in the backyard, but we take them to the lake to fly. But he thought since today was a particularly gusty day (winds in excess of 23 mph), he'd give it a go.

While he was getting tangled up in kite string in the garden, JP and DJ decided to join him in the backyard, while Bernadette decided the golden retriever really, really wanted to go outside and play too.

Fortunately, no one was electrocuted and everything was back in place by the time I got home from my swim.

Let it be known that I can also get really mad...besides being a mean mom. And my lenten challenge of not yelling so much kinda went out the window today.

At least they now know not to fly kites in the backyard anymore.

Permissive Parenting

Just a few blocks from my home, a 15 year-old boy died yesterday from injuries sustained when he was run over by his friend's car after a skitching accident.

"Skitching" is the term skateboarders use to describe riding a skateboard while holding on to a moving vehicle. This is the second time in 4 months that a local teenager has been killed doing this.

The boy wasn't wearing a helmet.

His friend driving the car was 16 years old.

The accident occurred in an affluent neighborhood, around 1 pm on Wednesday.

The questions that immediately come to my mind (besides the obvious, "Why didn't some adult intervene and what the hell were they thinking?") are:

--Why wasn't the kid wearing a helmet?
--What was a 16 year-old doing driving a car?
--Why weren't they in school?
--Where were the parents when all this was going on?

I know many good parents who don't consider themselves permissive, but they don't make their kids wear helmets when riding bikes, skateboards, scooters or roller blades. I'm the "mean" mom who makes her kids wear the dorky helmet or they don't ride. After breaking my nose last summer when I went over my handlebars, I'm even MORE convinced of the need to wear a helmet.

I know many good parents who believe it's a right of passage to get a driver's license at 16. Parents of large families will often justify paying for the kids' insurance because it helps having another driver in the family to transport siblings to activities or to run errands for mom. I'm the "mean" mom who says driving is an adult privilege, not a right, and you can get your license as soon as you are able to pay for the insurance, gas and upkeep of the vehicle. So far, only my 21 year-old has a license. People think we're "weird," but everytime I hear of a death involving a teenage driver, I thank God we haven't given into peer pressure from our well-meaning Catholic homeschooling friends.

The kids were both students at the local Ralston Valley High School, which has a variable schedule, so it's possible they weren't supposed to be in school. But it seems strange to me that, when I go out in public, to the doctor's office, to the grocery store, or whatever, and my school-age kids are with me, I often get asked, "Are they off from school today?" I'm the "mean" mom that won't let my kids go bike-riding far from home during school hours, in case someone thinks they're truant.

Most of the large houses in the Arvada neighborhood where the accident occurred are empty during the day. I know because for 3 years, my daughter had a paper route in that neighborhood and I would accompany her for a weekly 3 mile walk. We rarely, if ever, saw any adults in the neighborhood during the day. The kids rule the roost when mom and dad both work in order to pay for the palacial digs they think the kids need.

It just makes me sad to think of the kids whose permissive parents have contributed to their demise.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Offering it up

I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. I've had eight unmedicated births, including one induced with Pitocin and one posterior presentation (i.e. "pain in the back"). I'm not being brave, I think I just don't feel it like some people do. One of my labors was 100% pain-free. I'm not kidding. I had NO LABOR pains at all. Delivery was a bit uncomfortable, but labor wasn't.

So, when my true love and I were doing side-kick drills at our Taekwondo class two nights ago, and he delivered a side-kick to my left knee cap, I figured I'd be fine after a bit of ice and rest. (So what if I was writhing in pain on the floor?) Yesterday morning, I woke up and realized that I had definitely gotten a good whack to my knee and something wasn't right. I felt pretty sure I had torn all my MCL's and that surgery would be the only option.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself all day. I'm not very good at offering up inconvenience. Pretty good offering up pain; not so good offering up sitting still. Not only was I getting ready to test for my next Taekwondo belt, I was also doing an indoor triathlon: 4 weeks to bike 56 miles, swim 2 miles and run 10 miles. I started a week late so I only had 3 weeks to complete it. How could I do that if I had to have knee surgery?
I made an appointment with the doctor for later in the day and my dear husband, who, by this time, felt miserably horribly awful for inflicting such pain to the mother of his children, called into work to ask for personal business so he could drive me to the doctor's office.

After checking for swelling (virtually none), and range of motion (pretty darned good, considering), the doc proclaimed it just a strain. So, rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), with some Ibuprofen for any swelling, should see me back on the karate floor in a couple of weeks.

Good thing, since we're testing for the next belt on March 6th. Then my true love and I will be sparring.

Offer it up, Dear!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I love technology

I'm trying to learn on the job. All these gadgets and widgets and feeds and twitters...I wish there was someone out there to teach me, but, alas! my computer science son and my engineer husband don't even follow me on Twitter.

So, this is a plea for anyone who can tell me? Are my RSS feeds working? I just tried setting it up tonight and I'm not quite sure if I got it right.

I also tried setting up Twitterfeed, so that my new blog postings are automatically sent to my Twitter followers.

So, I guess this is sort of like a test.

Part 4: Our epic edu-tour--Franciscan University of Steubenville

Franciscan University of Steubenville

We left our hotel in Bethlehem to drive to Steubenville, but on the way we first had to trade out our rental car at the Allentown airport, then trade it for another one at the Pittsburgh airport. It was a pain, but it saved us several hundred dollars in rental fees. I won't bore you with the gory details. We had pleasant weather for driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike across the state. Along the way, we recognized names of places that previously we'd only heard in Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons...places like McKeesport, and the Susquehanna River.

