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Apr 24, 2013

Beacons of Light

In recent days, we’ve been called to pray together at special services and liturgies for those who were victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon and for the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.  In coming together and sharing grief, we’ve been reminded that love prevails when confronted with unexpected loss and in spite of the fear and the hatred that terror tries to instill.  We are each invited to be beacons of light.  We are called to seek stronger and deeper relationships.   

Last week, we had a number of events at CTU that were inspiring that served to provide hope and light.   Fr. Mark Francis was named to succeed Fr. Donald Senior as the seventh president of CTU.  (Fr. Donald Senior, the current President, recently announced his retirement.  Fr. Don has been a remarkable leader and visionary – someone who has led the school with wisdom and grace.  Fortunately for CTU, he plans to continue as a professor at the school.)

Fr. Mark Francis, a Viatorian priest, comes to CTU with enthusiasm, with vision, and with a global perspective.  He served as Superior General of the Viatorians and has written extensively.  He was ordained a priest in 1982 and earned a masters of divinity and a masters of arts degree in theology from CTU.  In 1988, he earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy in Rome and then returned to CTU as a professor of liturgy for 12 years.  Fr. Mark inspires hope, and a bold and faithful response to the needs of the world.  We will be formally welcoming him to his new position soon. To access an interview with Fr. Mark, please go to  and YouTube -

CTU also welcomed Mary McAleese, the eighth president of Ireland, who was the recipient of the 2013 “Blessed are the Peacemakers Award” given at the Catholic Theological Union Trustee Dinner.  Mary presented at a CTU community forum and at the Trustee dinner.  Her talk was life-giving as she told story after story about the peacemaking and reconciliation work that was initiated in Ireland and continues today.  Her courage and faith were evident as she told of her commitment to justice through the lens of seeing all people as “children of God.”  She spoke about the challenges and healing that needed to take place when she took office, about reaching out to those who had once considered each other enemies, about eating together, and about building friendships and trust.  (If you are interested in listening to her talk, you can go to the talk will be posted after May 1.)

The welcoming of Mary McAleese and Fr. Mark Francis to CTU somehow fit as the stories of so many at CTU are inspiring.  As Director of Recruitment and previously Director of Admissions, I’ve heard the stories of students and graduates - the next generation of leaders who will and are already immersing themselves in transforming the world through relationships.   Many are working in parishes, non-profits, schools, or businesses.  Some work in government.  They bring to these ministries a sensitivity, respect, and voice for those who are often voiceless.  They minister and serve.  Often students and graduates are called upon to build bridges between people of different faith traditions.  At CTU we have an remarkable student body and an extensive alumni/ae community that brings the global voice to issues.  We also have an extraordinary faculty who not only write, teach, and lecture, but who are also involved in building a more just and peaceful world.  CTU is a place where professors and students of many faith traditions hold the value of respect toward others as a guiding principle.   

We are all invited to bring about change and transformation by committing to accompany those in need and by protecting the human dignity of the vulnerable.

Let us be beacons of hope to a complex and sometimes violent world by sharing the vision of how we can do relationship, of how we can build bridges of peace and reconciliation between faith traditions, and by gaining a deeper understanding what it means to live in a multifaith world.  As Mary McAleese recently reminded us, “Let us remember who we are - we are all children of God.”

Kathy Van Duser, Director of Recruitment | | 773-371-5450

Apr 12, 2013

  Holocaust Remembrance Day occurred this week.  In Israel the entire country comes to a halt at 10am as a 60 second siren wails across the land.  People stop what they're doing and stand in memoriam. Traffic ceases, drivers emerge from their vehicles and stand like statues. Even dogs sense the day and pause.

This collective ritual reinforces the power of pausing to reflect on the atrocities in the world. It is fitting that this week, CTU presented two screenings of the award-winning documentary film Beneath the Blindfold.  Filmmakers Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger spent six years creating this poignant work that looks at the lives of four torture survivors. Far from a pity piece, the film celebrates the survivors' strength and resiliency.  Beneath the Blindfold offers us an opportunity to reflect about injustice and witness the journeys of four survivors on their path to becoming whole. 

