By Barb Arland-Fye
NORTH LIBERTY — Today’s college students may not attend Mass every Sunday, but they hunger for the church’s message and express their faith through social action, says St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ.
Sr. Lescinski, the first female president at St. Ambrose in Davenport, shared her observations about college students during the April 22 annual meeting of the Davenport Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DDCCW).
Following her presentation, the council voted to start a scholarship fund at St. Ambrose to benefit young Catholic women in the diocese. The fund begins with $2,500.
“This is tremendously helpful, so thank you very much,” Sr. Lescinski said to the audience of 62 women and one man, Bishop Martin Amos, who presided at Mass during the annual meeting at Ms. Susan’s Reception Hall.
Sr. Lescinski has been interacting with students at Catholic colleges since the 1970s, when she began teaching English at the college level. A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for nearly 44 years, the almost 62-year-old Sister from Albany, N.Y., was tapped for leadership positions that first brought her to the Midwest in 1991. Seven years later, she assumed her first college presidency at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. She held that post until becoming president of St. Ambrose in August 2007.
Through the years, she has gained a deep appreciation for the young adults with whom she has interacted as teacher, mentor and administrator.
She said college students in the 1970s and ‘80s lived through a rebellious era and were deeply disillusioned by the Vietnam War, Watergate and other world events.
In the prosperous late 1980s and ‘90s, college students focused on obtaining lucrative careers and big salaries. “They watched us doing it,” she said. “Children do what we do, not what we say.”
But today’s college students, living through an economic crisis, have developed a deep “dis-ease” with consumerism. “They are saying there’s much more to life than having, possessing status or power,” she observed.
Teaching a course in the fall at St. Ambrose and inviting students to dinner at her house every Monday gives Sr. Lescinski an opportunity to listen to what’s on their minds.
They are family oriented, team oriented. “They don’t see just the ‘I,’ but the ‘we.’” They are more accepting of one another and of those who are different from them. They accept others for who they are. “If that isn’t Christ’s message to us … then I don’t know what is,” Sr. Lescinski said.
“They may not go to church every Sunday, but they hunger for the message we have, the church’s message, the message of God. Spirituality is as deep in them as it ever was in us.”
She advised her audience to reach out to young adults in ways that “help deepen their sense of God.”
St. Ambrose’s football team, for example, did yard cleanup for families in the Davenport area recently. It wasn’t just about volunteerism, she said, but “because our brothers and sisters have needs and we can reach out to them.”
College students want to be engaged in social action. Over spring break some students from St. Ambrose participated in service projects in communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and in Appalachia, among other places, she said. “That sense of service is deep in them,” Sr. Lescinski said. “And I think that bodes well for our future.”
Among the questions audience members asked following her talk was one about how to encourage young adults to attend Mass on a regular basis.
“They want to be involved,” she said, and not just sitting and listening to a homily — “no offense, Bishop Amos,” Sr. Lescinski added with a smile.
But most of all, “talk with them, and don’t be afraid to listen.”