This was only my second visit to Franciscan University of Steubenville, also known as Steubie U, also known as FUS (pronounced foos, as in, "He played foosball;" not fuss, as in, "He threw a big fuss.") For ease of writing, I'll just call it FUS.

Inside the field house, which converts to a church for Easter vigil and other major events

My first visit was to drop off my son, who is now a junior, in August 2007, for freshman orientation. At that time, I was struck with the utter joy that the students and faculty displayed. Walking the hallways of the dorm, one would hear chants of the rosary being said by a small group of students, or someone playing the guitar and leading a small group in praise songs. Several hundred students volunteer a couple of weeks out of their summer vacation to return to school early to help with freshman orientation. The volunteers could be easily spotted by their bright t-shirts and friendly smiles. They were always willing to carry a suitcase, answer a question, or show us where we should go.

The highlight of the weekend for me was the big welcome they had in the field house for all the new freshman and their families. As we entered the field house all the volunteers formed a victory flank and cheered us as we walked past. I wasn't even a student, but I couldn't help but feel welcome there.

They welcomed siblings; they welcomed those who had come the farthest (there was a girl from Hong Kong in my son's class); they put on ridiculously silly skits making fun of themselves and their school in a very light-hearted and joyful way. I saw attractive kids and not-so-attractive kids and they were all hanging out together and all displaying true Christian joy. I felt confident my son had made the right decision, despite the fact that he spent the weekend with a deer-in-the-headlights look of panic that he would soon be left to fend for himself. In fact, some of his last words to me were, "Mom! You never taught me how to do laundry!" (Note for fellow parents of future college students: make sure you teach them how to do laundry before you drop them off at school.)

This time we were here for the Fr. Michael Scanlan Scholarship Competition and we had a better idea of what to expect. Anyone interested in Franciscan University should know about three important aspects of the university. The first is Fr. Michael Scanlan. He (and the Holy Spirit) are the reason Franciscan University is thriving and is an internationally known university.

Fr. Mike was originally sent to the university in 1974 to close it down because enrollment was down to about 400 students and it had the reputation as a party school. He noticed the students were lonely and they lived immoral lifestyles to fill the loneliness. One of the first things he did was to create the Household system, which is rather like Catholic fraternities and sororities, but based on the idea of like-minded service and gifts to the Church.

The third aspect of Franciscan University is the unique Franciscan spirit that thrives there. St. Francis of Assisi was so much more than a bird-bath saint, as anyone at Franciscan will tell you. He rebuilt the structure of the Catholic Church when it was falling into ruin. The excesses of wealth and power were corrupting many within the Church and the poor were not being served. St. Francis dedicated his life to embracing poverty, serving the poor and spreading the Gospel. The spirit of St. Francis of Assisi is evident throughout Franciscan University, from the many friars you see across the campus, to the devotions that are practiced to the spirituality of the many households.

We were looking forward to seeing my son, Giorgio, and going to Mass at the university chapel. We stayed at the Steubenville Holiday Inn, which, I believe, is owned by the university. (I had asked for their special "Franciscan rate.") It is very convenient to the university, as you can simply walk up the hill to the school. A word of warning: the hill up to the university is extremely steep. Not just kinda steep. It makes your heart pump and you'll be breathing heavily by the time you get to the top of the hill.

Christ the King Chapel and symbol of Franciscan University

We arrived about an hour before evening Mass, so we got cleaned up and walked up the hill. I called my son, but he said he'd been to Mass at noon, and he had class, so he'd meet us later that evening. He had rehearsal with his men's a capella singing group, The Beatitudes, so we planned to see him at rehearsal.

It was an absolutely gorgeous evening when we arrived. It was 68 degrees and no wind. We couldn't have asked for a more lovely evening. After Mass we walked back down the hill to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, Damon's, to try the baby-back ribs, which a friend and FUS grad, Fr. Jim, had highly recommended. By the time we finished dinner, it was raining in biblical proportions, so we decided to drive the car up the hill to see Giorgio.

We had a grand time just sitting and relaxing and listening to them warm-up, but we decided to get to bed early since Lizzy had an appointment at admissions the next morning.

Thursday was set aside as a day for the Presidential Scholars to meet with Admissions, get a tour of the campus and attend classes. Lizzy and I talked with one of the admissions counselors, who had just graduated from FUS. She was very enthusiastic about the school and about the Honors Program.

The Honors Program is a mini-Great Books program, directed by a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College (TAC). It is taught seminar style, as at TAC. Honors students take 32 hours of honors seminars which satisfy the entire Humanities and Social Science core, as well as several courses required in the Communications core. All the honors students I have spoken to, including my son, have said these are some of their favorite classes at Franciscan. Students must be invited to apply for the Honors Program, and typically must have at least a 3.6 high school GPA and score at least 1220 on the SAT, or 27 on the ACT.

After our talk with Admissions, Lizzy attended a nursing seminar, which was a four hour class, but she was able to drop in for about an hour. They were evidently expecting a lot of students to drop in that day, because the instructor stopped class to welcome Lizzy and introduce her to the class. She invited me to stay as well, but I decided I wanted to take a break, grab a coffee and browse the campus bookstore.

