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Catholic mentors at Michigan colleges and universities

As a Catholic, I thought I was part of a minority on campus at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

I knew that Sister Lucia, O.P. a Dominican nun in the writing department who traversed campus in her habit was Catholic, but I was unaware of any Catholic professors until my junior year at Grand Valley State University. With this being said, I can’t explain my excitement when my journalism professor casually mentioned attending Mass or when my college dean opened up about his Catholic journey.

Over the next few weeks, I received clues that other faculty and administrators were Catholic. After consulting with Joe Hogan—a fellow Lansing Catholic alumnus turned GVSU Laker—I decided that this community should not exist in disconnected rings, but should unite.

For this reason, we established an intercollegiate mentor program promoting constructive fellowship and practice of the faith with our professors.

With about 50 professors and administrators committed to interacting with students on a faith-level, GVSU’s chapter of the Catholic Professional Mentor Program is kicking off this fall. The group will connect Catholic students with professors in their disciplines to allow them to feel comfortable discussing discernment matters and to work through what appear to be contradictions between the Church and academia.

“Being a Catholic Christian with a Ph.D. carries a special responsibility, in this cultural setting, to help young people to recognize that there is no necessary conflict between a life of faith and the pursuit of higher learning,” said Paul Cornish, Catholic political science professor at GVSU.

Imagine when not one, but 50 professors embrace this responsibility. Fortified with the knowledge of a Catholic network, my peers will understand that it’s not only acceptable, but doable and rewarding to practice Catholicism while delving into the world of academia.

An announcement at the student parish generated considerable student interest, but the mentees aren’t the only ones anticipating the opportunity. “I was very excited about the idea of a mentoring program on campus at GVSU,” Professor Cornish said. “As tenured faculty, I have a primary professional responsibility to provide service to the university. Since I have come to GVSU I have always found it rather difficult to find time to do service for the Catholic Church without cutting into my professional schedule or the time I share with my wife and two daughters. In that sense, the mentoring program can be a great blessing for me.”

Because public institutions forbid explicit proselytizing in the classroom, the mentoring program provides professors an appropriate outlet to express their faith without having to detach themselves from their academic lives. It also gives them a chance to consider Catholicism in the context of their discipline, recognize ways to contribute to the Church using their expertise, and network and collaborate with like-minded professionals.

Joe and I devised a fall 2013 lecture series, which already has a line-up of six professors from political science, writing, biomedical science, tourism and hospitality, English and Spanish. These experts will present on various topics from the Church’s views on evolution to the spiritual linking of food.

For more information about joining the organization or establishing Catholic mentor groups on other campuses, contact Lizzy Balboa at