Charlie Archer, a senior philosophy major, was recently accepted into the Kenrick-Glennon seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The acceptance corresponded with his own insights concerning the religious atmosphere here at the University of Dallas.
“Institutions, in a sense, have vocations,” Archer said. “Personal vocations are primary … but institutions seem to fulfill a role in serving personal vocations.”
Archer thinks that the UD community understands the universal call to holiness and that this creates a vocational sense among many students. However, he found that the faith at UD is not always immediately apparent, as it might be at schools like the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“There seems to be a very quiet, strong faith that pervades many of the students,” Archer said. “[On] any given morning, if you go into the adoration chapel at around 8 o’clock you’ll see it’s packed.”
Like Archer, alumni pursuing religious life found that the UD community facilitates a prayerful approach to discerning a religious vocation, especially through the personal friendships the community fosters.
Br. Raphael Schaner is in his second year of the three-year simple vows with the Cistercian order. Having attended an Augustinian high school, Schaner felt called early in college to a religious vocation devoted to teaching but discerned the need to wait. After receiving a B.A. in theology at UD, Schaner stayed for his M.A. in humanities in 2013 before joining the Cistercians later that year.
He shared in an email that his spiritual life was strengthened by the mutual example and support of his roommates and their own prayer lives.
“We positively influenced each other to the point of incorporating those [religious] practices as norms,” Schaner wrote.
Brad Berhorst, alumnus of the class of 2013, is a seminarian for the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo.
“Pay attention to people who know you well and desire the good for you,” Berhorst wrote in an email. “The Holy Spirit might be using them in ways they can’t imagine.”
Along with Archer, Berhorst said his Rome semester was an important moment in his discernment and later applied in his final semester at UD. After his graduation, Berhorst attended Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo. for pre-theology studies until last spring. He is now in his first year of theology studies in Rome at the Pontifical North American College.
Berhorst recalled several conversations that posed the question: What does it mean to live a fulfilling life? This greatly helped his discernment, even though he rarely discussed his own discernment in those conversations.
Even as a prospective student, Berhorst noticed UD’s enthusiasm in searching for truth.
“I don’t think you can seriously engage the curriculum that UD asks you to as a student without that ‘intellectual formation’ also affecting your ‘human formation’ and ‘spiritual formation,’ ” Berhorst wrote.
In many ways, Catholic professors man the helm of the community of passionately Catholic students.
Br. Jonah Teller (B.A. English, ’11), after growing up in a Dominican-led parish and attending a vocations retreat, joined the Eastern Province Dominicans in 2013 and emphasized the importance of professors in fostering UD’s community. He is completing his second year of studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
“I think that the culture of UD is heavily reliant on the spirit of the students and the faculty and how those two groups interact with each other,” Teller wrote in an email. “The students possess zeal and the faculty have the prudence that comes with experience (as well as zeal on their own).”
Though not immediately apparent, academics can contribute to discernment. Br. Raphael noted the important analog between prayer and study.
“Without the realization that an hour of study is an hour of prayer, I may never have seen my studies as contributing to my spiritual development,” Schaner wrote. “Even suffering through a class can be ‘redemptive’ when offered to Our Lord.”
Even in Catholic institutions, college does not always perfectly serve the process of discernment.
“The only way you’re going to realize your vocation is through having personal intimate conversations with Christ,” Archer stated. “It is also easy to get too caught up in studies … that you never take time to go the adoration chapel.”
Br. Jonah encourages current students to be purposeful in making time for prayer.
“College life is busy, noisy, stressful (and fun, of course),” he wrote. “Carve out five minutes each day at a set time to sit in the chapel, just being quiet and aware of the Lord’s presence.”
Though distractions from prayer life abound, UD students often fall into an opposite extreme, observed Br. Raphael.
“I think UD is a very healthy environment for discernment — daily mass, regular confessions, religious presence on campus, sanctifying one’s studies to name a few attributes — but there is also the danger of “hyper-discernment,” Br. Raphael wrote.
Archer also understood.
“Stop trying to figure it out, just pray about it,” Archer said. “Pray that you have the strength to say yes.”