November 4, 2022

2022 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Marian University students strengthen relationships with Franciscan sisters

Mariangel Morales-Aparicio, left, Daniela Ochoa, MaryClare Swick, and Michelle Dickert, all students at Marian University in Indianapolis, who live in community on the campus, are taking a course titled “Communications for Intentional Communities.” Members of the Oldenburg Franciscans are assisting with the class.  (Submitted photo)

Mariangel Morales-Aparicio, left, Daniela Ochoa, MaryClare Swick, and Michelle Dickert, all students at Marian University in Indianapolis, who live in community on the campus, are taking a course titled “Communications for Intentional Communities.” Members of the Oldenburg Franciscans are assisting with the class. (Submitted photo)

By Sara Geer

OLDENBURG—During the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how schools and universities operated, replacing face-to-face contact with digital technologies. At Marian University in Indianapolis, this shift in communication made it difficult for students, staff and other part of the campus community to build new and maintain existing relationships with each other and beyond the campus.

With classes back operating normally, five Marian students living at the school’s Dorothy Day House, an intentional faith community, have chosen to rekindle those lost relationships as part of their “Communication for Intentional Communities” course for a minor in peace and justice studies.

The class—which this year consists of just the five women—meets every three weeks and focuses on living out Pope Francis’ teachings of showing “ecumenical hospitality” or “intentional hospitality.”

“The discussion is very much peer-led,” said Michelle Dickert, a junior studying social work. “We talk about what we want to get done, what we want our projects to be or how to reach the greater community. We formulated this community within ourselves. Now how can we spread that outward?”

The women decided to put what they’ve learned into action by sending out invitations to student groups on campus to join them for a meal and discussion.

“We want to be able to have a space where people can feel safe and acknowledged,” said Mariangel Morales-Aparicio, a Marian junior studying nursing. “So, this semester has been mostly inviting people over, having dinner and talking and sharing ideas together.”

The women are also able to extend invitations to organizations and groups off campus.

One relationship the women have diligently been trying to find ways to strengthen is with the Franciscan sisters in Oldenburg, the order that founded Marian University.

The sisters greatly appreciated the opportunity to build relationships again with students of Marian and excited to share about living in community and their passion for advocating for peace and justice—a Franciscan value the university was founded upon.

“It’s important for us to be involved in classes like this because we are all about social justice,” Franciscan Sister Kathleen Branham, the order’s vocations director, said. “I thought it was very important to not lose that at Marian University, and I wanted to see how we could be involved with the students in collaboration together. We wanted to be more involved.”

The sisters are welcome to attend the class to discuss a variety of topics—from living in a community to social justice issues.

Franciscan Sister Noella Poinsette, director of the order’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, shared that she presented to the students about “advocating for tax justice, the homeless, immigrants and the lower 80% of the population.”

She noted that she started visiting the Clay County U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] Detention Center in west-central Indiana town of Brazil to build relationships with the inmates and immigrants housed there. The five women are joining her on her next visit.

“When some people are invisible or ignored or dismissed, we’re throwing them away,” Sister Noella said. “Pope Francis talks about the throwaway society, that we’re basically throwing away the gifts, the dignity of all these people who some label as different because of their religion or no religion or the color of their skin or their gender … . It’s too easy to toss people aside and be about yourself. We are all sisters and brothers.”

The sisters have also shared with the women about living in “intentional community” and what that means for their order.

“The Dorothy Day House is an intentional community, and we are a community that could offer some insight on how we live together,” Franciscan Sister Susan Marie Pleiss, formation director, said. “We can also offer some translations into how, as they continue to live together, to discover the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of community.”

Sister Susan also mentioned the sisters are always welcome to receive and answer questions about community from the students, who are still learning how to live together and discover their greater purpose on campus. The conversations shared with the students gives the sisters much hope for the future.

“They are very passionate about accepting one another, growing together,” Sister Susan said. “It’s energizing for us to go and be with them.

“They are passionate about making a difference in the world,” added Sister Noella, “erasing some of the inequities.”

Deeb Kitchen, an associate professor of sociology and director of the peace and justice studies minor at Marian, said the class not only opens the students’ minds about peace and justice issues, but helps them discover their own gifts and talents.

“Because they do have an engagement requirement, it allows them to really discover their gifts and talents and utilize them,” Kitchen said. “Because as they start realizing the capacities that they have individually, and as a community, you see people not only understand what they have but discover that there is so much more around them. You get to see them create things and take ownership of what they engage in, and as a teacher that is what we love to see.”

Kitchen added the Franciscan sisters add much to campus life and continuing to promote the Franciscan values the university is built upon. It benefits everyone involved, he noted.

“It’s the first time that the sisters have been involved in any kind of sustained, ongoing way” with the Peace and Justice Studies program, Kitchen said.

“In the past, Sister Noella used to come to class routinely and has always been such a huge supporter with everything that we did. So, there has been a relationship there, yet it’s certainly been much more intentional this year.”

(Sara Geer is a freelance writer and a member of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. To learn more about the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, visit

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