Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, May 12, 2006

School Days

A few days ago a commenter asked if Darwin and I would talk a bit about our experience at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I meant to do so right away, but things got wacky (or wackier), but here I am now, Anonymous -- I didn't forget you, I promise!

I can't offer any "celebrity" stories: I never met Scott Hahn or took any of his classes; I was never stuck in the elevator with Fr. Michael Scanlon; the only theology classes I took were on the Austrian campus (and those, by the way, were very good). However, I can report that it is possible to get a very good education even at a second-tier institution if you put your mind to it. Both Darwin and I were in extremely small majors -- he was one of two majors to graduate in Classics his year, and I was English with a Drama concentration with five other students. (The school has since added a Drama major, but the concentration was intensive enough to effectively be its own department.) Our professors were dedicated and thorough, and communicated a love of their chosen field that was informed by their faith. Overall, I'd rate our classroom experiences very highly.

The thing about going to a strongly Catholic college like Steubenville is that, while you don't have to deal with productions of the Vagina Monologues or dorm staff handing out fruit flavored condoms as party favors, the fact that everyone is Catholic (and most of them pretty faithful Catholics at that) means that all of the campus political struggles are family quarrels. On the other hand, having the quarrels be between basically faithful Catholics (at least most of the time) allows one to relax and think, "At least we're all Catholic." Darwin has been known to say that one of his primary reasons for picking Steubenville over a secular college is that, while he thought he'd successfully retain his faith at a secular college, he was afraid that in such an adverse environment he'd become increasingly bitter and reactionary, and end up condemning more than he actually had to just in an effort to stave off the ravening hordes. And instead of staving off ravening hordes, he met me, and that's ended up much more pleasantly.

One thing that often struck me about Steubenville was that Academia and Student Life were competing with each other for the heart and soul of the school. On the one hand, I believe that there's been a push to make Steubenville more of an academic powerhouse, and most of the professors I dealt with were serious about their subjects and about expecting a level of maturity and committment from students. On the other, Student Life played Spiritual Big Brother, relishing the parent-protector role to excess . Those who attended Steubenville during the same years we did will no doubt remember the flap about placing large windows in the doors of the common rooms, one of the few places on campus where members of the opposite sex could sit together with any degree of privacy. Perhaps someone's virtue was protected by this move; many dating couples found that it put a large amount of stress into their relationships by removing the one sanctuary from the inquisitorial glance of the small religious institution. Or, to give a lesser example, the affair of the kiosks -- brought in to better regulate student postings; removed because they became a standing practical joke and started reappearing in odd locations.

The prevailing spiritual atmosphere of Steubenville in the 80s and 90s was charismatic. I believe that was beginning to shift by the time we arrived. Many more students were becoming interested more traditional and less demonstrative forms of worship, and most of the professors I knew were actively against the excessive emotionalism bred by the charismatic style. (There's another example of the dichotomy between Steubenville's religious reputation as a Charismatic center and the trend toward a more academic identity.) The once a month Latin Mass was well-attended and the Sunday evening Vespers service was also very popular. Darwin and I, along with many other older students, went to Sunday Mass at St. Peter's, the downtown church attended by many professors and their families.

I don't at all regret attending Steubenville (though at the time Darwin and I often chafed under the more juvenile restrictions of campus life). Those who just want a four-year retreat and less focus on academics can certainly find that experience there. But especially in the smaller departments there's a combination of personal attention, academic rigor, and Catholic formation that makes for an excellent education for those who willing to pursue one.

Addendum: if any FUS grads want to agree, disagree, or offer their own experiences, please do, if only for the sake of our anonymous friend in Ypsilanti who wanted to know. :)


Anonymous said...

Hey Cat!
I know you might not remember me....I lived on 4th floor with you at Tommy More. I have a page on xanga and I have "met" Cindy through her blog and she had a link to your blog. After I read the Steubenville entry, I had to dig through to see if I can see who it was and I saw your picture! Congrats on your newest baby, your family is beautiful!! And, now you probably think I'm crazy!

mrsdarwin said...

Nonsense! Crazy would be if you said, "You know, I always loved those kiosks..."

Always glad to hear from old friends. Especially ones who back me up about the common room doors! I suppose I am recognizable from the picture -- what struck me most was that I look like my mom. :)

Anonymous said...

I had Barb's name wrong in my first brain is not with me today! Aren't girls great? :) I secretly want all girls!! When was your second daughter born? My 2 year old is dec. 2003. I can so relate to your experiences at Steubenville! I'm the same way with never meeting the "famous" and only one Theology class, with it being in Austria (Christian marriage with Prof Asci!). I think we were in Austria together. all seems so long ago!

mrsdarwin said...

Christian Marriage was an excellent class, but what I remember most about it was the engaged couple who carried their dominance fights into the questions they asked Prof. Asci

Him: What about obedience? Doesn't a wife have to obey her husband?

Her: But what if the husband commands the wife to do something stupid (shooting a look at him)?

And the single girls who sat in front and gazed dreamily at Prof. Asci (very cute and married with two kids), or the people who wanted to know exactly where the line was between fooling around and mortal sin.