After Lizzy's class, we went on a tour with other Presidential Scholars and their parents. Our tour guides were great. We had a gal from New Orleans who was a transfer student from Loyola University. She explained that she had been a Fr. Michael Scanlan Scholarship winner of a half-scholarship, but had turned it down in order to take a full-ride scholarship at Loyola. She became so disheartened by the religious studies department there that she transferred her sophomore year to FUS, losing her full-ride and having to take a much smaller scholarship at FUS. (She wasn't offered the half-ride). Over lunch, I sat next to her and got more information from her about Loyola. She was a religious studies major (I don't think they have "theology" there, in order to side-step Ex Corde Ecclesiae). She told me how she was in a special honors program that gave them special dorms, special food, special classes and faculty access, but that her religion professors, one of whom was a Protestant and head of the department, were very much opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church, saying the Church was going to change it's stance on things like women priests and contraception. According to them, it was only a matter of time. They didn't want to hear any defense of orthodoxy. She became so fed up that she would bring a newspaper to class, sit in the front row and read the paper. When she finally decided to transfer to FUS, she was called into the offices of several muckity-mucks and they pleaded with her to stay. She said her brother, who had been several years ahead of her in the honor program at Loyola, had lost his faith there and was now an atheist.

Surfer Jesus, aka Alpha and Omega

One of the first stops on the tour was the Ss. Cosmas and Damian Science Building. Our tour guides explained the reason for placing this statue, affectionately known as "Surfer Jesus," but officially known as "Alpha and Omega," outside the science building, was to show the integration of faith and reason in all the science programs at FUS. The science instructors at Franciscan pride themselves that they provide their students with a holistic view of science because they don't exclude God or faith, but teach from the perspective of faith and science being perfectly compatible. FUS has a highly acclaimed and very demanding nursing program, whose students have a special ceremony during their junior year, to dedicate themselves and their careers to God. They also have a large number of graduates who have gone on to medical schools.

John Paul II Library

Next, we saw the John Paul II Library, which was dedicated to our late pope before he died. The entrance to the library has flags from every US state and foreign country from which Franciscan students have come.

The Portiuncula

Behind the chapel is the Portiuncula, a 24-hour adoration chapel, manned by students, and built in the style of an old Italian chapel, reminiscent of the sort of chapel that St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt when he was trying to discern God's call for him to "rebuild" His Church.

Lizzy at the creche

The Creche

St. Francis of Assisi made the first Christmas creche, which FUS has permanently on display near the Portiuncula.

Also nearby are an outdoor Stations of the Cross, a Marian grotto, and a memorial to the unborn. The story the guides told us is that several years ago, when Fr. Michael Scanlan was still the president of Franciscan University, a local Protestant pastor called him and said that he had a couple of aborted babies' remains and he didn't know what to do with them.

Fr. Scanlan said, "Bring them to me," and he consecrated some ground and gave the babies a proper burial.

Soon afterwards, the local police called Fr. Scanlan and said, "We heard you have buried human remains on your property without authorization."

Fr. Scanlan replied, "Oh, are you saying they're human?"

The police never called back and they have since buried several more babies there and erected a memorial marker.

The Marian Grotto

Memorial to the Unborn

Lizzy with her older brother, Giorgio, at the cafeteria

The next day, Friday, was scholarship competition day. The parents had the opportunity to hear presentations from various administrators and staff. One of my favorite parts about Franciscan University is their Austrian Program. As my son will surely testify, as have many other students, it is a life-changing experience. FUS has an Austrian campus located in the alpine village of Gaming. Their campus buildings are located in a 14th century Carthusian monastery, the historic Kartause, which Napoleon once used as a stable for his horses. The students study four days a week and have three day weekends in order to have extra time for exploring the local area and several ten-day holidays to give them time to explore further afield. One of the ten-day holidays is planned in advance for all the students. It is a trip to Rome and Assisi. During the other holidays, the students are free to plan their own trips, or take one of the trips organized by the university. My son spent his spring break helping the pilgrims at Lourdes. It was an experience he'll never forget.

During the parents' portion of the day, we were also told about the coming re-structuring of the core curriculum that was being worked on by the board. They couldn't give us any details, other than it would serve to strengthen the liberal arts education at FUS and incorporate both the Honors Program and the Austria Program.

I asked one of the TOR (Third Order Regular, Franciscan) priests about the religious formation of students at Franciscan, namely, what programs are there to help students who may be discerning a call to the religious life?

His answer was that there are plenty of helps at Franciscan. From daily Mass to confessions and spiritual direction, retreats and opportunities to help with various works of mercy. "But," he said, "we are not here to make priests. Our focus is on educating your sons and daughters and to help them become all that God wants them to be." Nevertheless, there seem to be many religious vocations springing from Franciscan University.

Meanwhile, Lizzy was having faculty interviews and writing essays. The final part of the student competition was a chance for the students to exercise their creativity and perform skits together in small groups. Each group was given a set of props (the same for each group), and an excerpt from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton.

The students were amazingly creative! Of course this group of students was also amazingly talented. The average GPA of the Scanlan scholars was 4.2. Their average ACT score was 32. It was a nice way to end the day and it gave the students a chance to not only display their creativity, but also to get to know each other a little bit and shake off their nervous energy.
Given past statistics, most of those students will end up at FUS in the fall, adding to the academic excellence of the university. By the way, their incoming freshman class this year had an average ACT of 24. (Air Force Academy's average is 29, which, to me, makes FUS all the more impressive).

