“Joyful Disciples. Transformative Leaders.” That is the tag line for the new Assisi Program for Discipleship and Leadership kicking off this year at the University of Saint Francis.
This fall, five students will participate in the pilot program, which is a four-year formation open to students of all majors. With its official launch in fall of 2023 and each subsequent year, 10 additional students will be admitted into the program, eventually bringing the total number of participants to 40.
The program is designed to help Catholic students who are intentional about their faith to navigate their collegiate experience as an engagement between their vocational training and their relationship with Jesus. It teaches them to incorporate that into impactful and meaningful leadership in the workforce.
“It’s about discipleship and leadership because it is through the life of authentic discipleship, that life of friendship with Jesus, that we ourselves are transformed, that we become like Him and that we transform the world around us,” said Megan Quigley, one of the program’s founders. “Each and every one of us needs support to do what He calls us to do, and I think college students especially need the environment to really embrace that call in whatever way is given to them, particularly in their different fields of study, and to be accompanied and supported in embracing the call to discipleship and to friendship with Jesus.”
The idea of the program came from Quigley and Sister Emmanuel Kurtzweg after they met in a women’s Bible study as underclassmen at USF. They shared friendship, faith, and a call to action, though they were not exactly sure what that action was at the time. It was when Sister Emmanuel traveled to Assisi, Italy, on a student pilgrimage as a junior that the vision for a youth conference came to her.
She had been feeling the beginnings of a desire to do something on campus to ignite the faith lives of young adults. The vision of a youth conference based on transformation came to her in Assisi when she was praying before the San Damiano cross. She experienced a new awakening of her own faith and was captivated by the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of God, and how His hand so gently touches the lives of His children at all times. She wanted to bring that awakening of faith back with her.
In March of 2019, just three months after graduating, Sister Emmanuel and Quigley, now the Assistant Director of the Assisi Program, made the conference a reality, bringing in national speakers and drawing nearly 200 young people.
“That Assisi vision has guided us from that moment,” said Quigley. “The vision is to bring Assisi here, to this place of conversion, this place where faith comes alive and people become living witnesses to Christ and come to the full measure of their humanity, fully become who they are meant to be and receive their mission and their calling from God.”
Alex Giltner, Assisi Program Director, came to USF in 2018 and met Quigley and Sister Emmanuel. His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, spoke at the Assisi Conference. As a Professor of Theology with expertise in Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, he wanted to learn more about the conference and what Quigley and Sister Emmanuel were doing.
Feeling called in a different direction, Sister Emmanuel headed off to join the sisters for her postulate year, where this year she professed her first vows with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration on Monday, August 1. Leaving the program in the hands of Quigley and Giltner “led to a long period of prayer, discussion, and discernment, which then led to the formation of the Assisi program,” he said. A retreat Giltner took at the motherhouse in Mishawaka helped the process as well.
“For us, it really was a catalyst of the Assisi experience, not just of Sister Emmanuel and the conference here, but of Francis himself who experienced this incredible conversion and transformation of himself,” said Giltner.
The Assisi Program is directly connected to the mission of what the Catholic university is and its purpose in the world, he said. “What we are trying to do with this program is create an experience where a Catholic university is not a place where people come and lose their faith, but instead deepen and strengthen it and enrich it through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the sacraments and the scripture and our consciences.”
The program is designed to create student leaders who will transform the campus and also their own lives as they leave USF and move into their future vocations, following that call to be a living witness to Christ.
“It’s a call to transformation to be transformative,” said Giltner.
Formation is achieved through five pillars of transformation – prayer, study, fellowship, service, and mission, all of which will root students in a life of authentic Christian discipleship and prepare them for faithful leadership. Every component of the program comes back to those five things.
“It is a curricular and co-curricular program, so they get a Catholic Leadership minor,” said Giltner.
The program is for first-year students and provides a yearly scholarship to cover half of their room and board. Students are required to participate in weekly meetings, monthly community dinners, retreats, sacramental life opportunities, and group service projects. They are also expected to fill roles that serve their peers on campus. Students must live on campus for the first two years and are strongly encouraged to live on campus their last two years so they are fully immersed in the collegiate experience.
The process begins for high school seniors. Students apply to the university and once accepted, apply specifically to the Assisi Program. For the fall semester of 2023, applications are due by December of 2022. There is an interview process and selection in the spring. Applicants must provide two references, including from their pastor and a high school teacher; have a 3.25 GPA; records of service and leadership; and be a Catholic in good standing.
For more information about the program, visit go.sf.edu/assisiprogram.
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