Building a Great Catholic University

President Daniel J. ElsenerWhen most of us think about the great cathedrals, we imagine the magnificent architecture and expansive gilded and painted interiors. Some of us may even reflect upon the cathedral’s more pragmatic purposes as the official house or seat of a bishop and faith and social center of the town and surrounding area. Few of us are likely to think about the generations of masons who carefully selected, carved, and laid each stone. We don’t think about the fathers, sons, and grandsons who often worked side by side for 30 years or more to build these great monuments.

In a historical novel by author Ken Follett called The Pillars of the Earth, he recounts the construction of a cathedral in England. Intertwined with the characters’ stories is a lesson for us about how knowledge is shared and grows over time. The skills of the mason and the quality of the construction improved greatly as their methods evolved. Innovation occurred when experienced cathedral-builders from other towns visited and shared their experiences. These masons built incredibly complex and beautiful buildings that still stand today.

The bishops who commissioned the cathedrals, and the stone masons who built them, all had faith, a belief that what they were doing would make a difference, and the commitment to do it well. They expected and planned for a multi-generational project—in many cases, the man who began the cathedral by laying the first course of stone never lived to see its spires. Based on a profound vision, faith, and commitment, they took a long-term view and sustained the effort.

Like those stone cutters, we must take a long-term approach and personal commitment to envision, build, and operate a great Catholic university. We must make a multi-generational commitment to the families who send their children and loved ones to Marian University. Our generous donors and friends invest in this magnanimous vision. Our committed faculty respond to our changing world by developing powerful, relevant curricular and co-curricular programs. As we collaborate, make connections with others and share knowledge, we evolve and grow. Those who seek instant gratification and immediate results cannot build a great university—or a cathedral.

It is our aspiration to continue improving the education and formation of our students, and for them to become an even greater transformational influence in the world. This is our hope. In Catholic theology, hope is a virtue and a gift from God. While some may question this aspiration as too bold or unrealistic, we recognize that this challenge to build a great Catholic university places us in a state of spiritual grace. During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI called for all Catholic universities to be an “apostolate of hope.” Through God’s grace, we will make progress. Through your prayers, gifts, and multigenerational collaboration, we will transform lives, society, and the world. This is a hope that will not disappoint!

Daniel J. Elsener
President of Marian University

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