For those who may be fans of Dr. Scott, we never saw him. And my son, who is a junior, (computer science major), says he's not sure he'd even recognize him. Evidently, his students are all upper-level theology students. So, if you're going to FUS because you want to take a class with Dr. Hahn, you may be disappointed. But, if you're going to FUS because you want to be on fire with love for the Catholic Church, then you won't be disappointed. As Fr. Michael Scanlan says, "Let the fire fall!"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Preview to Part 4: Our epic edu-tour--Franciscan University of Steubenville

Franciscan University of Steubenville is unique among Catholic universities, in that it is internationally known as one of the most joyfully, exhuberantly, evangelically, charismatically Catholic colleges on the planet. If you don't believe me, just watch this video. By the way, a "pre-the" at Franciscan is a young man study pre-theologate, i.e. in formation for the priesthood. I figured if a young man can go to school with all these pretty girls and still feel called to the priesthood, he must really have a vocation!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Part 3 of our epic edu-tour: DeSales University

DeSales University is located about one hour north of Philadelphia, near Allentown and Bethlehem. DeSales is a relatively young university; the first freshman class started in September, 1965. The university is operated by the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, and the atmosphere on campus reflects the low-key, laid-back spirituality of the Salesians. There are about 1500 undergrads, 70% of whom live on campus and it seemed to us the vast majority of students come from within an hour or two away. I don't have statistics for what percentage of the students are Catholic, but it seems to be a much lower percentage than either Benedictine or Franciscan. However, the faculty and administration seems totally committed to their Catholic identity, as their website testifies. I particularly like this quote, from Pope John Paul II's Ex corde Ecclesiae, 1990:

In the world today, characterized by such rapid developments in science and technology, the tasks of a Catholic University assume an ever greater importance and urgency. Scientific and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that the new discoveries be used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole. If it is the responsibility of every University to search for such meaning, a Catholic University is called in a particular way to respond to this need: its Christian inspiration enables it to include the moral, spiritual and religious dimension in its research, and to evaluate the attainments of science and technology in the perspective of the totality of the human person [Ex corde Ecclesiae, no.7].

The university seems to be implementing this idea through not only class instruction, but also in bringing outside speakers to the campus to speak on topics related to science, technology, ethics and religion through their Salesian Center for Faith and Culture.

Since Lizzy had already received an offer of a full tuition scholarship from DeSales, it was with great anticipation that we found ourselves driving to DeSales early one February morning. Driving in eastern Pennsylvania poses serious challenges for a gal from Colorado. We had the MapQuest directions from the hotel to the college, which we followed, but I found out later that it took us down an older, country road, rather than the main road to the college. I kept thinking we must be going the wrong way especially when we came to the one-lane bridge. Fortunately, we soon literally came “out of the woods,” to the lovely campus of DeSales.
View of the field house from the chapel

We didn't know anyone at DeSales, and didn't know anyone who had gone there. A friend put me in touch with her best friend, who had two kids graduate from DeSales, plus I spoke to another Catholic homeschooling mom who has a son there, and emailed another mom who has a daughter there. Their reports were that it was a faithfully Catholic school, albeit without a lot of vibrant Catholic student life. Most of the students who attend seem to come from the surrounding area (as in, within an hour or two away), and many of the students who attend DeSales aren't Catholic. Nevertheless, the school seems to have maintained its Catholic identity and integrity while catering to a mostly non-Catholic population.

We had an appointment to meet with Admissions first thing in the morning and they would take us to a class and give us a tour. It turned out that there wasn’t room for me in the class, so an admissions counselor escorted Lizzy to her first class, which was Molecular Cell Biology, taught by Prof. T. Catalone. She thought it was a "fascinating" class. (Good thing she wants to be a Physician's Assistant, eh?)

I walked around the campus and found the library, hoping to find a computer to check my email. I found the library, but couldn’t find any available computers that were online, so I went over to the new student center. There I found a bank of computers that were completely unused, and available to surf the ’net. In this cozy lounge area was a gas-log fireplace, with a warm fire blazing and some comfy chairs. I was able to relax and knit a bit after checking my email for the first time since I’d been on the road.

After Lizzy’s class, we met back at admissions and two students were there to give us a tour. One of the students was a PA major and the other was a criminal justice major. They were both from Pennsylvania, but sounded to me like they were from New Jersey. They were both very friendly and bantered good-naturedly about the security on campus and the 15 priests who lived there and frequently interacted with students. They said one often sees the president, Fr.O'Connor, and he knew most kids’ names. As for security on campus, one of our tour guides said that DeSales was ranked #4 for safe campuses, but he wasn’t sure what campuses were the safest, though he figured the service academies must be high on the list. (I laughed and told him that I had gone to the Naval Academy.)

They took us into a dorm to show us a “typical” dorm room. We passed by a uniformed security guard at the front desk, whom they waved to. I’m guessing having uniformed guards in each of the dorms must contribute to the safety on campus, plus add to the cost of the dorm. The two male guides said we were going to see a girls’ room, so I asked if all the dorms were coed? They said, “No, they’re all segregated.” I said I wondered how they got a key to the girls’ dorm. They laughed and slapped each other a high five. They explained that this was just a “display” room and the tour guides took people to see this typical room. It looked pretty messy to me, so I expressed some disbelief that this wasn’t really someone’s room. They said, “No, this is really a display room. It’s really much cleaner than any real room you’d see.” I reminded them of where I went to school. Our real rooms were actually cleaner than the display rooms.