I had the opportunity to interview Ines and Kathy about their film.  We covered a range of topics from activism to how faith based communities can interact with the film.  I invite you to listen to the podcast. It's a chance to pause, witness and reflect. 

You can also find out more about Beneath the Blindfold and see a trailer at

Apr 08, 2013

This year, Easter Vigil shone with even greater brilliance as our friend and colleague Valerie was initiated into the Church at St. Thomas the Apostle, parish home to many members of the CTU community.   In the last few days, people have visited Valarie to ask her about the experience, to talk about their own Easters with family and faith community and, to dip into the bowl of jelly beans on her desk—a sweet reminder of our celebrations.   As the visitors have added up, the candy has diminished somewhat.  By late Friday afternoon, I had begun to feel that Easter was draining away…and I sat somewhat uninspired to write this blog entry…

…Until Professor Maria Cimperman, RSCJ, stopped by my office.  For the end of the week, she still seemed pretty energized—and clearly still carried Easter with her.  She shared a question she had posed to her students this week: “We all had our Lenten practices, but what will be our Easter practices?”  

A new Alleluia struck me.  That’s right.  Easter does not end with Easter Sunday, or Easter Week, or whenever the jelly beans run out.   We have FIFTY days of Easter.   We may find Lent to stretch a bit long at times, but Easter Season is actually longer!   

We adopted our Lenten fasting practices to make room in our minds, hearts, and bodies for the transforming Love that is God.  Now is the time to relish, and even revel a bit in the joy that Love brings us—in our renewed ways of being with ourselves, with those we encounter, with the world.

Each year, our “Taste of CTU” event provides an opportunity for our global community to share stories, song, and dance—those from our homeland, and those closest to our hearts.  This year’s “Taste of CTU,” which happened the day we returned from our Easter Recess, modeled some good Easter practices for all of us. It was an intentional time to set aside for joy, even when confronted by fear (stage fright) or obstacles (getting the right music to play).  And by the end of the evening, we were all out of our seats (even this double-left foot gal) dancing together.

We have kept the fast.  Now the dance floor is open.  How will we keep the feast?

Angela Paviglianiti | Director of Admissions |

Mar 25, 2013

Celebrating My First Palm Sunday!

As I sat in the pew of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Hyde Park and anticipated all the glory of the celebration of Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, I was excited! This Sunday before Easter marks the beginning of Holy Week. We started off as a community at the front of the church and blessed the palms and then entered the sanctuary to begin our Journey with Jesus Christ. There are other factors that make this first Palm Sunday for me special, not only has the church had a major change by electing a new Pope, Pope Francis but I am also in the middle of a new beginning. I have been going through the process of becoming Catholic since November of last year and my big exciting day is in the horizon, I will take my sacraments and become Catholic Easter eve at the Easter Vigil. To say that I am excited is an understatement but to say I am ready to live the life of a Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ would be accurate. In the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday we sat intensely and as one and heard of Christ triumph entrance into Jerusalem, in which his supporters greeted him as the coming messiah, the last supper with his disciples and hours after when he was betrayed by Judas and arrested on Holy Thursday, the crucifixion of Christ came on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday. After the reading the pastor gave his homely and he asked that we reflect on Jesus and his death on the cross. I decided to take the symbolic approach to this reading for myself. I look at Jesus on the cross and his suffering for the life that he gave all of us.  The cross represents the call to absolute surrender, in my journey that I am on, I have surrendered my heart and soul to Jesus Christ. My heart is full at this time of excitement and the feeling of being part of a community and sharing this wonderful event in my life with loving and supportive friends from my CTU community and my personal life. Words cannot describe the joy and peacefulness that I am feeling, I have encountered some people here at CTU that are defiantly god’s children and their light shines so brightly that I have opened up my heart to receive their offerings, their light, Jesus light.


