The Seat of Wisdom

  • Pursuing the Vision: Preparing Transformative Leaders for Service to the World

    Apr 17, 2015

    By Daniel J. Elsener, President of Marian University

    If there is one lesson Marian University has learned from the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana and their “courage to venture,” it is to pursue our vision, be steadfast in faith and values, and be strategic in action.

    Here is our vision: To provide an education distinguished in its ability to prepare transformative leaders for service to the world. Fundamental to this vision is the belief that scientists, artists, business people, health care, and other professionals can be positive, transformational leaders in their chosen fields and in all walks of life. This focus influences the nature and substance of all our academic and co-curricular programs, university policies, and marketing and recruitment communications to potential students and collaborators in our vision.

    Here are the three pillars on which a vision for transformational leadership must rest:

    Pillar One: Exceptional Academic Programs
    To successfully prepare students to be transformational leaders, academic programs must be exceptional. Toward this end, we must:

    1. Ensure every student’s education is rooted in a strong curriculum of liberal arts and a commitment to integral Marian University values;
    2. Recruit and retain outstanding faculty who are highly educated, adroitly skilled, and dedicated to teaching; engaged in research related to being an exceptional professor; committed to the development of students; and,
    3. Demonstrate innovative teaching that promotes engaged learning and use of the best practices and technology to advance the speed, depth, and enjoyment of learning.

    Pillar Two: Vibrant Campus Experience
    A dynamic, culturally-engaged campus is essential to a university culture that promotes leadership. On this vibrant campus, co-curricular student life programs will be offered that include, but are not limited to: mentoring, internships, speakers, athletics, campus ministry, and performing arts. Dedication to the university’s values by the faculty and staff who help oversee these efforts will be key to pursuing this element of the vision with success.

    Pillar Three: Building Character
    A process designed to build character, based on the Catholic Franciscan tradition and the sponsorship values on which Marian University was founded, should be intertwined with traditional academic courses and all programs. Other institutions can work to build character in various ways. But because of our strong faith tradition, Marian University ought to be truly distinct in its ability to prepare students as they become transformative leaders in the professions and communities in which they will serve.

    Alumni will recall the official Marian University seal: sedes sapientiae (seat of wisdom). Staying true to our vision means being a seat of wisdom university dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our patroness. Please pray for us, the entire Marian University community, as we seek to educate leaders for service to the world!

  • Seat of Wisdom: The Lenten Season: a time of Purification and Enlightenment

    Mar 03, 2015

    By Art Canales, Associate Professor of Theology, Marian University

    The six-week liturgical season of Lent is a time when each Christian is called to journey with Jesus in a much more serious manner than the rest of the liturgical year. Lent does not have to be a “downer,” it is not meant to be the season of “gloom and doom,” but one of joy. The word “lent” actually means “springtime,” and spring is a time when many people find good reason to celebrate with great joy. After all winter’s snow is melting away, the cold weather is breaking, and the days are becoming longer and sunnier. The season of Lent allows Christians to deepen their commitment to God as they strive to develop a deeper and meaningful personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, Lent should not be the season of moping around; it should be a season where one “gets right with God.” According to liturgical theologian Kevin W. Irwin, “Lent is an annual pilgrimage, an annual retreat, an annual time for stock-taking and soul-searching about the meaning of the Christian life” (Irwin, Lent: A Guide to the Eucharist and Hours, 1990; 1).


    Originally, Lent or the “Easter Penitential Period” was an eight-week fast—individuals took only a single daily meal in the evening—immediately following the Feast of the Epiphany. Moreover, Lent was typically a period of baptismal preparation for those people—catechumens—who were going to be baptized on Easter Sunday, the traditional and only day for baptisms—Pentecost in some areas—during the first four centuries of Christianity. The earliest Christian document which describes baptismal preparation and instruction is the Apostolic Tradition ascribed to Hippolytus of Rome dated around 215 C.E., and by 375 C.E., the practice of six Sunday's of Lent was already established as normative in the Western church. Furthermore, Lent included as one of its primary focuses, the final stages of those who are preparing to become fully initiated into the Christian community at the Great Easter Vigil—the evening before Easter Sunday. Those catechumens, who have been part of a one-year to three-year catechumenal preparation process, known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, prepared to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Today, the Catholic and Orthodox churches are the churches that still practice this ancient process of fully initiating individuals into the People of God.