All the dorm rooms have shared bathrooms with showers and toilets. I believe sinks were in the room, but I can’t remember for sure. They said that the showers and toilets are cleaned by a cleaning service once a week. The bathrooms are shared between two rooms, each holding four gals (or guys, as the case may be). It looks like a very comfortable set-up. Most buildings are wireless, but some of the older dorms may not have connectivity in all the rooms, so Ethernet ports are available in all the rooms.

There are apartment-like dorms available for upperclassmen, but these don’t have kitchens, so even the upperclass must use the cafeteria for most of their meals.

Speaking of meals, we dined in the cafeteria several times and found the food was good, but simple. All students have meal cards, but the set-up is different from most colleges we’ve visited. All breakfast and lunch items are charged per item, so salads, soups, ice creams, etc. are weighed and all drinks, cups, etc. are charged. Dinners are one price for all you can eat, so most students eat a hearty dinner, but go light or skip breakfast and/or lunch. Some students may take an extra piece of fruit with their dinner to eat for breakfast the next day. It sounded like a stupid way of doing things to me, because it discourages students from eating breakfast or lunch.

View of the new student center, which houses the cafeteria and the campus bookstore

We had lunch with two other PA students. One was a junior and the other a sophomore. The junior was a gal from Pennsylvania who is very active in the Catholic campus ministry there and mentors for their mandatory freshman program called Character U. She also is part of a new “discernment” dorm that puts students together who are discerning either a religious vocation or another other call to serve the Church as a layperson. The students have a priest and a nun who live with them and they pray morning and evening prayers together and often attend daily Mass together (only one, in the evenings at 5:15) each day. I believe the men and women in discernment are on separate floors or wings of the dorm, which is connected to the main chapel and the adoration chapel, which is only open on Fridays.

After lunch, Lizzy had a Catholic Theology class with Prof. M. Hearden. She thought the class was meant to be a discussion on the book of Isaiah, but since it was a Monday, it seemed to be more of a lecture. The professor highlighted some of the passages from Isaiah (Is. 7:14) that prophesy Christ’s birth. Lizzy thought it was unusual that no one in the class seemed to recognize this as the passage in Matthew 1:23, which quotes Isaiah.

While she was in the theology class, I walked up the hill to visit the main chapel. It is typical ’60’s architecture (what WERE they thinking?) It reminds me of some of the military chapels I’ve seen. Only Sunday masses are said here, and there are only two: 12:30 and 8:30 pm. The reason there are no vigil masses or Sunday morning masses is because each of the 15 priests who live on campus are also responsible for saying masses at nearby parishes, so they are all gone on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.

The main chapel

After Lizzy’s class, we met with admissions some more and got to tour some more buildings. I asked about the Catholic campus ministry particularly because one of the PA students recommended we talk with the gal who heads it up, Maggie Riggins. Her office is in the old student center, which seems nearly abandoned now, but still contains the mailboxes for all the students, and a hangout (called the Dog Pound) for students to play air hockey or watch a big screen TV. She also introduced us to the head of the social outreach ministry, Jaime Gerhart, who organizes a lot of activities for students, from works of mercy such visiting nursing homes, to taking students to the March for Life (they had 36 attend this year…there would have been more but many of the PA students I talked to had to attend class), tutoring local high school kids and trips to New York City to see Broadway shows.

We also saw the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, a state of the art theater with dance and television studios. DeSales is very proud of both its highly successful PA program as well as its film and theater school.

We hung around the student center for a couple more hours to wait for evening Mass. Daily Masses are held in Wills Hall, which is also the residence for the 15 priests who live on campus. The chapel is very ’60’s, small and awkwardly shaped. The new chapel they plan to build is also an awkward shape…a rectangle, with the altar along one of the long sides. This chapel is sort of round, like Wills Hall, with a triangular raised platform that one has to avoid tripping on when going up for communion. Students provided music for both evening Masses we attended and it was very well done. All the students were reverential and there was no handholding, clapping or talking in the chapel after Mass. In the vestibule after Mass, we had many students and some priests come up and talk to us to ask where we were from and how we liked DeSales. One elderly priest, upon hearing we were from Colorado, said how fortunate we were to have such a wonderful Archbishop as Chaput, and that he was reading his book, Render Unto Caesar. One of the students said to me, “Isn’t there a great Catholic university in Denver?”

I said, “Uh, there’s a Jesuit university named Regis.”

She said, “Nope, that’s not it. It’s for grad school.”

I said, “Oh! You mean the Augustine Institute?”

She said, “Yes! One of my friends is there!”

I take all this as a sign that DeSales is on the right track.

The next morning we had some free time before Lizzy's interview witht the head of the PA department so we decided to stroll around historic old Bethlehem. It reminded me of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where we once lived, without the damage inflicted by the civil war. In fact, Bethlehem dates from before the Revolutionary War and seems to have escaped damage from either war. There are some lovely buildings dating from 1742, when the persecuted Protestant sect of Moravians came to settle this town and start a college.

Outside the Inn at Bethlehem (we didn't stay there...not sure if there was any room.)

