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...


MacBeth Derham said...

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

Looks a bit clinical ;)

MilitantMom said...

Oops! MacBeth, I thought you said "spelling doesn't count!" But you caught me...I meant to say, "Anti-climactic!"


udmom1 said...

I really love the University of Dallas. I think you ought to go visit. It is the best Catholic
university on the planet. The professors are the best! The administration does't value the spectacular faculty that are present enough. God is at work in the students and teachers. My children have received the education that I have prayed for! Patrice Wolfe -

MacBeth Derham said...

Oh, Debbie...I assure you I didn't even notice the spelling...I read "climactic" just as sure as if you had written it, LOL!! See? Spelling does not count. ;)

MilitantMom said...

Good! I thought perhaps you thought I was referring to climate change... ;-)