    There are no direct biblical references to the season of Lent; however, the sacred Scriptures, which are proclaimed during the Sundays during Lent, are rich in symbolism and spirituality. Although Scripture passages dealing with personal purification and enlightenment are part of the liturgical year or Christian calendar, which rotates the Scripture readings on a three-year cycle. The three-year cycles are as follows: Cycle A: 2014, 2017, 2020; Cycle B: 2015, 2018, 2021; Cycle C: 2016, 2019, 2022 etc., in the ecumenical or Common Lectionary. Biblically, there are three sacred stories or biblical narratives, which are accounts of Jesus' public ministry and all appear in the Gospel of John. Most liturgically-minded Christian churches proclaim these pericopes or “slices of Scripture,” in succession on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. They are so powerful and spiritual they may be proclaimed every year.

    Why are these three gospel stories so powerful?

    1. The first narrative is about the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Jesus challenges the woman to be thirsty for a different drink, a drink that only God can grant. During the encounter, the woman begins to understand the meaning of coming to faith and living water. For Christians today, the passage is equally challenging and deserves individual introspection. Jesus is saying to us: “Where are you thirsty in your life? What area of your life needs to be quenched with God's living water?”

    2. The second story is about the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Jesus was not joking when he said, “I am the light of the world… and came to give sight to those who cannot see.” The point of this text is simple, but profound; Jesus comes to offer enlightenment and to give hope to a people and world living in darkness, both spiritual and literal darkness due to sin and inadequate faith in God. Jesus words should also penetrate our contemporary Christian complacency as well: Where are we blind in our lives? What area of our lives needs God's illuminating light? What darkness needs light shed upon it in our sinful and selfish lives?

    3. The third account is the climax of John's gospel and is about the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). Although the resuscitation of Lazarus is a momentous miracle and is the culmination of Jesus' earthly ministry, it is not the ultimate purpose of Jesus' ministry. In actuality, Jesus did not do Lazarus a favor by bringing him back to life. Lazarus still has to go through the death and dying process again, that is, die a second time. Keep in mind, however, that just because a person is brought back from the grave does not necessarily guarantee they will be closer to God than those who have not yet died. Jesus demonstrates to the world through the raising of Lazarus that he came to give life—eternal life—that cannot be touched by or taken away from by death; therefore, death is not final. Again, Jesus here too, challenges his followers, then and now, to new life. What area of our lives needs to be raised from the dead? What area of your life is dead or dying? What part of your life needs resuscitation?

    These are three powerful passages that deserve serious meditation during Lent, a time that is heighten by prayer, fasting, contemplation, and outreach. However, the author of the Fourth Gospel wants his readers—you and I—to get engaged with his stories and have them encounter our lives and empower our spirituality. The spiritual ramifications for Lent looms large because the season is geared for helping people become more attuned to God as they make a personal journey of purification and enlightenment.


    Lent is a time of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season of Lent has two essential elements that are especially characteristic of the Lenten journey. First, is the recalling and recommitment of our baptismal vows and/or the actual preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism to be celebrated at the Great Easter Vigil Mass. Second, is the penitential nature of the season should be overwhelmingly highlighted with greater emphasis on prayer, Scripture studying, fasting, celebrating various forms of worship, and growing in spirituality and holiness. All of these rituals will create a deeper focus on our true priorities during this poignant penitential period.

