A First for University of Mary

The University of Mary recently announced that, for the first time in the school’s history, it may need to launch a waiting list for interested fall 2018 applicants. While the University has always had strong enrollment numbers, the increase this year in interested students is unprecedented. According to its news bulletin, “the University of Mary has 33 percent more commitments from incoming freshmen than at this time last year, along with a 27 percent increase in applications.”

As Chip Hinton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, told me in a recent interview, “This is borderline astonishing. We’re still getting more and more students from North Dakota, more students from the rest of the nation. More students are finding us through The Newman Guide. …Enrollment from Minnesota has increased 450 percent since 2009.” This remarkable boom in enrollment overall can only be attributed to the wonderful work that the University is doing in promoting Catholic, higher education.

As I was interviewing the students, I was struck by their profound joy and enthusiasm for attending the University. This joy is at the heart of the University’s life, which is fueled by Benedictine values and a love for the Blessed Mother; recently, the University completed building an outdoor Marian Grotto, where the University’s Knights of Columbus chapter pray the Rosary in all kinds of weather.

“Community is huge,” says Bridget Hobbs, a junior majoring in communications (public relations focus) and minoring in marketing. When she was applying for programs, she visited the University of Mary only because some of her friends were visiting. “Thanks be to God that I did,” she continues. “There was immense joy on the campus. I had visited many other college campuses and people there [at the University of Mary] had something different; they had a light in their eyes, and it was so attractive.” This joy that she discovered inspired her to look more closely into the University, and she chose to come, because she saw that the school was invested in “giving students an authentic experience of Christ, learning, and growth.”

Moreover, the University of Mary offers attractive programs not found at other universities. “There is a national awareness about seeking a certain kind of education with the Faith at the root of it,” explained Michael McMahon, vice president for enrollment management. “Many students [want an education based in the Faith] but don’t want to forego other benefits, such as Division II athletics, a larger student population of 1,700, and 24/7 campus dining.” Even with these other assets, the University of Mary keeps formation in the Faith at the center of all its actions. Indeed, Michael wonders whether the fact that the University led the March for Life 2017 in Washington, D.C., has helped to spread the word about the school and has assisted in increasing enrollment. Moreover, the campus has many new buildings, including the Lumen Vitae University Center, the new 80,000-square-foot fieldhouse, Roers Residence Hall, and the Marian Grotto. As Bridget says, “This campus is a new campus this year. …It’s got a brand-new, fresh feeling because of the new buildings.”

Mason Dreger, a freshman majoring in the Science of Nursing, hoping to practice in the field of orthopedics, says that he was drawn to the University because of the potential to study abroad. “As a nursing student, there are not a lot of opportunities to study abroad. …I have the opportunity to spend a term in May on the Rome campus to experience the fullness of the Faith.”

Dalton Guinn, a sophomore majoring in accounting and minoring in financial service and banking, talks about the importance of the Year-Round Campus program, an initiative begun by the president, Msgr. James Shea. “Being able to have a full semester of classes at a lesser rate was very attractive,” he says. “I transferred from another university, and I can definitely say that I don’t feel like a number just paying the University’s bills. I feel served, and that I can serve.” Not only does the Year-Round Campus program cost less for students and take significantly less time (students can earn a Master’s degree in four years), it has other advantages. “Another big factor is being able to stay on campus and experience an even smaller and more intimate community,” Dalton says.

The University has an incredible liberal arts curriculum that also allows students to specialize in major fields; nursing is one of their many highly reputable programs. “We’re a school that has a strong liberal arts base but with great preparation for professional life,” says Michael McMahon. “There are all the benefits of a broader university, but all the while being a community of faith.”

Moreover, the education is rooted in Benedictine values. As Bridget Hobbs explains, “The University does a phenomenal job selecting faculty members who embody the Benedictine values. It is only natural that they are integrated into our studies. …[The integration of the Benedictine values] is what’s most attractive about the classes here.” The Residence Life Scholar program, which I wrote about in greater detail here, has also greatly influenced the life on campus. This program allows for greater integration of academic, personal, and spiritual life of the students and faculty; many students have benefited greatly from the fruits of this program, which is expanding due to its success.

Perhaps the most astounding testament from the students, however, is about the active life of faith on the campus. All three students I interviewed commented on how the University of Mary is actively participating in Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization. Mason said that he was sponsoring someone entering the Catholic Church this Easter, adding, “We have close to 15 students who are entering the Church this year.” One of the students who is coming into the Church told him, “The Catholic identity [is present] inside and outside the school; I came to the school as a Christian, but now I’m becoming Catholic because the Church wants you to be fully alive.”

“The University is preparing the next generation of Catholics for shaping and forming the world,” says Dalton. “The Holy Spirit is working powerfully on this campus. Sacraments, adoration, daily Mass, daily Confession: the Holy Spirit is working tremendously! You can definitely feel the fire of the Holy Spirit.” What a testament to the Catholic identity of the University of Mary: incoming students will surely be influenced through the strong community life of Catholics.

When asked what they would say to interested students or parents of interested students, all three of the students I interviewed said that visiting the campus is key. As Mason explained, “I had visited many other campuses. My parents encouraged me to visit Mary, and that’s when I realized that this University is all about building community. I knew I was home at Mary. I didn’t want to go to a school where I would just live; I wanted to thrive.” Bridget agreed, insisting that seeing is believing: “All of what we’ve said might sound too good to be true. Prospective students should come and visit; they’re going to see all this in action. We’re not just saying these things; this is reality. If students come, they will experience that and the beauty of North Dakota. …You can never capture the beauty of the campus in a photo.”

The University of Mary is truly making an impact on the world and in the Church. With Mary at the center, alongside the Benedictine values, the University is preparing its students to enter into the world and to engage in the New Evangelization. The community life on the campus is unparalleled: students who come to the University will not feel like they are just a number, but they will feel valued, loved, and like a son or daughter of God. As Michael McMahon says, “We’re no longer the best kept secret in higher education.”

Any students who are interested in visiting the campus should check out the Visiting Days page on the University’s website. Coming to the University of Mary to study could truly be a life-changing experience, an experience rooted in the Faith, Benedictine values, and the New Evangelization.

VERONICA ARNTZ graduated from Wyoming Catholic College with a degree in the classical liberal arts. She is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in theology from the Augustine Institute.

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