By Emily Gardner
It is easy to see that the University of Dallas is fervently Catholic and that this spirituality is an integral part of many different facets of the university, including the curriculum, the faculty and the student body. UD’s Core Curriculum is a reflection of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on higher education, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” and theology professors are even required to sign a “mandatum,” an acknowledgment that their teaching is in full communion with the Church, in accordance with the procedures established by this encyclical.
Additionally, campus ministry offers plenty of opportunities for students to get involved in spiritual activities on and off campus. These opportunities include Bible studies, weekly discussion nights, praise and worship, vocational discernment meetings and retreats, as well as regular Mass and reconciliation times throughout the week. According to the University of Dallas website, the student body itself is 83 percent Catholic, a testament to the power of an institution with such a strong Catholic identity to attract students.
However, UD’s spirituality does not look like that of many other Catholic or Christian universities. UD does not often sponsor the same types of public events seen at other Christian institutions. For example, Grand Canyon University in Arizona sponsors contemporary Christian music concerts for its student body. At UD, on the other hand, there is a prevalence of academic guest speakers who address spiritual matters. Recently, for example, D.C. Schindler of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family came to campus to speak about marriage as a natural sacrament. Perhaps it is UD’s prominent academic atmosphere that encourages a more educational approach to spirituality.
Although campus ministry sponsors clubs like St. Vincent de Paul, which directly helps those in need and identifies itself as a Catholic organization, there is only one student-led group that identifies itself as a Catholic club devoted to spiritual service: Crusaders for Life, which actively protests abortion through prayerful events. However, at other universities, such as Franciscan University of Steubenville, there is a much higher percentage of student-initiated Catholic clubs on campus. While these differences are by no means indicative of any lack of religious fervor on UD’s part, what is it that makes spiritual life on our campus look different from other Catholic or Christian institutions? In other words, what defines UD’s spirituality?
Father Don Dvorak, full-time chaplain and rector of the Church of the Incarnation described his understanding of UD’s spirituality.
“There is an availability of sacramental life at the Church of the Incarnation that you wouldn’t find on most Catholic campuses,” he said. “Students are also free to attend Mass at the [Dominican] Priory and Cistercian [Abbey]. It’s always impressive to see the amount of students that regularly receive the sacraments. In a sense, that’s a student initiative separate from campus ministry since they choose to go to daily Mass and reconciliation. There are also a lot of alumni who come back either for the baptism of their children or to get married, which says something about the impact the spiritual life here has had on them.”
Jessie Johnson, president of Crusaders for Life, also shared her thought on the matter: “At UD, everything that we do as students is about seeking the truth, and for most of the people here, that is the basic foundation for what they do,” she said. “Even if a club at UD isn’t specifically Christian, the officers often incorporate their religion into their club’s activities. At UD, we don’t have a single spirituality that unites everyone and so there is a greater diversity of charisms and spiritualties that people have.”
Father Thomas Esposito, a monk from the Cistercian Abbey near UD, explained how the founding of the university affected its spirituality.
“Catholic means ‘for everyone,’ but UD still has a specific place in the Catholic world. The fact that there are different groups and orders responsible for founding the university required a more intellectual approach to the faith,” he said. “We couldn’t identify ourselves as Franciscan or Cistercian or Dominican. We had everyone collaborating, so the fruit of that collaborative effort is the intellectually sober and rigorous pursuit of truth, which you can see in our motto: Love, truth and justice.”
According to Father Thomas, this rigorous pursuit of truth explains why UD is different from other Christian universities.
“It is inevitable that the university would continue on that same course whereas other Christian universities might not have the same kind of intellectual tradition but focus more on the charismatic and emotional side of the faith,” he said.
So what actually defines UD’s spirituality? For one, the intellectual tradition established by the founders of the university has immensely influenced the spirituality here on campus, which can be seen by the unique curriculum. UD is influenced by Cistercian, Dominican, Franciscan and charismatic spiritualties, and each person is encouraged to pursue truth and wisdom as “independent thinkers.”
However, this does not mean students must embark on this journey alone or privilege one charism over another. At UD, there is a diversity of spiritualties that can offer insight and guidance, but each person will ultimately develop their own spirituality with the Catholic Church as the enduring thread that unifies them all.