Brother Bill Does Stand-Up
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Chuckles, guffaws, and outright belly laughs filled Meagher Theatre on June 5 as Brother Bill Short brought his stand-up comedy act to AFCU 2014. His presentation, "From the Bird-bath to the Cookie Jar: Franciscan Images and Popular Culture," entertained 200 symposium attendees and hammered home a lesson for colleges in harnessing the power of the Franciscan brand.
Brother Bill launched his lecture with a nod
After a nod to Franciscan images in twentieth century film (including Brother Sun, Sister Moon and The Name of the Rose), Brother Bill turned to evolving artistic concepts by Giotta, Swanson and Watanabe that began to connect Francis indelibly with animals and nature. From later sculpture and stained glass, pop culture quickly co-opted St. Francis for salt and pepper shakers, thermometers, birdbaths and clip art. His slides and dry commentary had the audience howling.
"St. Francis doesn't quite fit the mold of the saints," explained Brother Bill. His love for animals, especially birds, and their comfort with him portrays him as someone who is accessible. A persona like this appeals to the Jungian longing in all of us to reconnect with nature and the very American tendency to identify with the underdog and outcast. The lesson for Franciscan colleges is to embrace the image of St. Francis as genuine, real and approachable -- a notion which is already etched deeply into the western psyche.
Junior Faculty Create a “Social” Network for Success
They call themselves the “Write Club,” a takeoff on the “Fight Club,” a 1999 film with a plot in which the protagonist creates an underground fighting club as a radical form of psychotherapy. This group is far from using violent methods for their therapy, however. In fact, they use the total opposite approach. Their guiding principle is “fraternitas” or brotherhood, modeled on the values of St. Francis. They are a group of junior faculty with diverse backgrounds, disciplines and temperaments at Alvernia University in Reading, PA, who used the Franciscan culture, mission and values of the University to develop a social network of peers to achieve personal and professional success and growth.
During their presentation titled, “The Social Network of Saint Francis: Formation of Junior Faculty and Integration into the Larger University Community,” Alvernia University junior faculty members Erin Way, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychology and Counseling, Peter Rampson, MID, assistant professor of Fine Arts, Adam Heinze, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biology, and Ryan Lange, Ph.D. assistant professor of Communications, shared their experience of creating a collegial peer group for support, academic accountability, and shared scholarship.
The “Write Club” members meet in a more relaxed space off campus and have a loose structure with a few boundaries. Like the “Fight Club” the “Write Club” established rules: meet once a month, use a “mission moment” to start each meeting, allow ample time (usually two to three hours) to discuss and validate a faculty member’s topic, set a scholarship goal before the meeting ends, provide feedback and strategize a solution to issues discussed. The group’s goals are simple: open, honest and constructive dialogue, pooled knowledge, and emotional support --all of which help each individual be accountable and achieve success and eventually, tenure.
The topics shared range from the mundane (how to succeed at room requests at the University), and the academic (what is the best way to teach a specific concept or how to get access to freshmen for a study being conducted) to the personal (how to handle a situation where a spouse works six hours away or what are suggestions for dealing with a child with a medical problem).
Three critical points key to the group’s success is the ability to give and receive constructive critiquing, being honest and open to trusting one another and finally, making it a point to celebrate each person’s achievements no matter how small. “We all have unique skills and gifts and are called to different tasks,” says Peter Rampson, “but we use each other’s expertise to solve problems in new ways.”
The Courage of Their Convictions
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Creating ethical leaders with moral courage is the goal of those at Alvernia University who worked to incorporate large-scale, required community service into their Orientation Weekend. Administrators explained the process at a session entitled “Sure We Can! Community Service Leadership and more in Orientation, First Year Seminar, and Beyond.”
Working against naysayers and focusing on the positives with a “sure we can” attitude, the administration developed a hugely successful program that begins with a common reading followed with related community service for the whole freshman class. Books such as Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol and Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder have set the tone for the service project, most often set in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. Most of the authors have even been willing to speak on campus and meet with the class.
In order to bring everything full circle and let the students reflect on their impact, a video is produced, in all of about two hours, and shown to the students. Attendees at this session got a chance to view one of the videos and truly felt its impact. Some of the attendees believed it would really enable the students to see that they made a difference in the world and see service as an integral part of life – not just something to be checked off a to-do list.