Valerie D. Holloway |  Enrollment Management- Assistant to the Director/ Enrollment Management Department-Administrative Assistant |   Catholic Theological Union  |  5416 S. Cornell Ave.  |  Chicago, IL 60615  |  USA

Office 773-371-5451 |  Fax 773-371-5452  |


Mar 14, 2013

This week on campus has been incredibly eventful, and highlights for me what is so compelling about CTU and its mission.

Tuesday night, CTU showed the film “A Band of Sisters,” a moving documentary about Catholic sisters and their work for social justice after Vatican II. It reminded me again of the invaluable “boots on the ground” service that women in the Church have given for centuries, and the contributions of sisters today here at CTU. At the film’s conclusion, I overheard a young nun remark that she regretted that the movie showed very few younger sisters. “Are we invisible?” she said.

Let’s hope not. CTU is truly fortunate to count several young religious women among its students. These women will go on, no doubt, to do great work as their fellow sisters have done before them.

Then on Wednesday at lunchtime, a large group gathered in our Atrium, which was resplendent with textiles and fabrics from around the globe, to celebrate International Women’s Day. We prayed together for the women around our world who face unspeakable struggles, including violence. And we celebrated women’s gifts and contributions. The service was led by Academic Dean and Vice President Barbara Reid, O.P., a formidable scholar, and included prayers led by several CTU students in their native languages. It was beautiful and powerful.

Our gathering ended just as the puffs of white smoke emerged from the Vatican chimney! Quickly we commandeered an empty classroom and projected the press coverage onto the screen from a laptop. One by one, then in groups, CTU students, faculty, and staff crowded into the classroom. Cheers and applause erupted as the new Pope’s name was announced and he emerged to voice his first words as Pope.

When we finally disbursed, a sense of hope and enthusiasm flowed palpably throughout the building. A colleague stopped me in the hall and said, “That was so great! Here they were talking on TV about the global Church of today, and I looked around the room and there we were, the global Church of today!”

That is what I treasure about CTU – people of faith and good will from across the globe coming together to build a more just, peaceful, and loving world. And so, for Francis I and for us, too, the work continues of building a healthy and vibrant Church for the good of God’s people.

Nancy Nickel  |  Director of Marketing and Communications  |  773.371.5415  |

Mar 08, 2013


My favorite moments in life are those that remind me I don’t have to have all the answers; that life is a process.

On March 2, I was honored and humbled to attend CTU’s annual Harambee! fundraiser, supporting the Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program, which trains Black Catholics for leadership in the Church. Honored because it was a celebration of life (Harambee means “all pull together” in Swahili), and humbled because the people celebrating had conquered excruciating circumstances beyond my comprehension.

One Tolton Scholar spoke about his belief in not just a “good” God, but an awesome God. This awesome God helped him cope with the loss of several close relatives, including his own infant child, in the span of a few years. He also needed an awesome God when doctors told him both of his kidneys were failing. His challenges were fierce, but his conviction to live, and live victoriously, was fiercer.

Another Tolton Scholar spoke about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago, and how medical professionals warned her about the limitations it would place on her life. She is now happily married with three sons and has earned not one, not two, but three master’s degrees. It hasn’t been a walk in the park, she said, but her faith has sustained her through all the obstacles.

Listening to their stories made me appreciate my relatively small difficulties. But more than that, it reminded me that although life can be bewildering and even agonizing at times, our struggles are our strength. They give us purpose, and bolster our compassion for others.

Everyone’s challenge is unique, but we are all works in progress. Shane Koyczan, an accomplished poet and writer, recently gave a TED Talk about his struggle: being bullied. The pain became his putty. And he has made a masterpiece. That’s the opportunity obstacles give us. So we can harambee and celebrate life to the fullest!

See Shane's TED Talk.

Karla Dawn Meier | Marketing and Communications Assistant | 773.371.5416 |

Mar 01, 2013

Pope Benedict, as the first pope in 600 years to voluntarily leave office, stepped down this week. The Church now waits “in joyful hope” and anticipation in an interim period called, “Sede Vacante.”

