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The Lilly Vocation Discernment Initiative

Historic Grant will allow students to reflect on values and the future

By Phyllis Hanlon

Lilly grantAfter years of reflection, planning and hard work, Holy Cross recently announced the largest single foundation grant in the College's history. The Lilly Endowment Inc. recently awarded Holy Cross a $2 million grant with which the College will implement the Lilly Vocation Discernment Initiative, a five-year plan to promote its Jesuit mission of intellectual enrichment, service to others and spiritual growth.

Gretchen Wolfram, communications department director for the Lilly Endowment, explains the purpose behind the disbursement. "This initiative encourages liberal arts schools to consider ways in which to help students make career decisions based on a number of factors, namely, faith, values and religion," says Wolfram. "A lot of decisions are made in college, so this is when you want to promote this kind of thinking."

Holy Cross takes that purpose seriously. According to Charles S. Weiss, director of the office of grants and corporate and foundation giving, the College invested great thought while crafting the award-winning grant. "Every relevant department and staff member had input. A massive amount of information and opinion was collected," he says. A committee comprising academic affairs, the Chaplains' Office, student affairs and the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture shaped an initial draft.

Weiss notes that in fine-tuning the grant, the mission of the College, as expressed by valedictorian Ryan Collar at the 2001 graduation ceremony, was most apt in conveying the message that the Jesuit purpose is to find God in all things, and that one's years at the school should be spent in serious reflection.

"I recall listening to Ryan's speech last year, while we were putting the proposal together," says Weiss, "and it occurred to me that his words were a fine embodiment of what we're all about."

"I believe the Jesuit ideal of Holy Cross sets it apart from other schools of high academic standing," said Collar on graduation day. "We are an intimate community; we share daily celebrations of prayer; we reach out to the homeless, hungry, abused and forgotten ... We are constantly reminded of the Jesuit ideal to be for others. Truly, both this mission rooted in service and the academic element of our College inform and enhance the other, together providing us with far more than a typical education—they have given us direction as well, a design for what we might do with our acquired knowledge and the power it entails."

Serendipitous Timing

According to Weiss, the grant from the Lilly Endowment arrived at a momentous time in Holy Cross history. He notes four important developments at the College that coincided with the timing of the grant opportunity:

  • The arrival of a new president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., who came to campus determined to ignite a dialogue about basic human questions: What is the moral character of learning and teaching? How do we find meaning in life and history? What are our obligations to one another? What is our special responsibility to the world's poor and powerless? "One top priority of Fr. McFarland's presidency," says Weiss, "is to preserve the Jesuit nature of Holy Cross."
  • The inauguration of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture, housed in the newly dedicated Carol and Park B. Smith Hall. The purpose of this critically important Center is to translate into action the commitments set forth in our Mission Statement, that grow out of Holy Cross' distinctive role as a Jesuit liberal arts college. The Center will provide leadership, organization and a welcoming home for an impressive array of new initiatives and programs aimed at fostering inter-religious, interdisciplinary, intercultural and international dialogue.
  • The kick-off of the College's most ambitious capital campaign, "Lift High the Cross." The campaign will advance the College's mission by providing new physical resources, personnel and programming funds. The prestige of the grant provides an external validation that will signal to donors the potential that the Lilly Endowment sees in the essential, transformative role the College can effect, given the necessary resources.
  • The sweeping change now occurring in the College's faculty. Last year, under a one-time incentive plan, 23 faculty members retired. "These faculty understood Holy Cross well," says Weiss. "They helped to shape the College's culture. We have to ask ourselves who will fill these new academic positions. The Lilly grant will be an important tool in the recruitment process. It helps to inform potential professors who we are and what we do."


Four cornerstones form the foundation of the project: 1). First-year student orientation and community-wide, mission-oriented convocations; 2). Curricular projects and courses on reflective practice and vocational discernment; 3). Faculty and staff development on reflective practice and vocational discernment; and 4). Spiritual formation and ministerial service, including programs to serve an increasingly diverse community.

