Christopher Lushis
Freelance Writer
August 18, 2017 // Schools

Students follow in the footsteps of saints and scholars at Holy Cross College

Christopher Lushis
Freelance Writer

“Pray with saints, learn with scholars, heal the world!” Over the course of two weeks in July, 115 high school students from throughout the country met at Holy Cross College to embody this charge and become more deeply engaged in their faith.

Saints & Scholars students, mentors, faculty and staff assemble in front of Holy Cross College’s Millennium Arch following a week of dedicated service, intellectual engagement and heartfelt worship.

Team mentor Marie Oliva, left, a rising junior at Holy Cross College and parishioner at Queen of Peace, Mishawaka, poses with Saints & Scholars students from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and beyond.

The second annual Saints & Scholars program, offered as part of Holy Cross College’s Summer Theological Institute, called students to imitate the courageous men and women throughout the history of the church who have displayed heroic virtue and intellectual excellence. Holy Cross College Senior Vice President and Saints and Scholars Director Dr. Michael Griffin expressed his enthusiasm and hope that students would follow these role models with purpose and commitment.

“We started this program because our world and our church desperately need scholars formed in holiness to help address the challenges of our time. We cannot limit religion solely to Sundays. Our Catholic intellectual tradition has produced some of the world’s greatest scientists, business leaders, poets, philosophers and theologians. We have much to offer the world by going deeper into our religious roots to address challenges related to immigration, environmental concerns and moral relativism. Therefore, we encourage you to live heroic lives, to be engaged and motivated as young scholars and to become holy men and women determined to serve the church and the larger world.”

Each student was assigned to a specialized track that explored methods for bringing elements of Catholic teaching into the classroom and workplace. These tracks were led by Holy Cross College professors and included integrating theology with one of six fields: public health, human rights, media, science, sustainability or business.

To provide guidance throughout the experience, 15 Holy Cross students were also selected as mentors to direct and assist the high school students in each facet of the program, offering everything from accompaniment in the classroom and worksites to camaraderie on the sand volleyball court and even fraternal support in the dormitories.

Dr. Louis Albarran, left, stands with the theology and media track students of Holy Cross College’s Saints & Scholars program outside a mural highlighting Our Lady of Guadalupe, painted by Holy Cross graduate Federico Rodriguez III on the east outer wall of Rosales Supermarket on Western Avenue in South Bend. — Photos provided by Holy Cross College

Financed by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Saints & Scholars also partnered with the University of Notre Dame Vision summer program to provide students with a comprehensive, holistic experience designed to deepen the practice of faith and serve others with greater purpose and compassion. Many students first spent a week at Notre Dame Vision learning about vocations and how to be a disciple of Christ, then traveled across the street to Holy Cross for Saints & Scholars to learn more specifically how they might be able to live out the call to follow Christ in a challenging world.

Each day of Saints & Scholars began with Morning Prayer, followed by theology seminar classes. The afternoons allowed for community based learning, where members of each track explored how organizations in the South Bend area strive to embody principles of Catholic social justice and encounter those at the margins.

Dr. Dianne Barlas, director of Holy Cross College’s Center for Global Perspective, oversaw the students who participated in the theology and human rights track. She shared: “What is most remarkable are the connections that the students make between the theological concepts discussed in the seminar and the track experiential sites. Theology becomes embodied. Human dignity has a face, and now, a voice to be heard. In many ways, the gospels came alive in walking in the fields of South Bend’s Unity Gardens, in the streets of our Latino communities and especially among the children at El Campito.”

Evenings offered time for recreation and fellowship, as well as the opportunity to attend Mass and eucharistic adoration. Events regularly concluded with a communal recitation of Night Prayer in the form of Lucernarium, a ceremony using candles in remembrance of the hopeful anticipation of Christ’s resurrection. During the liturgy, Holy Cross mentors offered personal reflections on the how they have experienced God’s love in personal and transformational ways, as well as advice for maintaining and deepening a relationship with God in the years ahead.

In addition to the interactive experiences, each student was assigned academic readings based upon his or her track topic and was then responsible for creating a capstone synthesis project to present to the group. For their time and participation, every student who completed the program received college credit from Holy Cross that will be reflected on their high school transcripts.

While the experience may have only lasted a week, the lessons learned and friendships made during this time will continue to grow throughout the future. Dr. Louis Albarran, chairman of the Theology Department at Holy Cross and leader of the theology and media track, challenged students to continue looking beyond the surface so to bring forth a Christocentric worldview when they return to their everyday lives. He reminded them: “The media often shapes our direction. When it doesn’t look at the homeless, the unborn, or the imprisoned, it doesn’t give a voice for the voiceless. We cannot begin to think that those individuals are not part of the real world. As Christians, we are called to encounter the Word of God; to see how the Word takes on flesh in our midst.” He further expressed the importance of utilizing media for evangelization and communicating through social media using responsibility, positivity and virtue.

Throughout Saints & Scholars, many students expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to engage their faith in a hands-on way and consider incorporating it in ways beyond the times and places of worship. Caroline Wong exclaimed that she found it rewarding because “I was able to grow in faith through daily prayer, Mass and service, but at the same time I had the opportunity to learn and connect my Catholic faith with the world around us today.”

Andrew Polaniecki, the director of Campus Ministry at Holy Cross, in addition to helping found and lead Saints & Scholars with Griffin, also served as primary formation director throughout the program. Witnessing the reactions and positive responses from the participants, Polaniecki expressed both enthusiasm and gratitude. He remarked: “To pray, learn and heal is at the heart of Saints & Scholars, and to see it come alive for the dozens of high school students who came to Holy Cross College for this experience was a great joy and blessing for everyone involved in the program.”

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