So here we are in a transition time, and what a time it is!  “Odds Makers” in Las Vegas are encouraging people to place bets on who the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church will be. There are sites soliciting people to provide the top characteristic they would want in the next pope. The Cardinals are gathering in Rome.

Questions swirl and dance, tempt and tease.  Will this leader help us face the major challenges of our times?  Will he be a person of courage and spirit - one who will help the Church and the world face the controversial issues that try to divide and destroy us as human beings? Will a leader be called forth who will turn worldwide systems of covering up cases of abuse into new systems that value transparency and promote healing?  How will trust be mended?  Can it be regained?  It will take a healer-leader who exhibits fearless compassion to mend and unite.

Will the spirit of the Second Vatican Council be the guide for ongoing renewal of the whole Catholic Church including the Vatican?  Will the reforms needed in the Church be discussed and promoted? 

We will have opportunities for life-giving reconciliation with our Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim sisters and brothers.  Will we step into them?

Will we make peace with modern science and be a more vocal participant at the discussion table when issues of morality are pitted against issues of progress.  Will we place not only human needs but the needs of a fragile planet forward in the discussion of health and wholeness?

The issues of our day seem too much for one person alone to bear…will collegiality be modeled by the pope and the bishops?  Will the understanding of true community deepen into a new way of being together?  Will Catholics be encouraged to speak up, to speak out for justice in this world as well as for justice within the Church?  Will the new pope encourage the faithful to speak truth to power? Everyone has the ability do something toward the renewal of the Church and the renewal of the world within their own life.  Will the new pope lead by example as the heart and hands of the body of Christ alive in this world?

So many questions to live into, so many hopes, so many dreams for the promise of a new day ... let us pray that the hearts of those choosing the new pope will be inspired to choose a person of great love, compassion, and courage - one who unites, one who includes, one who invites, and one who helps us face our challenges head-on together. 

Kathy Van Duser, Director of Recruitment || 773-371-5450

Feb 22, 2013

I didn’t know much about Catholicism when I started working at Catholic Theological Union.  I’m Jewish, and Catholicism has always been outside the realm of my experience. Although some might find it unusual that a Jewish person would be on staff at CTU, it’s not really that unorthodox to me. I grew up with a faith background, and it feels comfortable to be around religion, even when it’s not my own tradition. I come to CTU with a respect of all religions and a curiosity about other cultures and faiths. Likewise, everyone here has welcomed me with open arms. Interfaith is not just a word at CTU; it’s something that is truly practiced.

That said, working at CTU has made me think quite a bit about differences and similarities. There are some days I am reminded of our differences, especially when I encounter unfamiliar aspects of Catholicism. I’m full of questions: "What is Advent?"; "Why are you bringing in palm fronds on Ash Wednesday?"; "What exactly is the Eucharist?" My questions may seem basic, but I’m starting at ground zero. I’m quite appreciative of my fellow coworkers who patiently explain aspects of the religion to me.

I have also have had the privilege to dialogue not only with Catholics, but Muslims as well. I’ve filmed lectures where Muslims have spoken about interfaith. I have had discussions with a Muslim student about the recent discrimination she faced in Israel. This was challenging to hear, especially given that my father’s family is Israeli. However, I am grateful that CTU offers a safe space where we can explore these issues.

Being at CTU is also a reminder of our similarities. I share CTU’s values of justice, love, and peace. At a recent work retreat, both a fellow staff member and I remarked that Jerusalem is one of our most cherished places. We both commented on the religious history and the sacred spiritual feeling within the walls of the Old City. I love Jerusalem; the city feels like home.

I feel truly blessed to be at CTU. This is a place of deep learning and growth. I look forward to continuing the interreligious dialogue as we all honor and respect our differences and similarities.