Moravian building, circa 1742, Bethlehem, PA

Lizzy's interview was at 1 pm, so we headed to DeSales for lunch in the cafeteria before her interview. I walked her to the office just before her scheduled interview and dropped her off. This is what it looked like:

Anti-climatic climactic? Entrance to the Physician Assistant's Program Office

Evidently, the interview went really well, because just a few days ago she got a letter from Christine Bruce, the head of the PA department inviting her to be a part of the program. The letter was dated the same day as her interview!

Overall, Lizzy was very impressed with the campus. It was quiet, which suits her just fine. The academics are the primary interest to her. She said she would just have to invite other students to go to Mass with her.

One last item of interest: Christine Bruce told Lizzy that her husband's 5th grade religion teacher was now the president of Franciscan University...

Pelosi and the Pope, recap

Hop on over to Fr. Longenecker, a (gasp!) married priest in North Carolina to see what he posted yesterday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This just in...

Lizzy just got an acceptance letter from the DeSales University Physician Assistants Program!

Part 2: Our epic journey to 3 colleges in 3 states in 9 days; First Stop--Benedictine College

St. Benedict's Abbey

Benedictine College, nestled on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, on the eastern edge of Kansas, in the farming community of Atchison, has been around for 150 years.

There are seven Benedictine institutions in Atchison, Benedictine College, St. Benedict's Abbey of approximately 53 Benedictine monks whose monastery is on the campus grounds, a monastery of approximately 150 Benedictine nuns who live at nearby Mount St. Scholastica, the parish church of St. Benedict's, a high school, an elementary school, and another parish church, Sacred Heart.

All this in a farming town of roughly 17,000.

I had visited Benedictine last year, about the same time of year, with my other daughter, Kateri. She had also participated in the Presidential Scholars competition. We were very impressed with the college, though she ultimately decided not to attend. In fact, it was at the urging of Kateri, that Lizzy decided to give it a try.

Lizzy and I began our visit to Atchison with a lovely afternoon walk around cornfields with an email friend that I had never met, but corresponded with since my visit last year. Maria and her family homeschool their kids and live outside of town in an old farmhouse. Her husband is on the faculty at BC, her son is a freshman, and she has taken classes there, so she has a unique perspective on BC and the Catholic life there. She confirmed that BC has embraced their Catholic identity much more strongly in the past 10 to 15 years, and as a result, their enrollment has nearly doubled.

We arrived a day early so Lizzy could sit in on some classes and take a tour of the campus. There were many students arriving that morning, so the admissions office had set up tables on the ground floor of the Student Union. They provided coffee, juices and pastries for the scholarship competitors and their families.

Lizzy's first-hand account follows:

A group of prospective Benedictiners and I followed a pair of sophomore guides across rain-washed concrete sidewalks, beneath towering hemlocks that shed olive-gray shadows on the ground. The Kansas mud yielded a faint stench of rotting worms and bettles, like an insect graveyard rent by floodwaters. I stayed on the path to spare my shoes.

Once we arrrived at Westerman, one of the science buildings, we navigated our way through unassuming staircases and several winding halls that looked like they had been punched out of the same sheet of white plastic.

At last we reached the Organic Chemistry II classroom, identifiable by three faint numbers on the door. The lecture room itself looked like a miniature theater: staggered seating encircling a small stage. (This was the first time I'd seen a school lecture hall; as a homeschooler, I'm accustomed to dining rooms.)

The chemistry professor, Dr. Aileen Beard, was delighted to share her knowledge with a roomful of bleary-eyed college students (many of whom were eating bagels, drinking Pepsi, or trying to finish their homework). Most of what she said escaped my faded knowledge of tenth grade science, though I was proud to be able to understand one word in twenty.

I recieved a bit of a jolt fifteen minutes into the class, when Dr. Beard mentioned that they wouldn't be meeting the following Tuesday (the feast of St.Scholastica, the patroness of Benedictine College), since there would be an all-school Mass during their alloted time.

"I know it's Friday," she added with a small laugh, "and you're all eager to go to Confession." The students laughed at the good-natured joke.

At the co-op I attend twice a week for science and calculus class, the teachers are too wary of separation of church and state to mention religion, except in passing. I guess a name-brand Catholic university doesn't have to worry about the ACLU suing them into financial oblivion.
(Sounds more like an English Lit major, eh?)

After Lizzy's morning class, we had a walking tour of the campus with student guides. They showed us the one of the oldest buildings on campus, Ferrell Hall, built in 1893. That doesn't make it the oldest building on campus. That honor falls to Bishop Fink Hall, which was built in 1878. Ferrell Hall certainly holds first place for being one of the most lovely (and mysterious) buildings on campus. It was orignally the monastery for the early monks, whose abbey church is the present day parish of St. Benedict's, which adjoins Ferrell Hall. Recent renovations, after more than 30 years of being empty, have completely transformed the ancient monastic dwelling into modern dormitory rooms, including some lofts with skylights. Atchison is known as one of the most haunted cities in America, and Ferrell Hall is chief among the so-called haunted abodes of Atchison.

Also on the tour, we saw the new Abbey church, (see pictures at the top and below),which was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The interior of the church is quite large, probably seating at least 1000. We attended an weekday evening Mass there and there were probably at least 200-300 people in attendance for a regular weekday Mass. (I suspect about 75-100 of those present were students and families there for the scholars weekend).

interior of St. Benedict's Abbey church

As you can see in the picture above, the Abbey church is rather sleek and modern. The acoustics are great, and they have a wonderful pipe organ, with pipes on all sides and both ends of the huge nave, giving you a total "surround sound" experience. The large hanging crucifix over the altar has the corpus with head bowed toward the monks' choir stalls, signifying their death with Christ.

