St. Edward’s embraces increasingly diverse religious landscape

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A meditation garden for all faith traditions is among the construction plans for the new chapel on campus.

Reporter

As a Roman Catholic institution, it’s expected that St. Edward’s University has a large Christian student population. However, according to a survey conducted by the university’s Office of Institutional Research, faith on campus is more diverse than it might first appear.

Out of 3,554 students who took a self-reported religious survey, 55 percent saw themselves as Christian—with 38 percent affiliating as Catholic. However, 29 said they were undecided or unsure of their faith and the remaining 16 percent represented the various other faiths and beliefs around campus.

Although numbers like this might come as a surprise to some, others, like Rev. Peter J. Walsh, the director of Campus Ministry, believe that such statistics are actually expected.

“Part of being a great Catholic university in the Holy Cross tradition is to be welcoming to all students and to appreciate the variety of experiences and beliefs they bring,” Walsh said. “So the diversity of religious beliefs and practices we are seeing on campus is expressive of who we are as a Catholic university.”

It’s not surprising that that St. Edward’s statistics correlate with recent data released by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think-tank, which provides information on social issues, public opinion and other demographics across the nation.

The data from the 2014 study, “Millennials in Adulthood,” focused on various aspects of young adults—ages 18-33. In terms of religion, the findings showed that this generation’s religious views and behaviors are quite different from past generations. This generation is less likely to align themselves with a religion, and as a result they are also less likely to assert that they believe in God. The study found that  36 percent of millennials said the phrase ‘a religious person’ describes them very well. By comparison, on average 56 percent of older generations said this is true for them.  

St. Edward’s has a strong base of Christian students, but many students do not know what they believe or college has prompted them to explore their faith.

Junior Morgan Mays grew up Catholic but has explored going to a non-denominational church during college and attends a Bible study on campus.

“College is a really interesting time in a person’s life when the decisions about what is or isn’t important to us becomes fully our own,” Mays said. “I have refocused and re-prioritized my faith life.”

To some, however, the university experience isn’t a factor in their spiritual growth.

“College in the strictly educational sense hasn’t impacted my beliefs at all; although, I did enjoy learning about the core tenants of various religions in (Professor) Dilley’s class,” Junior Jennie Park said. “Traveling has had the greatest influence on my religious beliefs—I admire all of them but subscribe to none.”

St. Edward’s is proud of its diverse population of faiths and beliefs and welcomes all.

“Our policy is if there are students who want to try to celebrate a religious observance or holiday, we’re able to walk with them and do that,” James J. Puglisi, associate director of campus ministry said. “We actually just had a Hindu celebration a few weeks ago.”

The university also made a space in the Woodward Office building available to Muslim students— a population that has been steadily increasing.

Campus ministry is even seeking to provide a neutral sacred place of worship for all faiths, something they hope the new meditation garden by the university’s chapel will supply.

“I think the Chapel renovation and meditation garden will address some of this need for sacred space. Obviously for Catholics and other Christians, the chapel will be a great resource, both for worship and for private prayer,” Walsh said. But Campus Ministry hopes “that the surrounding meditation garden, which is being carefully landscaped by a landscape architect, will be a resource for all students looking for a place of quiet and reflection.”

Whether students seek to explore their own spiritually or strengthen it further, Campus Ministry wants students to know they have options.

“This campus has so many resources for students who choose to do that,” Walsh said. “All across the university there are people and programs to help someone explore and clarify their beliefs and values.”

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