September 4, 2015

Pilgrimage takes Marian group in footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare

Pilgrims from Marian University in Indianapolis stand in front of the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy, which houses St. Clare’s remains and the original San Damiano Crucifix. (Submitted photo)

Pilgrims from Marian University in Indianapolis stand in front of the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy, which houses St. Clare’s remains and the original San Damiano Crucifix. (Submitted photo)

By Daniel Conway (Special to The Criterion)

Sixteen pilgrims from Marian University in Indianapolis recently traveled to Italy to follow in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare.

Guided by Franciscan scholars from diverse regions of the United States, the Marian pilgrims (comprised of faculty, staff, several spouses and a member of the board of trustees) spent eight days in Assisi and three days in Rome in June. Their itinerary included lectures, visits to historic Franciscan sites, daily Eucharist and common prayer, shared meals and opportunities for reflection and discussion.

“When I was asked to go on this pilgrimage—which I consider a huge honor—and was given the reading assignments, I started to become fascinated with the stories of Francis and Clare,” said Mark Henniger, Marian’s head football coach.

“However, after reading the books, they were still just stories. It wasn’t until I was able to walk through the streets of Assisi—or should I say walk up the streets of Assisi because it seemed all the streets went up—hear the birds singing, see the ruins of the castle above the city, and feel the cool rock walls of the buildings on a 90-degree day was I able to appreciate the lives and the sacrifice of both Francis and Clare.”

Seeing with the eyes of Francis and Clare brought into focus their commitment to poverty, simplicity and wholehearted love of all God’s creation. Russ Kershaw, dean of the Byrum School of Business at Marian University, observed: “Through the deeper understanding of the lives that Francis and Clare led, gained during the pilgrimage, I believe that I will be better able to infuse their values into the classroom.

“Not only will I be able to do this on an individual basis as I teach in our curriculum, but as Dean of the Byrum School, I will be able to influence our entire program as we continue to implement and improve our experiential approach to teaching business.”

Marian’s pilgrims spoke freely about how their experiences will benefit their work at the university.

“As we develop curriculum, I will also be sharing some of the experiences with others so that the lives of Francis and Clare become real to them, so that they can breathe life into our Franciscan sponsorship values,” said Providence Sister Jean Hagelskamp, associate professor and director of the Academy of Teaching and Learning Leadership.

Karen Klabunde, wife of Dr. Richard Klabunde who teaches in the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, noted, “I was encouraged in my faith in Christ by daily Eucharist, by readings, re-enactments, as well as our excellent teaching by our leaders, our growth together as pilgrims, the camaraderie of new friends and the prayers of everyone. I came to understand concepts I had struggled with but had not fully grasped before this trip. Truly, ‘Where you stand determines what you see.’ My faith has grown.”

The four Franciscan sponsorship values that Marian University received from the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg took on a new vibrancy for the group. As trustee David Haire observed, “For most of us, religion and values are very personal; we have to break out of the comfort and become evangelists for the pilgrimage and the Franciscan values. Like Francis, we have to spend some time in quiet prayer, and spend much time in preaching the word.”

Richard Klabunde, professor of physiology, said, “Words cannot express how much I learned about Francis and Clare’s spiritual journeys and the world in which they lived. They abandoned all the comforts of life in order to serve people in the love of Christ. What a testimony for me today! I was reminded of how little I have given up and the limits of my faith.

“I understand more clearly how faith must go beyond beliefs and be expressed in our actions toward others. As a non-Catholic Christian, I was deeply moved by daily participation in the Mass and by the teaching and example of the Franciscan leaders of our pilgrimage. I now understand more clearly the importance of the Franciscan movement not only for the Church, but also for all humanity.”

Susan Kershaw, wife of Russ, noted “St. Francis’ dedication to Christ has inspired me to pray daily in everything I’m involved in. Spending time with God on a regular basis and yielding to his will is a new goal for me. ‘Abba, may your will be done unto me,’ is my new mantra that is repeated several times throughout the day. In addition to prayer, I more fully appreciate the importance of relationships in our lives and the value of every soul.”

The 2015 Marian pilgrims have committed themselves to sharing their experiences with the Marian University community through a variety of means.

Jennifer Waning, who represents Marian to prospective students and their families in southwest Ohio, said, “Sharing the experience, to whomever we can tell, bringing it up in conversation, talking about the things we learned and how it has influenced us to do things differently will go a long way in spreading the message. Our actions and attitudes will certainly be contagious.”

Coach Henninger added, “The pilgrimage is an amazing experience. Marian University prides itself on teaching and displaying Franciscan values, and what better classroom to deepen one’s understanding of these values than the streets and hills of Assisi.”

(Daniel Conway is senior vice president at Marian University in Indianapolis.)

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