    Lent is not merely about “giving something up,” but about deepening our commitment and personal relationship with God. Although Lenten themes embrace self-denial and avoidance of sin, the greater emphasis is on metanoia: “A radical change of mind and heart and a total turning away from sin and the world to embrace God” (Canales, “The Nicodemus Narrative,” The Living Light, 2002; p. 25). And this of course is through living Christian discipleship. Several Christian traditions maintain that Christians should go without certain luxuries during Lent in order to highlight the sacrificial aspect of Lent. In the early Church, Christians were expected to go without meat and wine, milk and eggs as a form of fasting, and without sexual intercourse among married persons as a form of abstinence. Then, and today, Christians view fasting as a way of preparing for the reception of the Holy Spirit, and as a powerful weapon in the fight against evil spirits. Pragmatically, however, I suggest that Christians add something to their lives during Lent, not necessarily drop something. For instance, donate some of your weekly groceries to a needy family, donate clothing to a particular charity, participate in a service project with an organization, visit an elderly home or veterans hospital, read a chapter of Bible each day, and/or attend a weekend spiritual retreat, the possibilities are limitless. Lent should drive us to become a better people, individually and communally.

    Furthermore, another interesting point that most Catholics are unaware of is that the six Sundays during the season of Lent are not counted among the forty days of Lent because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter,” a celebration of Jesus’ triumphant victory over sin and death. After all Sundays are meant for celebration because we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, thus Sundays are not designed to be laden with suffering and penance.


    Lent is the first part of the paschal cycle that prepares Christians for the Day of the Resurrection—Easter Sunday. Lent extends from Ash Wednesday [February 18 this year] until the evening of Maundy Thursday—the English name taken from the Latin phrase linked to the ceremony of foot-washing mandatum novum or “new command”—and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Holy or Maundy Thursday begins the second part of paschal cycle known as the Triduum, the three holiest days of the Church Calendar—Holy Thursday [April 2], Good Friday [April 3], and Holy Saturday [April 4]. The Triduum is also the shortest liturgical season of the Christian calendar.

    Regarding the beginning of Lent—Ash Wednesday—is a universal day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence. Although Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics, it is strongly encouraged and might as well be since most parishes “swell up” and “overflow” with Catholic faithful who participate in this annual holy day. The liturgical season of Lent comprises of six consecutive weeks, which make up the Lenten season beginning numerically with the “First Sunday of Lent” and concluding with the “Sixth Sunday of Lent,” liturgically referred to as Passion Sunday. The Sixth Sunday of Lent is actually called “Passion” Sunday and not “Palm” Sunday, the more colloquial name. The rationale for “passion” is that all of the Scripture proclamations for Passion Sunday deal with the passion of Jesus, not handing out palm branches (Matthew 26:14-27,66; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 18:28-40). The liturgical celebration concentrates on the salvation and redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through suffering, dying, and rising and accentuates the solemn Eucharistic acclamation, which stands at the center of the Christian faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

    Another fact about the Lenten season is the liturgical color of purple, which is color of the priest’s liturgical vestments, and altar linens, and decorations throughout church-communities. Purple also symbolizes pain, suffering, mourning, and of course, penance. Moreover, the color purple is used during the season of Lent because the Bible tells us that the Roman Procurator Pontus Pilate and his soldiers placed a purple robe on Jesus, just before his crucifixion: “They put on him a purple robe (Mark 15:16-20). And, the Fourth Gospel proclaims, “Then they said, hail, king of the Jews!” as they placed a purple robe on Jesus (John 19:1-5). Furthermore, purple is a penitential color, and although associated with royalty that is not its primary purpose. Traditionally purple has also been used for Advent and is still used in the majority of Catholic churches; however, navy blue is replacing purple for Advent in many Protestant churches and Catholic churches in Europe.


    Lent has been a period of repentance and reconciliation. Lent is a time for Christians to get right with God and to struggle and wrestle with their own Christian spirituality, or lack of spirituality. Lent provides the Christian community with an excellent opportunity for conversion. Lent allows us to offer confession of our sins to God, to make contrition with God, and rejoice in the celebration of God’s unconditional grace and love for humanity. All three: confession, contrition, and celebration are part of the Christian journey during Lent. This is one reason that the majority of Christian denominations offer reconciliation or penance services during the season of Lent or provide some type of healing service during Lent.

