An insider’s take on St. Gregory University’s closing

On Nov. 8, 2017, I sat on the floor of St. Gregory’s Abbey surrounded by some of my closest friends. We had just learned that our school, St. Gregory’s University, would be “suspending operations” at the end of the fall semester. After hearing the news, we went to the church to pray and ask God for guidance as our futures seemed unknown.

The news broke my heart. However, I look back on that moment in the chapel and am overcome with the incredible sense of community I felt in that moment. I sat, my face in my hands, tears streaming down my cheeks, so overwhelmed by the news. However, I was surrounded by my closest friends. I remember one of my professors coming by and placing a hand on my shoulder in reassurance. To me, this moment is representative of the special community I was able to be a part of at St. Gregory’s. Together we laughed, together we cried, and together we prayed. I never felt a more intense feeling of community than at that moment.

The university was denied a loan which it had been counting on. Without this loan, St. Gregory’s was simply unable to remain open. It seemed it had exhausted all options. The university’s closing illustrates a problem in higher education. St. Gregory’s was the only Catholic college in Oklahoma, and this fact alone makes its closure a devastating blow. What does it mean for higher education when small Catholic colleges like this close? Where is higher education headed? I am not sure of the answers. However, I do know how important attending a small, Newman Guide college was to me.

I still remember the moment I first heard about St. Gregory’s. It was my junior year of high school, and my mom walked into my bedroom after attending a homeschool conference. She told me, “Mary Grace! I found your future college!” She handed me a brochure and some information she had received about the university.

However, during my senior year of high school, I agonized over my college decision. It was very stressful for me because I knew that I wouldn’t want to transfer. I wanted to make sure that I chose a place where I would be happy for four years. When I finally decided upon St. Gregory’s, I felt so much peace. I knew that I was called to go there. I just didn’t know it would be for such a short time. It’s funny how God works things out.

Over my year and a half at St. Gregory’s, I have grown so much. Attending a small Catholic college gave me opportunities I never would have had elsewhere. I was able to learn from professors who truly cared about me. They knew me and knew what I was capable of; they pushed me to do my best. The university’s tight-knit community allowed for a close bond between students and faculty.

Being at St. Gregory’s allowed my faith to be strengthened. As a very shy person, I went from hesitantly attending various events to being the vice president of the Pro-Life Team. I was able to lead rosaries and organize events. Myself, along with an incredible group of girls, formed the first households at St. Gregory’s.

St. Gregory’s, a Newman Guide school with a lower percentage of Catholics, was beginning to develop a stronger Catholic life. I felt as if I was making a difference at the school, and it is devastating that it closed before reaching its full potential.

After hearing the news, it would have been easy to turn toward emotions of anger. The truth is that assigning blame does not help anyone. After students heard the news, there was about a month left of the fall semester. The strong sense of community I felt during that month is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It has never been so obvious to me how God brings goodness out of pain. I am so much closer to my fellow students. We bonded over a common experience. We bonded over pain. We bonded over the love we had for our school. According to Duncan Tiemeyer, who served as the university’s student body president, “Times like these can either tear people apart or bring them closer together. It is in times like these that the true character of a person is revealed. The St. Gregory’s community has used this time to come together more than ever.”

The faculty, students, and staff were all enormously impacted by the university’s closure. At a time where it would have been so easy to turn inward, the community exhibited great selflessness. Professors approached students, trying to help them as best they could. Multiple professors announced in class their intent to be there for us. They were constantly there, reassuring us and offering whatever help they could. The staff worked tirelessly to make it as easy as possible for students and faculty to transition to new places.

As students, our primary concern was for the faculty and staff of the university. We had to find new schools, yes, and that is not ideal; but the faculty and staff were left jobless by the university’s closure. Many of them have families depending on them. In expectation of Christmas, students decided to start a GoFundMe and were able to raise over $13,000 to distribute amongst faculty and staff members. We knew we could not find individual jobs for each person. However, we could help them buy their children Christmas presents.

While St. Gregory’s University has closed its doors, the university’s effects remain. It was here that many were able to regain faith. It was here that many learned the importance of a liberal arts education. St. Gregory’s helped me gain confidence so I can let go of my fears and do everything for the glory of God. The lessons I have learned there have helped me become a stronger person. I will always be thankful for the time I was able to spend at St. Gregory’s University.

Mary Grace Dostalik is from Plano, Texas. She will transfer to Benedictine College next semester to complete her education. She plans to study theology and aspires to become a writer.