The basis for the day of service is rooted in the Franciscan values of Service, Humility, Contemplation, Collegiality, and Peacemaking that Alvernia University sees as its core set of values and imparts to all who pass through its doors. Dr. Joe Cicala, vice president for University Life, explained that each element informs the others and all are necessary to be present at once. Students at Alvernia have the chance to live out these Franciscan values and embrace new initiatives because of the university’s “sure we can” attitude.
Stories, Values and Imagination
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Brother F. Edward Coughlin kicked off the second day of AFCU 2014 with a call to "embrace the challenge of formative education." In a keynote address entitled "that in all ... character may be formed," Brother Ed urged representatives of almost two dozen Catholic Franciscan colleges to redefine and expand their understanding of education.
"You're called to form the imagination of your students," he told the crowd.
Formative education, he explained, ought to address three questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? and What am I doing here? He believes that the Franciscan tradition in a liberal arts environment is the perfect setting for wrestling with these questions because of the Franciscan commitment to the knowledge of truth and the practice of virtue.
"There is a variety of values embedded in our stories," he shared, using a tale about St. Francis as an example. During a fast, Francis, who noticed that one of the brothers was tormented with hunger, took the brother some bread and invited him to eat, explaining "in this incident, let the charity, not the food, be an example to you." In this narrative, Brother Ed saw the virtues of moderation ("avoid an extreme, be it deficiency or excess") and charity ("form a vision of life at the heart of which is charity").
In guiding students through their reflection upon the three key questions in formative education, Brother Ed advised, "Don't tell students what to choose but ask them questions about what they've chosen."
AFCU: The Pilgrim’s Rule and Phanatic Fun
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
More than 300 people involved in Catholic Franciscan higher education gathered on campus on June 3 for the launch of the three-day 2014 Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities (AFCU) Symposium. Approximately 180 representatives of colleges from Iowa and Wisconsin to Louisiana and New York were joined by 130 administrators and faculty from Neumann to make this year’s conference the largest in recent memory.
The symposium began with a keynote address by Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton. Sister Angela spoke of the Pilgrim’s Rule, an ancient rule for pilgrims adopted by St. Ignatius: A person accompanying a pilgrim must walk at the same pace as the pilgrim, not ahead and not lagging behind.
She characterized the Pilgrim’s Rule as a metaphor for Catholic educators in a digital culture. The pilgrimage is a symbol of life, and the Church (and its educators) must walk with the women and men who make up its ranks. The rule is especially true with educators in a world of social media and digital communication.
“We are bombarded with so much information that we do not have time for silence,” she explained. “We are immersed in a culture of distraction” in which adults and students alike suffer from vibration reflex syndrome – the irresistible urge to respond to a smart phone’s vibration regardless of what we are doing.
The Pilgrim’s Rule calls upon Catholic educators to embrace and understand the digital culture. The pilgrim does not stand still, she advised, but goes “into new territory.” In this new culture, however, Sister Angela emphasized the importance of several characteristics that keep educators and students firmly grounded in “what it means to be human.”
~ Listening – An opening of the heart. “Empty yourself of yourself to really listen.”
~ Reverence – An openness to the sacredness of others in the journey.
~ Hope – “Educators should guide, mentor and nurture students to believe they have a part in creating the future.
~ Beauty – Every experience of beauty points to infinity. “Be an artist by crafting your own life.”
After the keynote, conference attendees moved across campus to a “Taste of Philly” reception in the Bayada Atrium where they were entertained by a seven-foot tall, furry, green creature known to baseball fans as the Phillie Phanatic. The Phanatic danced, clowned and kissed his way into the hearts of the crowd, showing folks from around the country that Philadelphia has its own unique brand of hospitality and joy.
He pulled his shirt over the head of Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, Neumann’s vice president for Mission and Ministry; bowed in admiration to Dr. Rosalie Mirenda, Neumann’s president; and planted a kiss firmly on the head of Sr. Pat Hutchison, director of the Neumann Institute for Franciscan Studies, who worked for months to organize AFCU 2014. No one escaped his antics. He bumped, hugged, and mugged for cameras with anyone in his path. Before he left the reception, the Phanatic jumped on a chair and led the assembled educators in a round of clapping and cheering. The symposium was off to a rousing and joyful start.