XU Class Takes Veterans on Assisi Pilgrimage
This month a unique pilgrimage to Assisi set off from Xavier University: Members of a class on Franciscan spirituality for military veterans capped their studies with a one-week trip to Rome and the birthplace of St. Francis and Clare.
Nate Davis, XU’s director of veterans affairs, led the five students on the trip he developed with theology professor Sr. Rosie Miller and pilgrimage staff in Italy. Miller, familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other disorders common to veterans, suggested the trip.
“Many men and women are returning home after having served in conflicted areas of the world, says Fr. John Cella, OFM, director of Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs. “Now they face the challenge of rebuilding their lives and families. We think that the journeys of St. Francis and St. Clare through their own life-threatening experiences may help members of the military and their loved ones in trying to make sense out of all the good and bad that they have witnessed and felt while in the military.”
Three of the five veterans are Xavier students, the university says. The other two signed up after hearing about the course from students who work at the VA Medical Center. Xavier University is first Jesuit-run college to develop a theology course for veterans and the first Jesuit institution to send veterans on a pilgrimage.
The Veterans Program was founded in 2009 to help recruit and retain veterans, who are eligible for free tuition and books through the GI Bill. Davis, a former Marine who attended XU after his own military discharge, knows the ins and outs of both military and college life and can provide one-on-one help.
XU is a member of the Service-members Opportunity Colleges Consortium and is rated a “Military Friendly School” by G.I Jobs magazine because of this and other veterans’ services, including financial aid and participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“We’re just trying to connect veterans, so they see their opportunities,” Davis says. “If our academic programs aren’t the right fit, we don’t just send the veteran away. The focus is on the veterans, so if it looks like another school is best for them, we help them get there.”
This evening, Davis will address the Democratic National Convention about the program about the program for two minutes between 8 – 8:30 pm.
Why the Franciscan pilgrimage when Xavier is a Jesuit school? The answer is simple, Davis says. “St. Ignatius and St. Francis had different backgrounds – one was highly educated, the other was not – and different approaches – one was more about living, the other about thinking – but still both were soldiers and suffered through many of the same things soldiers face today when they return from battle.
“Both found that faith can bring you through.”
Assisi photo by zyance for wikimedia, used through creative commons license; pilgrim photo courtesy Xavier University.