Creating Leaders of Faith

by Alexander Pierre | Aug 27, 2014

By Mark Erdosy, Director of San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi’s quote is great encouragement as we begin our twelfth year in the “Rebuild My Church” Program.

When the program started in 2003, the goal was to intentionally recruit, educate, and form future priests, religious, lay ecclesial ministers, and help all of our students, faculty, and staff find their life’s work through exploring their beliefs. To transform the campus culture, it was necessary to recruit a core group of students, faculty, and staff to be “leaven” on campus.

During Mass on the weekend of July 16, I was struck by two familiar parables in Matthew’s gospel comparing what the kingdom of heaven is like. The first is the mustard seed—the smallest of all seeds that in time becomes a large bush. The second is leaven mixed with three measures of wheat. I found myself thinking of the disciples gathered in the upper room and the 15 or so men and women who gathered monthly when the “Rebuild My Church” Program began 12 years ago.

Many times we left meetings after asking and dialoguing amongst ourselves, “What do we do next?” I’m sure the first disciples in the upper room might have asked that of themselves, “Lord, to whom do we go next?” I know as a gardener, baker, and formator the necessity of not only having the right ingredients, but even more importantly of being patient. As a formator I have learned faith always starts small and evolves like my cucumber plants or a loaf of bread.

Where do we see the growth of our program? The San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership has almost tripled its enrollment in the last decade. We have record enrollment again this year. There will be nearly 120 San Damiano Scholars from around the United States, plus our first international student Paula Angarita. She comes from Columbia and wants to be a youth minister when she graduates in 2018.

This past January, we hired Patrick Verhiley to expand our recruiting base. Besides being a man of deep faith, he is a Marian College alumnus. Moreover, he was a member of our very first San Damiano Scholar class. While the program has changed since he was a student, what hasn’t changed is the commitment to recruiting high-caliber students passionate about deepening their faith and preparing themselves to be transformational leaders.

San DamianoOur alumni are ministering in close to 20 dioceses across the country. Rev. Mr. Eric Boelscher, was ordained a transitional deacon in April 2014 for the diocese of Covington. He is our first alumnus to be ordained. Five other men are attending seminaries in the United States and at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy. On August 14, Sr. Mary Gemma Kissel, FSMG will profess her final vows as a Franciscan Sister of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois. One other alumnus, Brother Jason Salisbury, OFM Cap ’10, continues in temporary vows with the Detroit Province of the Capuchin Friars. Vocations to married life abound. This year, more than 20 San Damiano Scholar alumni got engaged or were married.

St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi are models of what transformative leaders can look like in the 21st Century. In June 2015, our sophomore San Damiano Scholars will make a 14-day pilgrimage to Assisi, Venice, and Rome. The pilgrimage will help steep the students further in the Franciscan intellectual and spiritual traditions as it relates to the call of leadership.

Leaders who integrate their well-balanced religious values into their leadership are needed now more than ever. St. Teresa of Avila summarized our task well in her poem “Christ Has No Body.” In effect, she says we are to become Christ’s body, hands, feet, and eyes, but ours.

This is precisely how we are forming college-aged young adults through the San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership. We are forming leaders who are well-prepared intellectually, spiritually, and pastorally. Their callings are discerned through prayer, sacraments, service to others, and study of lives of the Saints and other great spiritual masters.

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*Placement rates are gathered from data collected from graduates within six months of graduation.