The Office of Student Affairs, led by Jacqueline D. Peterson, vice president and dean of students, is charged with implementing programs associated with the first cornerstone. "We are looking at strategies to introduce students to leadership development from the first year on," she says. "We want to teach the students good decision making, reflective thinking, civic responsibility and service to others. Our role is to encourage and reinforce the Ignatian ideal outside of the classroom."

Holy Cross' recently implemented Gateways program offers summer and fall orientations to new students wrapped around the theme of "Live the mission," and may also play a pivotal role in reinforcing the leadership component, according to Peterson. "We'd like students to be able to see clearly and articulate the wholeness of their educational experience," she says. "Students tend to compartmentalize the college experience. Our role is to help students make the connections between the ongoing areas of life. As we begin, this is a program. It will become an educational process, a part of the fabric of the full curriculum."

The second and third cornerstones of the initiative concentrate on innovation in the curriculum and faculty and staff development. Special retreats that address the question, How then shall we live?, as well as many other such queries, will investigate ways to incorporate the College's mission statement into the curriculum. Faculty members will be encouraged to integrate reflective practice into their course work. Stephen C. Ainlay, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, says, "Students are so busy pursuing course work and outside-of-class-activities, there's a short supply of time to reflect on personal transformation and understand those changes. This grant will provide the structure for that kind of thinking."

With the retirement of 23 faculty members, Holy Cross intends to replace those teachers as well as add as many as 25 additional positions. New faculty will be exposed to expanded orientation programs and more in-depth involvement with academic vocation as well as growing opportunities to mentor, attend retreats and obtain spiritual direction. "This dramatically improved student-faculty ratio will allow faculty more time to spend with students, giving them the opportunities for directed research under supervision," says Ainlay.

Rooted in the Ignatian tradition, the fourth cornerstone speaks to spirituality, service and ministry. Katherine M. McElaney '76, director of the Office of College Chaplains, identifies three distinct parts of the grant on which her office will focus. One major initiative is the development of 22 summer internships targeted for service and ministry. McElaney explains that 10 students will undertake service internships coordinated under Students for Urban Development (SPUD) and will receive a stipend. "We proposed a high stipend to make the ministries and service internships more commensurate with other internships on campus," says McElaney. "We wanted to be able to give the students a decent wage so their summer earnings wouldn't take precedence." Twelve students will engage in ministerial internships: two contemplating the priesthood, two non-Catholics interested in pursing some type of Christian ministry and eight Catholics seeking work in ministerial apostolate. "Our hope is to help 22 students discern more seriously the meaning of work and their future direction," says McElaney. "All internships will include a reflective component."

The "Got dreams?" sessions will provide fourth-year students the opportunity to explore questions that have particular significance as they prepare for life after college, such as "What are my dreams?" "Who am I?" "How does God fit into all of this?" The program is designed to assemble all the pieces of the students' Holy Cross experience as they graduate and assume roles in the Church and in life, according to McElaney. "These students need to see how family, faith and work coalesce."

Lilly Vocation Fellow

Under the terms of the grant, Elizabeth Johns, professor emerita of art history at the University of Pennsylvania, will become Lilly Vocation Fellow. She will direct seminars at the end of each semester as well as days of reflection and various prayer series. "Holy Cross will get a richer and more explicit combination of intellectual life and faith life," she says. "The major purpose of the grant is to address vocation in the largest sense. Live your life in the light of faith, whether it be business or medicine or homemaking," she says. "Your work expresses your faith. This initiative is so wonderfully congruent with the Holy Cross mission statement. It's the fundamental meaning at the heart of the courses we teach."

Adhering to the Ignatian spirituality that is integral to Holy Cross, according to David J. O'Brien, Loyola Professor of Roman Catholic Studies, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture and, also, project director for the Lilly Grant, is a highlight of the grant. "This will enrich the Jesuit tradition of the College," he says, adding that the universal applicability of the techniques of discernment will enable students to determine how faith, values and social responsibility fit into their life decisions.

Weiss agrees and points, once again, to Ryan Collar's valedictory address. "Ryan wished for his classmates a 'life principle, a calling, a standard that might give a spiritual purpose to all of our distinct ambitions,'" recalls Weiss. "I think the Lilly Grant will be instrumental in helping us make that wish a reality for our students."


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