June 6, 2014

Be Our Guest / Daniel Elsener

Marian University: A seat of wisdom, from the heart of the Church

The official motto of Marian University is “Sedes Sapientiae” (“Seat of Wisdom”). This image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who provided the lap on which Jesus (the Truth) sat and learned, inspires everything we do at Marian.

Mary is considered wise because her deep faith allowed her to accept God’s will for her without fully understanding it. She is also called wise because she continually reflected on her experiences—“pondering in her heart” both the joys and sorrows she experienced during her lifetime (Lk 20:19).

At Marian University, we believe that the human heart is the seat of all wisdom. Wisdom integrates faith, reason and human experience. It allows us to make mature decisions and to act responsibly (even courageously) as women and men whose hearts are shaped by what we know, experience and believe about God, ourselves and the world we live in.

Especially today, we believe that leaders need to be wise. Smart, by itself, is not enough. Practical experience, all by itself, cannot guide leaders who often must make critical choices “in uncharted territory.” Even a strong faith cannot sustain leaders if what they profess to believe is separated from reason, science and the pursuit of truth.

Leaders have to know, experience and believe. They must have hearts that transcend emotional or sentimental feelings in order to achieve true wisdom. They must be able to examine carefully, reflect deeply and judge wisely—from the heart—in order to lead others boldly and selflessly.

Marian University’s bold vision is “to provide an education that profoundly transforms lives, society and the world.” The university’s Franciscan sponsorship values, which we received from our founders, the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, are informed by prayer. They include: the dignity of the individual, peace and justice, reconciliation and responsible stewardship.

In a meeting earlier this year, Pope Francis discussed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which he believes should be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities because, “by their very nature they are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life.”

“Essential in this regard,” the Holy Father said, “is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.”

At Marian University, we take these words to heart. In fact, we just completed a yearlong process initiated by our board of trustees to articulate our vision for the future. There is strong consensus among board members, faculty, staff, students and their families, alumni, donors, community leaders and friends that Marian should continue, and strengthen, our identity as a Franciscan Catholic liberal arts university distinguished in its ability to “educate and form transformative leaders for service to the world.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that the preservation of a university’s Catholic identity “entails much more than the teaching of religion or the mere presence of a chaplaincy on campus.” We wholeheartedly agree. One of the unique features of a Catholic university is the ability to integrate “who we are and what we believe” into all aspects of campus life.

At Marian University, we celebrate our Catholic identity, and we invite everyone who becomes part of our university community—regardless of their religious, ethnic, racial, social or economic backgrounds—to grow in their understanding and appreciation of what it means to be truly wise in mind and heart.

As a sign of our commitment to continue, and strengthen, the Catholic identity established by our founders, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Daniel Conway to the newly established position of senior vice president for mission, identity and planning. He is a nationally known leader in the Catholic community who has served the Church with distinction in the key areas of planning, communications, stewardship and development.

For many years, he has served as an editorial writer for The Criterion and other Catholic newspapers. Dan’s organizational abilities combined with his knowledge of (and love for) the Catholic Church will help guide Marian University as we plan for the future, and work to strengthen all aspects of our service to parishes, schools and Catholic institutions in Indiana and beyond.

In the spirit of St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (“From the Heart of the Church”), Marian University seeks to continue, and grow, its ability to provide leaders for the Church and for society who are women and men of wisdom and integrity.

To be successful, we rely on the intercession of our patrons, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, and Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. We also give thanks for our collaboration with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and the pastors, Catholic school leaders, and agency directors of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. May we do God’s will always!

(Daniel Elsener is president of Marian University in Indianapolis.)

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