While I'm on the subject of Mass, I noticed the students at all the colleges we attended were very reverent before, during and after Mass. Unlike my home parish, and all the surrounding parishes we attend, there was no grab-across-the-aisle-and-contort-to-connect-the -chain-hand-holding during the "Our Father," nor was there applause after the final hymn (despite the fact that the music was certainly worthy of applause, especially after Sunday Mass at the Abbey), nor was there the low din of chatter after Mass that accompanies all the post-Mass crowds at my local parishes. The students waited until they were in the vestibule of the church to gab with friends.

The tour also included a brief stop at the library and St. Benedicti's Hall, which houses the administrative staff and the Theatre Arts Department.

St. Benedict's Hall

We ended the tour at the Haverty Center, which is a great place for students to grab a quick snack or a cup of the college's own "Raven's Roast" coffee at the Monte Cassino Inn, or find a souvenir at the campus book store.

We had lunch in the student cafeteria and chatted with Maria's son, who is a freshman there. We also saw some other friends from Colorado who are students at BC, as well as my niece from Virginia, who was also attending the scholar's weekend.

Lizzy and her cousin from Virginia

In the afternoon we attended presentations on their mission, financial aid, residence life, study abroad and FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).

All of the presentations were impressive. We heard a lot over the weekend about the mission of Benedictine College. The mission of the college is to be a Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts, residential college, and to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship. I would agree with President Stephen Minnis when he says that Benedictine does all four of these things exceedingly well.

I really like the way their core curriculum is set up to give all students a solid, liberal arts education. For example all students, even science majors, must take two semesters of a foreign langauge. Likewise, all students must take a core of courses in Theology, Philosophy, English, History, Science and Physical Education.

Their study abroad programs are varied, but their gem, in my opinion, is their campus outside Florence, Italy. The students in this program live in a villa together and have a faculty member accompany them to teach them and travel with them.

FOCUS got its start at Benedictine, then quickly spread to the University of Northern Colorado and now thrive on 39 college campuses in 21 states. Today there are active FOCUS missionaries serving full-time at Benedictine and working with the Catholic campus ministry team to disciple students so they can be effective Catholic leaders and witnesses to Christ.

So what's not to like?

First, let me say that my complaints about Benedictine are minor and insignificant compared to the wonderfully supportive community, rigorous academic standards and vibrantly Catholic life that abounds on campus.

I have three concerns, or, I should say, there are three things that Catholic parents should be aware of when sending their child to Benedictine.

1. I would have liked to have heard more from the science departments about the integration of faith and reason. The biology department is rightfully proud of the their awards and achievements. One of their biology majors, Wangari Maathai, is a 2004 Nobel Laureate. (More on Wangari Maathai in #3). They have a high success rate of graduates being accepted into medical schools. But in today's technologically advanced society, where biology and ethics often collide, I would like to know they are at the cutting edge of not only the science, but also in preparing their graduates for making ethical decisions. When I asked the head of the biology department, Dr. Martin Simon, last year, to please discuss his evolution class, he dismissed my question without answering me, simply by stating that "Evolution is science. God is not. I don't bring God into the classroom." I avoided any confrontational questioning this year (not that I thought my question was confrontational last year, I simply asked him to "discuss" his course), and I just listened to him discuss the biology program at BC. It is impressive. And there are crucifixes in each classroom. But, I suspect Dr. Simon, who was named "Educator of the Year" in 2008, still doesn't bring "God into the classroom."

I know BC offers a top-notch education in Theology and Philosophy, and that all students must take classes in these areas, however, I think BC is doing a disservice to it's biology, biochemistry and other science majors by not helping them integrate the knowledge they acquire in these courses to better prepare them for the bio-medical fields many of them hope to enter.

2. Of lesser concern to me, but still something that bugs me, is the fact that the 150 or so sisters at Mount St. Scholastica, who are closely associated with the college, don't wear habits. (Okay, some of the ones in their 90's do, but they don't get out much). They ditched them sometime in the 60's, which coincidentally, seems to be the youngest age of many of their sisters.

Having worn a uniform 9 years, I understand that people expect something out of one who wears a uniform. If I got on an airplane and saw the pilot and crew were all wearing jeans and t-shirts, I'd be tempted to get off the plane before it took off. A uniformed crew tells me they are trained and know what they're doing. Once when I was flying home on leave, wearing my Navy blues, I was asked by a flight attendant to escort an elderly lady to her gate. I don't know if the flight attendant thought I was another flight attendant, or if she just thought I was more trustworthy than other 19 year-olds, but I felt proud to have been asked to escort the lady to her gate. If I had been wearing ordinary clothes, I seriously doubt I would have been asked to help. Even the servers at McDonald's wear uniforms!

3. Lastly, I have grown weary of hearing the BC tour guides cite with glowing terms the fact that Wangari Maathai is the only Nobel Laureate to graduate from a Catholic college in the United States. The truth is, she graduated from Mount St. Scholastica in the 60's, when orthodoxy to the faith wasn't highly valued. She went on to plant some 40 million trees in her native Kenya. She is highly educated and has received numerous awards and accolades, but her Catholic credentials are nil. She is first and foremost an environmental activist, but for some reason feels compelled to comment on relgion on her official website, "The Green Belt Movement", where she says that the Christian priesthood had in mind the destruction of her culture so that they could colonize and impose their own will on the native peoples. Is this the sort of rhetoric that a Catholic college should endorse? Obviously not, but the good folks at BC choose rather to ignore this part of Wangari Maathai's persona.

