Sides of Spirituality

Lauren Piro

Traveling through life, many feel the presence of a higher power or God as a guiding force. Others may believe in a different power or spirit, and still others may not believe in any such thing at all. Despite these differences, religion and spirituality play a big part in the lives of many Villanovans.The presence of religion is an integral part of Villanova University’s mission and values and can influence the lives of its students. Many Catholic students at Villanova take advantage of the opportunity to integrate religion into their college experiences. For Colleen Cantrell, a junior liturgical minister, Catholicism is meaningful, and she is grateful that she can fit it so easily into her life at Villanona.”I might have been happy at a different college, but all of my life is integrated here,” Cantrell says. Cantrell says the Catholic foundation of the University allows it to reach out to all faiths. While at a different university, those of specific religions may feel isolated within their own groups, Villanova’s religious basis allows students to make spirituality as much a part of their lives as they want. Furthermore, the University works toward making sure that students who are not Catholic feel as welcome and comfortable as those who are. For some, this may be hard to understand. How can a Catholic university promote or accept anything other than Catholicism? One trip to Campus Ministry, however, easily clarifies any confusion about Villanova’s stance on different faiths.Kathy Overturf, Campus Ministry coordinator of Interfaith Contact and Outreach, talks passionately about the openness of Campus Ministry and its desire to learn about and promote awareness of different religions. Stressing programs such as the Interfaith Coalition, the Interfaith Retreat and World Religions Day, Overturf says the University’s leaders care about the interests and comfort of all students. Many students of all religions have enjoyed these programs and learned from one another. On one retreat, students visited different places of worship, including the largest Hindu temple in the United States. “The idea is to open up to our students that there are different faiths on campus and to learn from them,” Overturf says. “We’re trying to be an inclusive campus ministry that encompasses all.” Seventy percent of Villanova students are Catholic, but the other 30 percent with different beliefs still find acceptance. Academic experiences, friendships and the opportunity to learn about Catholicism stand out as positives for those of different faiths. Many reflect on the idea that different religions often have similar foundations and beliefs. For Seth Strohl, a junior who practices Judaism, the opportunity to be true to his faith while maintaining an active role and sense of belonging at Villanova has been an interesting learning experience. “I love Villanova,” Strohl says. “I feel with many of my friends and professors who know that I am Jewish, they have respect for my views and really want to learn more about my religion.”Strohl is able to actively practice his beliefs, which include repenting for sins, completing good deeds and following the Ten Commandments without feeling pressure from the University to be Catholic.”I live my life like I would if I wasn’t at Villanova,” Strohl says. “I do not think I would compromise my beliefs because I am at a Catholic university.”Freshman Muslim student Tahir Qadeer has had similar experiences. Qadeer believes in centering his life around his religion and incorporates many Islamic traditions into his daily life without being intimidated by the school’s Catholic presence.”The Catholicism hasn’t gotten to me at all,” Qadeer says. “I consider education secular. I’m here to learn. I’m going to live how I want to live and study how I want to study.”Qadeer incorporates the University’s Catholic ideals into his education rather than avoiding them. If he finds it difficult to keep up with his Islamic traditions, that is due to the lifestyle of a college student, not to the University’s Catholic affiliation. Another Muslim student, junior Nameer Bhatti, feels that Villanova effectively works toward creating awareness and respect for those who are not Catholic.”I feel I am still able to practice my religion, especially since the University has been kind enough to give Muslims on campus a room where we can pray,” Bhatti says. “I feel the administration is very welcoming and helpful when it comes to diversity.” Bhatti says both Islam and Catholicism stress charity, community service and citizenship – all of which are important values at Villanova. He feels comfortable from both a religious and secular point of view, and he focused on the welcoming community and academics, he says.”I like the community, the people and the high level of education that the University provides us,” Bhatti says. “I feel the students here are very open-minded and are very welcoming to people of other faiths.”The sense of community beyond religion is something students with no particular religious affiliation also find comforting while at the University. Sophomore Carly Ritchie believes in taking care of the soul through spirituality but does not identify with a particular religion. She, too, has found her place at Villanova.Ritchie says students are able to connect with each other based on their interests, rather than just on religion. To think of the University’s Catholic presence as overly oppressive does not cross her mind, and she has found that her professors are accepting and interested in listening to students of all faiths.”There is a really good sense of community here, and I’ve made really good friendships,” Ritchie says. Overturf is concerned that Catholic students leave Villanova knowing little about other religions, where the opposite is true for those in the religious minority. Students of other faiths also find that is hard to completely eradicate their religious insecurities with Catholicism while at school. Strohl notes that the crosses put up during Lent around campus can be intimidating and also wishes that the University would market itself more frequently as accepting of other religions. Ritchie feels that retreats could be a better chance to meet other students if there were some that didn’t focus as much on religion. However, Villanova is still a Catholic university. While complete acceptance of other religions is actively pursued, setting aside all Catholic values and traditions would compromise the University’s foundation, and thus makes a balance harder to achieve.”It’s not easy,” Overturf says. “We’re still trying to be better at this and letting people know they can be comfortable here.”