Spring 2012

Be Transformed

Catholic Identity seems like a lofty, vague term, until you look deeper and live fully what this value calls every person, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to do. This universal call to holiness can manifest itself in different ways, through different people.

Students in Sister Mary Ann Zimmer's classes have discovered that a class project can become a touchstone for transformation. They are encouraged to blend faith and life, in addition to learning about people who have defended human dignity or human rights. Three students from her Modern Belief classes (a required core class, which all Marywood students take) and one from her Ministry Seminar recently shared their experiences of the relationship between faith and life. Each project required students to reach beyond their comfort zone and be transformed.


Kelly Hench '12, who is majoring in Student Life Development and minoring in Religious Studies, held a weekly discussion group with students who wanted a deeper understanding of their Catholic faith. They are representative of students who want to go beyond their grade-school understandings and also have a place to feel free to pursue their genuine questions about God in daily life.

"There are young people, myself included, who have grown up Catholic and feel as though, at this age, there is no real place for them within the Catholic Church. Where then does this group go with their questions and concerns?" says Kelly. "I hope the answer could be each other, however, in today's society, very rarely is religious theology the topic of everyday conversation. By establishing this Catholic discussion group...college-aged Catholics (have) a place to go for help, answers, and support in their faith. Having the chance to fill this age-void among faithful college-aged individuals motivated me, and continues to motivate me, in this project and in future endeavors."


Kaitlin Prislupsky '13, a Social Work major, did a research paper on Nancy Eiesland, who is known for her influential work of defending and promoting human rights for the disabled.

"Nancy was born with congenital bone disease, and, by the age of 13, she had already had 11 operations. Dealing with her physical disabilities and seeing the lack of education about rights given to disabled people in the expression of spirituality, she began her work with many organizations to help change and give rights to those who are disabled," explains Kaitlin. "She pushed the boundaries much farther than people in the Christian community could even conceptualize through her motivation to include disability and religion into human rights...there was such a lack of education, research, and ideas about the disabled and Christianity that when she wrote The Disabled God, she created a revolution in the Christian community."


Katie Kiely '14, a Nursing major, attended the 9/11 Remembrance Service held on Marywood's campus. It was important, she says, not just to remember people and honor our country, but to understand that we are all members of the human family, even if we differ in language, spiritual beliefs, or ethnicity.

"There are always going to be stereotypes, however...the terrorists could have been any religion and background. They just happened to be Muslim," Katie observes. "This experience made me think about America today, and how I wish that there could just be a balance of (people from) different cultures and religions."


Brittany Burger '15, a Biotechnology major, attended a documentary about the SOAR Program on Marywood's campus (Students On-campus Achieving Results) and the autistic students who participate in it. The moving documentary compelled her to do more.

"These students amazed me, so I took the opportunity to socialize with them by having lunch with their class once a week. I honestly have never had more fun at lunchtime," Brittany states. "They are just like any other college students. They have homework, they do work study, and they go out on weekends. They are no different from me or any of my classmates."

"All religious systems encourage reflection on life and the development of self-awareness as an aid to personal responsibility and openness to religious experience," notes Sister Mary Ann. "These exercises are a powerful opportunity for students to reflect as they research a significant person who demonstrated concern for human dignity/human rights or through their participation in a meaningful event on campus or in the larger community."

Pillars of Catholic Identity

by Sister Mary Ann Zimmer, ND, Ph.D.

Marywood has a Catholic Identity.  

People clearly recognize Catholic Identity in Catholic Masses offered on campus, in the witness and dedication of the IHM sisters, or in classes offering a scholarly examination of Catholic doctrine or history. What is often less obvious is that there are three other pillars of Catholic tradition that are integral to Marywood in its historic past and in its present and future.  

First, it is a deeply held Catholic belief that the ability to reason is a God-given gift to be gratefully nurtured and used in the search for truth. A second deeply held mainstay of Catholic tradition is the belief that active respect for human dignity is the foundation of human relationship in a just society. Finally, Catholic Identity rests on the incarnational principle. This means that Catholics relate to the created world as the expected location for the manifestation of God. God chose the human person, Jesus, as the privileged event of revelation. From this flows the belief that human endeavors that bring us into respectful relationship with the created world are privileged places for touching into transcendence.

Engaging with the beauty, the intelligibility, or the moral challenges of the created world are integral to a relationship to the reality that transcends us. This is not to say that any or all concrete historical manifestations of Catholicism have lived up to these ideals. They are the dream always drawing us forward, a source of deep discontent that requires an ever renewed hope.

This means that the whole University community: professors, staff, students, families, and alumni; Sisters, laypeople, clergy; those of any religious belief or none are invited into a common endeavor by Marywood’s Catholic tradition. Everyone dedicated to the use of reason in the service of truth is a participant in that tradition. Everyone who takes on the large and small tasks of preserving and promoting human dignity is part of that tradition. Everyone who undertakes service, nurtures beauty, encourages hope, critiques bigotry, challenges to excellence, or commits to the future is part of that tradition.

Sister Mary Ann Zimmer, ND, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Marywood University.

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