To summarize, the above three objections pale in comparison to the immense good that is Benedictine College.

We departed Atchison on Sunday after Mass at the Abbey church and drove to the airport in Kansas City, Missouri, to begin the next leg of our epic journey: DeSales.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Part 1: Introduction to our epic journey to visit 3 colleges in 3 states over 9 days

Introduction: Or why we would spend 9 days visiting 3 colleges in 3 states.

My daughter, Lizzy, (not her real name), is a senior in high school. She's been home schooled her entire life, but has taken some classes outside the home for the past 5 years. She's an excellent student, and has done very well in all her classes and on her college entrance exams, taking both the ACT and the SAT. As a result, she was invited to attend scholarship competitions at both Benedictine College (BC) and Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS). The competitions were spaced a week apart; the first two weekends of February. Our family had to decide whether or not it was worth the effort to attend one or both of the competitions. BC is much closer to home, but doesn't currently have the nursing program that she was interested in pursuing. FUS is further from home, typically has less financial aid than BC, but has an excellent nursing program.

In the meantime, around Thanksgiving time, we were re-reading the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College for the upteenth time, when we noticed the note in the back about DeSales University having an excellent 5-year Physician Assistant's program. Lizzy completed the online application on December 1st, which was their deadline for priority consideration of scholarships. We figured it was a long shot, but worth investigating.

Fast forward to January 24, 2009 (the feast of St. Francis de Sales, by the way), and Lizzy received an offer of full tuition scholarship to DeSales University, which increased her interest exponentially.

By the time she received the offer from DeSales, we had already made plans to attend both scholarship weekends at BC and FUS. Since they were both fairly far away and there was only about 5 days between them, we decided to fill in the time in the middle visiting DeSales.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Benedict of Bavaria

Benedict of Bavaria An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland Benedict of Bavaria An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland by Brennan Pursell

I just bought this book at the DeSales University book store. It was on a table of "DeSales authors." I was delighted to see that the author, Brennan Pursell, is a convert to the faith, having read himself into the Church while at Harvard and being received into the Church at a monastery in Bavaria. He is currently a professor of history at DeSales and recently (as in Jan. 20, 2009) gave a lecture at Franciscan University of Steubenville. As these two schools are my daughter's top two picks, I was very happy to note their exchange of ideas.

I will be blogging more about our nine day epic journey through 5 states, via 4 flights, 4 rental cars and 3 hotels to visit 3 colleges. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 02, 2009

When Mom's Away

This past weekend, my husband and I finally sat down together to go over the nitty gritty details of my upcoming nine day college trip with Lizzy. We decided to sneak away to Starbucks in order to have some uninterrupted mom and dad time.

What I thought would've taken about a half hour ended up taking an hour and fifteen minutes, simply to go over the schedule for nine days of Dad being Mr. Mom.

What makes it rather complicated is the fact that all the kids at home are involved in different activities that require an adult to drive them to and from. We also have to figure out if there is a teenager home to watch the little kids if Dad is driving someone somewhere. And finally, we tried to figure out if there are any days during the nine days that Dad could actually go to work so he doesn't have to use up all his vacation time.

We had to schedule Edmund's advanced computer class (we decided he could ride a bike home, barring any unforeseen snowstorm), Bernadette's AmeriTowne training class (got a friend to give her a ride), four kids' drama classes, DJ's speech therapy, Joan and Bernadette's piano lesson (they can walk!), Bernadette's Outdoor Lab class, and seven people's taekwondo classes at various times every day of the week!

I also laid out the menu for the days I'll be gone. Wow! I should do that more often. It sure made grocery shopping easier...just buy what you'll need for meals! Guess that'll be my Lenten penance this year: make menus and shop more economically!

The biggest hurdle, I suspect, will be getting six kids up and out of the door for their Monday morning school which starts at 8 am sharp. The only day of the week that all the kids go to school together is Monday. We make all the sack lunches the night before and try to make sure everyone has their school backpacks loaded and clothes ready to go. This morning's fiasco included a sleepy teenager dumping the entire pot's worth of coffee grounds into the sink (sans garbage disposer), which immediately clogged up the sink (for the 3rd time since Thanksgiving); a kindergartner who couldn't find any socks; a 3rd grader who forgot his water...then his lunch...and finally, the same teenager forgot his most important binder and had to have Dad bring it to school for him. Next Monday will be the most important event of the month for the elementary kids: bringing valentines for their classmates. Let's just hope they all remember them! I'll help them prepare them this week, then we'll try to pre-pack them in the school backpacks.

Lizzy and I are pretty much set for the trip. We've got our hotels and are finalizing our college itineraries so that we can sit in on some classes. She finally got her learner's permit this past week, so that she'll have a government ID in order to board the planes. We're going to try to pack enough clothes to last us for nine days, and I'm picking out long overdue knitting projects and some books I want to read on the trip.

We're very excited for our trip, but I'm already looking forward to being home again!

Tycoon Backs Grandparents Fighting Gay Adoption in the UK

An update to an earlier posting:

A multi-millionaire is funding a legal challenge to halt the controversial adoption of two young children by a gay couple.

Read the entire story here.

The background to this story was also reported by the UK paper, The Daily Telegraph.