    Moreover, Lent allows God to prune-away at our lives; that we might be changed to reflect more adequately the light of the kingdom of God, which dispels communal and personal darkness. Finally, Lent is a day-by-day process, one that mirrors our Christian journey, but it also provides us with an excellent opportunity to turn away from sin and the world and embrace God: wholeheartedly, without reservation, and in confidence. Therefore, God’s call during the season of Lent is to believe, proclaim, and live the Good News of Jesus the Christ, but not only for six weeks—forever.

    This essay was originally published in two parts in the Herald Times Reporter, the local newspaper of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, but has been reproduced and reprinted every year since in various pastoral settings.

    1. Arthur D. Canales, “Lent: Getting Right with God.” Herald Times Reporter, (Friday, February 1) 2002, A10-A11.

    2. Arthur D. Canales, “Christians Prepare for Jesus’ Resurrection During Lent.” Herald Times Reporter, (Friday, February 15) 2002, A7-A8.

  • "Make Us One" presented at the Ecumenical Prayer Service

    Aug 29, 2014

    Faith leaders at prayer for peace

    By:  Daniel Conway, Senior Vice President for Mission, Identity, and Planning
    Delivered on August 19, 2014

    "Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works." (CCC #198)

    We believe in one God. We believe that we are all God’s children regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, economic or social status, religious preference, or political philosophy. We are all members of the one family of God.

    We believe that God’s family includes all those who profess to hold the faith of Abraham—Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Together we adore the one, merciful God, the Creator and the ultimate destiny of all humankind, who calls us to be united with him on the last day. (cf. CCC #861)

    Unity in diversity is what God calls us to accomplish in his name. God himself is one, wholly undivided, and complete unto himself. But God is not isolated or alone. God’s very nature is to be in relationship with others in the divine communion that is the Blessed Trinity and in the constant outpouring of his love and grace. We do not understand the mystery of God, but we accept the call to: Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength.

    So, with our Jewish brothers and sisters, we pray:

    Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.

    So, with all Christians, we pray in the words of Jesus:

    Our Father, who art in heaven,
    Hallowed be thy Name.
    Thy Kingdom come.
    Thy will be done on earth,
    As it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our trespasses,
    As we forgive those who trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    But deliver us from evil.
    For thine is the kingdom,The power, and the glory,
    Now and for ever.

    So, with our Muslim sisters and brothers, we proclaim:

    "I testify that (there is) no god except Allah (God); One is He, no partner has He, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger."

    So, in the spirit of our Franciscan sponsorship values:

    • We respect the dignity of every person—especially those who are poor, infirm, vulnerable and on the margins of society.
    • We work for justice and peace—in the Middle East, in the Ukraine, in Korea and Africa, on our southern border and in every corner of the world where there is hatred, hostility and in humanity.
    • We forgive those who have harmed us—in our homes and families, in our residence halls, and throughout the world.
    • We commit to being responsible stewards of all the gifts we have received from the one God, the Creator and Gracious Lord who is the true source of everything we have and everything we are as members of his family.

    Mary (مريم Marīam in Arabic), a Jewish woman, the mother of Jesus, is considered one of the most righteous women in the Islamic tradition. She is mentioned more in the Quran than in the entire New Testament and is also the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. No other woman is given more attention than Mary and the Quran states that Mary was chosen above all women.

    So, we pray for the intercession of Mary, daughter of Zion, Mother of Jesus and the most righteous woman in the Islamic tradition. Holy Mary, help us to be one with all our brothers and sisters. Help us to be women and men of peace and reconciliation. Help us to reverence the dignity of each individual and to be responsible stewards of all God’s creation.

    So, we pray to the God of Abraham who is worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims:

    Loving God, make us one in you. Forgive us our sins. Show us the way to true and lasting peace—in our personal lives, our communities, and our world. Give us courage, strength, and hope so that we will be faithful leaders, and trusted servants, committed to making a difference in our world in your name.


  • Seat of Wisdom: From the Heart of the Church

    Aug 27, 2014

    By: Daniel J. Elsener, President of Marian University

    The official motto of Marian University is Sedes Sapientiae, which means 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 University.

    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 (Luke 2:19, 51).

    Mary ShrineAt 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 in which we live.

    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, 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 year-long 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 University 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.

    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!

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