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On June 28-July 1, 15 pilgrims from Marian University in Indianapolis joined more than 80 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pontifical North American College, and the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori—the official church of the Redemptorist order in Rome and Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s home for 18 years.
On June 30, the Marian pilgrims also attended Mass in Assisi at the Basilica of St. Francis to pray for the university community, for the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Ind.—who founded Marian University—and for the Church in Indiana.
Representing Marian University were our chairman of the board of trustees, Bill Eckman, and his wife, Teesa; chairman emeritus, Jack Snyder, and his wife, Jennifer; Greg and Sarah Hempstead; Joe and Jan Clayton, and five members of their family; and me (I currently serve as senior vice president at Marian) and my wife, Sharon.
The Marian pilgrims shared many inspiring and joyful experiences, and they often expressed among themselves—and to others—how proud they were to represent Marian University as Archbishop Tobin received the pallium from Pope Francis. It was truly a historic moment for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and for Marian University.
As frequently happens with pilgrims, we got to know each other well. Traveling nearly 5,000 miles from Indiana to Rome in close quarters reveals aspects of personality that are not apparent in briefer, more occasional contacts.
For example, board chairman Bill Eckman’s pride and passion for Marian’s new College of Osteopathic Medicine came through loud and clear on several occasions, including a conversation he had with a pilgrim from the Indianapolis archdiocese, a professor at IU Medical School who is nearing retirement and is interested in getting involved with the new College of Osteopathic Medicine as a volunteer.
Joe Clayton, a business executive who travels the world, shared with the other Marian pilgrims his conviction that Marian University truly is establishing itself as a great Catholic university in Indianapolis under the visionary leadership of President Daniel J. Elsener. Clayton believes that every great city should have at least one outstanding Catholic university. His passion for Catholic education at all levels, and his concern for the religious and moral challenges facing our nation, have persuaded him that strong Catholic universities are needed now more than ever.
Sarah Hempstead, an architect, was eager to tell everyone she met on the pilgrimage about the architectural wonders of Rome, but she also spoke with evident pride about Marian’s new Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences, which was designed by her firm. Sarah and her husband, Greg, who is also an architect with Schmidt and Associates in Indianapolis, were back in Rome for the first time since their student days.
Jack Snyder, who serves as legal counsel for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reestablished a connection he made with Archbishop Tobin at this year’s Indianapolis 500 race—the archbishop’s first visit to the track. Jack said, and everyone agreed wholeheartedly, that the archbishop’s “down to earth” style and his practical sense of humor make him a perfect fit for Indiana—in spite of the more than 20 years he lived in Rome and regularly travelled to more than 70 countries around the world as the head of the Redemptorist Order.
Teesa Eckman modeled patience and good humor when her—and Bill’s—luggage took a side trip to Amsterdam and wasn’t delivered to our hotel until 2 o’clock the next morning! In spite of two days of little or no sleep, the Eckmans never faltered.
Jennifer Snyder, a physician’s assistant, and Sharon Conway, a registered nurse, talked about changes in health care—now and in the future. Both agreed that Marian’s efforts to tie the health sciences to the university’s strong Catholic and Franciscan values is critically important for tomorrow’s doctors, nurses and health care professionals.
The Clayton family brought youth and enthusiasm to the group from Marian University. Jan Clayton, Joe’s wife and the mother of five children, was always smiling—even after her attempts to photograph Pope Francis were thwarted by the pope himself who tended to raise his crosier in front of his face just when Jan got him in focus! The younger Claytons—clearly Papa Joe’s pride and joy—are friendly, respectful and fun-loving young adults, who were equally at home in the holy places we visited and in the nightlife of Rome’s Trastevere district.
I know that I speak for everyone when I say that it was a real honor to represent Marian University on this historic occasion. Individually, and together, Pope Francis and Archbishop Tobin are powerful signs of hope for the universal Church and the Church in Indiana. Pope Francis, who is gregarious and outgoing when he meets with people—especially the poor and disabled—is very humble and quiet when he prays. At times during the pallium Mass, we strained to hear him as he led all 10,000 of us in prayer.
Archbishop Tobin commented several times that the pallium he received from Pope Francis “binds” him in a symbolic yoke to leave the 99, and seek out the one lost sheep and bring him home to Christ and his Church. The archbishop stressed that he will only wear the pallium when he is “back home in Indiana” because the symbolic burden that it represents also binds him in a very special way to be a sign of unity for all Catholics in Indiana.
Archbishop Tobin’s final reflections during Mass in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori, his spiritual home for nearly 20 years, were about Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose image is prominently displayed in this Redemptorist church.
“Mary points the way to Jesus, her son,” the archbishop said. “She is always ready to help us no matter what sorrows or challenges we are facing. Let’s turn to her, and through her find our way to Jesus.”
Praying with Pope Francis and Archbishop Tobin, in the great basilicas but also in the privacy of our rooms and the quiet of our own hearts, we remembered the students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and friends of Marian University. We sought the intercession of Sts. Francis and Clare, asking them to bless the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, and we asked Our Lady of Perpetual Help to watch over the entire Marian University community and keep us faithful to the grand vision that we are humbly called to carry out “back home in Indiana” in service to our nation and our world.
On behalf of the 15 pilgrims who represented Mary’s university in the city of Indianapolis, we thank God, Pope Francis and Archbishop Tobin for the many blessings we received on this journey of faith. We pray that the intercession of Our Lady, and of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, will help the entire Marian University community to remain faithful to our mission—to be a great Catholic university in a great American city in service to our nation and our world.
(Daniel Conway, who serves as senior vice president at Marian University in Indianapolis, is a member of The Criterion’s editorial board.) †