Ronit Bezalel | Webmaster/Media Manager |

Feb 15, 2013

Lent came early for CTU this year, just three days into our Spring Semester.  With all the sudden frenetic activity—welcoming new students, greeting colleagues and classmates we haven’t seen in weeks, reveling in new class material yet unburdened by assignment deadlines—it seemed incredibly unfair to contemplate entering this stereotypically somber season.  Or so I thought. 

When I woke up this Ash Wednesday, I honestly wasn’t planning to rebel, but I couldn’t help being…well…happy.  I moved through the day feeling energized, and while some attributed this to the ounces of coffee I consumed (not a wise way to fast, my friends!), I sensed something more at work.

“I just can’t get excited about Lent! I don’t want to be all gloomy in my sackcloth and ashes,” a typically vibrant student lamented to me.

“But you don’t have to be,” I gushed, with other-worldly/caffeinated energy.   “Lent is so exciting!  It’s a time of possibilities, for us to grow more fully into the people God invites us to be, which is our most authentic selves!”

Growth.  It’s a loaded word. It can indiscriminately become a euphemism for any painful and necessary process we would rather avoid, and I wished it hadn’t escaped my lips in that moment….until our Ash Wednesday Liturgy, when Prof. vanThanh Nguyen reminded us in his homily that Lent comes to us from the Old English word for spring.

Gloom or not, these weeks leading up to Easter are filled with slow awakenings and tentative shoots, as we cross over the threshold of an earthly season and prepare our hearts for a new season within.  On Wednesday morning, I noticed that my peace lily plant, which often chooses to remain flowerless for years at time, is preparing a bloom.  In the next weeks this white oval will emerge from its stalk, turn toward the sun, and slowly unfurl itself to its understated brilliance.

And there, a work of creation can catechize us further.

Whether we call it growth, conversion, or transformation, the work of Lent begins with the willingness to let God in – to be “petal-open,” as the author Zora Neale Hurston called it.  Admittedly, there have been times that this realization has made me wince.  This week it makes me smile.  Broadly.

Will we become “petal-open” this Lent?

Angela Paviglianiti | Director of Admissions |


Feb 11, 2013

This morning's news of Pope Benedict's resignation shocked the world. His bad health, he cites, is just too severe to carry on the responsibilities of the office.

Thank you, Benedict XVI, for your service and Catholic witness. Whether a fan or not, he committed himself to the cause. It's not an easy job, especially in today's increasingly complex world.

We pray, too, for his health. Retirement will allow him to better attend to his personal and physical needs. Be well, Benedict.

As you read pundits everywhere weighing in on today's developments, you can't help but ask, "What's next?" To be sure, there will continue to exist disagreements over liturgy and theology, ecclesiology and science, ethics and morality, dogma and tradition. Conservative and Liberal. Orthodoxy. Heterodoxy. And, everything in-between.

Will he be charismatic? A good communicator? Have the right vision? Pastoral prowess?

Depending on what's important to you, the questions abound. I know I've made a "short list" in my head of what I'd like to see in the next Pontiff. I imagine many are crafting similar lists. These things matter. It's important. Our faith - today, tomorrow, and in the future - depends on it.

Even so, let us not meet this moment with a hyper-intensity (and sensitivity!) that overshadows our reliance on the Holy Spirit's agency. In the end it will be the Spirit's in-dwellings, working in tandem with Cardinal electors, that will call forth and elect a new Pontiff.

The moment we find ourselves in - amidst conjecture and spin, news coverage and blogs, articles and radio segments - shouldn't only be about our human tendency to speculate and prescribe. The fanfare, hoopla, ornate caps, gowns, and shoes of it all will no doubt be reason to get excited. There's greater depth than this, though.

This is a moment for prayer. Reflection and contemplation. Discernment. Deep thinking. Recollection and remembrance. 

Our pause to do the inner work required of faith matters, too.

The Holy Spirit is beckoning us forward.

Are we listening?

Come, Holy Spirit!

Ryan J. Hoffmann | Senior Director of Enrollment Management |