Servants of the Heart of Jesus
The heart of Sitzmann Hall is the chapel. Every day, dozens of students greet our Lord when they arrive to study, attend classes, or pray a holy hour. After all, Catholic Studies is not just a degree; it is about knowing and loving Christ.
While most students leave Catholic studies to bring Christ to the workplace or family life after graduation, the Lord is calling some alumni to follow a different path. In fact, more than 200 former students of Catholic Studies serve the Church throughout the world in 51 dioceses or religious orders. (See the full list.)
An elder is Nick Vance ’18. When he started college, Catholicism felt like a set of rules for Vance; but after his first class in Catholic studies, he began to recognize the freedom found in his faith. Like many others, Vance began to realize that the Church – although it can be perceived as a dark and oppressive cathedral – contains within it great space, depth and light. Catholic studies taught him to find Christ in the Church and in “ten thousand places”, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. Every course he took gave him a “wide angle view” to pursue the Lord with all his being. “It’s not just an academic program,” he explained. “It’s a way of life.”
Now in his fourth year of priestly formation at St. Paul Seminary, Vance brings his training in Catholic studies to theology class. He remembered the first thing from one of his teachers, Dr. Christopher Thompson, told the class, “Gentlemen, if you want to do good theology, you have to fall in love and take careful notes. Love is at the very center of good theology, and as Vance said, “It’s not just good theology, it’s Catholic studies.”
Love and good theology also led two 2019 graduates into consecrated life. Catherine Wessel and Katherine “Kat” Kennedy both entered the Sisters of Mary Morning Star, an uncloistered contemplative community located in the small town of Ghent, Minnesota. These holy women devote their lives to the pursuit of wisdom by studying theology and philosophy, making homemade products in workshops, and worshiping our Lord for hours in silent prayer. Catherine, a current novice awaiting her religious habit and name, and Kat, now called Sister Zita (meaning “seeker”), credit Catholic studies with having awakened in them a desire for truth.
A pivotal experience for Catherine was her semester in Rome in 2017, where she fell in love with the universality of the Church: “I feel I can better offer my life for the Church, after seeing Rome… I know what I have I offer my life as a contemplative. But it’s not just Rome that gives him a purpose. “Knowing that Catholic studies exist is really encouraging,” she explained. “It urges me to live my contemplative life more fully, knowing in faith that it will bear fruit in the lives of those who are in the world to study and witness to the truth in an apostolic way.” Catherine’s prayers now support the very place that formed her vocation.
Zita knew that when entering her semester in Rome in 2019, she would be moving to Ghent after returning to the United States. The Life in the Rome program was for her a “time of confirmation” where students have many opportunities for prayer and daily Mass as they attend classes imbued with the love of the Lord.
“Happiness is a real thing and it’s found in Christ,” Zita proclaimed confidently – a lesson she learned in her very first class at Sitzmann Hall. “I really didn’t know that before [Catholic studies]but the truth is unbelievable… the one we seek to know is a person.
Another former student of Catholic studies who entered religious life is Sister Agnès Pia (Kathryn Horlocker ’14 CSMA). Although she studied civil engineering in college, she moved to Minnesota to begin a graduate degree in Catholic studies and discern her calling. Here she met the Servants of the Heart of Jesus, a local order with many ties to Catholic studies, including their founder, Mother Mary Clare (Claire Roufs ’01). After a year of higher education, Pia entered the Servants and later returned to complete her master’s degree.
When writing her master’s thesis, Pia chose a subject she knew well: architecture. While reading Saint John of the Cross, Pia remembered a Gothic architecture class she had taken as an undergraduate. Deep caverns, darkness, and light certainly abound in Gothic spaces. With a true spirit of Catholic studies, Pia merged the two to explore how chapel designs can reflect the union of the soul with God. “The space informs the person,” she said. Similarly, the Catholic studies community trains its students.
Cullen Hilliker ’20, a Dominican friar in his second year of training with the Order of Preachers, also attributes much of his training to Catholic studies. Now called Brother Joseph Cullen, his decision to enter religious life surprised many. Almost engaged and aligned with a job at NASA, Cullen heard the call of the Lord and left everything to follow Christ. The community he found in Catholic studies shaped his desire to grow in holiness and genuine friendship, as he witnessed in his peers and teachers. Along with the “horarium,” or schedule, of classes, events, and liturgy, Catholic studies are fertile ground for structure, good habits, and virtue. The program cultivates not only his faith, but his very life.
Cullen remembered his lifelong friends and his home in Catholic studies: “Sitzmann Hall became like a little house to me,” he said.
The heart of Catholic studies is still a home for these graduates and so many others.