But a very good class.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Thank you so much for your lovely post answering my request! I truly appreciate it! God bless, Anon
ps your description of Christian marriage class is HILARIOUS!

Rick Lugari said...

You people actually pay money to "learn this stuff?

Him: What about obedience? Doesn't a wife have to obey her husband?

Her: But what if the husband commands the wife to do something stupid (shooting a look at him)?

A: Yes, you still have to obey, otherwise it wouldn't be obedience. Besides chicks aren't necessarily qualified to discern what is stupid and what isn't.

or the people who wanted to know exactly where the line was between fooling around and mortal sin.

A: If you when you feel satisfied when your done, you crossed the line. If you feel terribly frustrated, you didn't. ;)

mrsdarwin said...

Ah, Rick, I see you graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Rick Lugari said...

Do you say that because of the wisdon I possess or because of that mess of grammar jumbled?


Billy Valentine said...

Haha. I think this needs to be published in the Gadfly. I don't know if that was around while you were there. Its at least Troubadour worthy.

I love that people were angry with the big windows in the common room. I probably would have led the fight against it, or organized a boycott of the caf or something just to make the administration mad.

Anyway.. I still have 3 years to go and loved my first year, despite all the rules, RAs, and the whole charismatic thing. Steubenville will always be.. Steubenville. God bless it.

Billy Valentine '09
president, FUS CRs

David L Alexander said...


I've attended conferences at FUS, and knew some students there over the years. That's the extent of my connection.

Perhaps you missed the "core cirriculum" wars. Lucky you.

One Latin Mass a month (which was mighty white of them, wasn't it?) does not make for a dramatic shift from the charismatic environment, which from a traditional Catholic viewpoint, can come off as rather obnoxious. I remember my first Mass in the chapel. At the end of the Gloria, the guitars went into some sort of fanfare, and people started mumbling incoherently. I was actually looking for the nearest exits in case there wasn't an exorcist in the house.

Personally, I think the Holy Spirit has better things to do than perform divine parlor tricks. But, hey, that's just me. (Univ of Cincinnati, '78. Go Bearcats!)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not a FUS alum nor have I attended any conferences that use the school's name. However, I am married to an alumnus, and I did join the BITS for a day. ;-)

I am well aware of the school's fine reputation for teaching authentic Catholicism. While I was in college back in Texas, Steubenville was talked about as if it was this glorious place. I remember so many young, naive friends of mine pine for the days when they will go to grad school there and get a Masters in Theology.

I think a scene from the Holy Grail paints the picture best:

[clop clop clop]
And that, my liege, is how we know the earth to be banana-shaped.
This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
Oh, certainly, sir.
Look, my liege!
It's only a model.

I new so many people that looked with awe on Steubenville, as if it were Camelot. Me, I was Patsy. I knew FUS was a good school, especially in regard to Catholic formation, but this "Pie-in-the-Sky" notion that everthing was perfect at Steubenville grated on me like nothing else.

I am thankful for my wife, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and friends who continually prove these "Pie-in-the-Sky" notions to be just that: Pie-in-the-SKy

Pie Iesu domine,
dona eis requiem.

Anonymous said...

I graduated Steubie U in '99. I have two other brothers and two sisters that have also subsequently graduated, and two brothers currently there (there's 13 altogether in the fam). I went back for 2005 grad last year, and the school is perceptibly different. When I was there, there was a definite holier-than-thou vs. cooler-than-thou mentality (I was quite notably the latter), and it carried over into academia, where the latter were bus/acct/sci majors and the rest of the "holy" majors were busy being holy.

I remember the vast majority of my grad class carried a gregarity that was unbelievable. When I was a freshman, me and peers traveled in groups of 10-50 everywhere, and we were critical of succeeding freshman classes for not being groupy.

Being extremely traditional, myself, I found myself finally understanding a commonality between charismatic and traditional: the zeal for the faith.

This post is totally right on; especially about the student life. When I assistant edited the Troubadour in 1998, we mistakenly (!) published minutes of a faculty meeting speaking about the Campus Big Brother mentality; about how it was not only good, but needed. We had to pull that issue.

Right on with your post, Mrs. D.

Darwin said...

Heh. I think I remember that incident with the Troub, Anon. We'd all suspected as much...

Oh, the Core Wars were definately going on while we were there, but we mostly only heard about them from faculty friends -- since so far as I know the university has yet to actually resolve on a core curriculum or even whether to have one. (Personally, I'm a bit skeptical of the project.)

Some masses were getting more traditional while we were there, with the weekly Latin masses as one symptom thereof. But the biggest masses (with the large music groups) were still very charismatic. If you were more on the traditional side, you pretty much needed to get up for the quiet 7am mass or else head into town to St. Peter's where high mass was celebrated full organ, incense and such.

Yeah, sometimes the city on a hill is actually a bit of a silly on a hill. Not a bad place, so long as you remember it's a college inhabited by fallible people, not one of the inner circles of heaven.

Anonymous said...

How good is the graduate theology department? I have heard that they are over focused on Vatican II rather then the whole breath of Catholic tradition and also they have some not so good lecturers. Also Scott Hahn lectures can at times be filled with errors as with others and some people transfer to other colleges regularly such as Christendom Graduate School which is meant to be more orthodox.