September 8, 2017

St. Joseph’s students seek to find new home at Marian

Joshua Christian is among the former St. Joseph’s University students who have found a new home at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Joshua Christian is among the former St. Joseph’s University students who have found a new home at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Joshua Christian has been hoping to find a home most of his life.

Now 20, Christian lived in 18 different foster homes during his childhood and his youth. Then came the late-night phone call from his case manager that Christian will never forget.

“He said, ‘I’ve been talking to my wife, and if it’s OK with you, we’d like you to move in with us. We think we can provide a loving and stable environment for you,’ ”

Christian recalls about the moment that still touches him deeply two years later.

Christian was in his senior year of high school when he moved into the home of Matthew and Linda Oswald.

“I loved it. I wasn’t held to this perfect expectation. I was allowed to be me. It was great. I have a family.”

That feeling of home and family also grew in the late summer of 2016 when he entered St. Joseph’s College, the small Catholic college in the northern Indiana community of Rensselaer.

“They put us in the middle of this big cornfield, and we found joy. It was like a really big family. It was awesome. I thought, I’m finally going to have a home for four years,” Christian says with a smile that quickly turns wistful. “Then to find out it was closing. Wow.”

That news came in February of 2017 when St. Joseph’s College announced that it was closing at the end of that school year because of financial concerns.

“It was really unexpected and really sad,” Christian says. “People were really mad. We all put a lot of love and hope into St. Joe’s.”

As he talks, Christian is sitting in the dining hall of Marian University in Indianapolis. It’s his newest home, the place where about 80 of his fellow Pumas—the nickname of St. Joe’s students—have also come this school year to continue their college education.

‘Marian made an offer we couldn’t refuse’

One of the realities of a new beginning—especially for young people in grade schools, high schools and colleges—is that it takes time to settle into a new environment, and it takes time to make the transition from a place and friends that are comfortable and familiar to a place and people that are new and unknown. That’s true even when the new place and people want to make the transition as welcoming and painless as possible.

And by all accounts, Marian has worked to make the transition as smooth as possible for the Pumas who are now also Knights—Marian’s nickname.

All the college credits that had been earned by students during their time at St. Joseph’s were accepted by Marian. And whatever the students were paying to attend St. Joseph’s, that amount was honored at Marian, even though tuition at Marian is higher than St. Joseph’s was.

That combination was crucial to Samantha Hoyt, who was a junior at St. Joe’s when the announcement was made that the school was closing. With just one year left before graduation, she considered her situation dire at the time.

“We were all thrown into a panic,” recalls Hoyt, who is 21. “I have a double major in biology and communications. I love what I’m doing, and I was upset about the prospect that I would have to drop one of my majors and I would have to stay extra time. The way that Marian is letting me finish with my double major and finish on time really means a lot to me.”

So did the fact that Marian honored the scholarship that Hoyt had at St. Joseph’s.

“For a lot of us, Marian made an offer we couldn’t refuse,” she says with a smile.

Still, the transition is naturally taking time.

“Part of it has been really easy, and part of it has been really difficult,” says Hoyt, who has a “St. Joseph’s College” key chain attached to her backpack. “There are so many St. Joe students here that I already have friends and connections. The more difficult part is trying to get established in a new program. People have been very welcoming and helpful, but it’s a lot of floundering, trying to work things out.”

A transition of help and healing

Marian’s commitment to the students who have transferred from St. Joseph’s has been commendable, according to a former professor and board of trustee member at St. Joseph’s College. After 40 years of serving at St. Joe’s, Missionaries of the Precious Blood Father William Stang is making his own transition to Marian—as a college chaplain.

Father William remembers the night when St. Joseph’s officials told the student body the college would be closing.

“It was kind of like announcing that someone is seriously ill,” Father William recalls. “We had to help them to understand that we weren’t abandoning them to their fate—that we were trying to get them into new homes, to help them with their hopes and dreams, to let them be able to graduate, and place them in their sports and activities.”

As a chaplain at Marian, Father William has been keenly aware of the transition the transfer students from St. Joe’s are experiencing.

“Again and again, I’ve heard they’ve really felt welcome here,” he says. “They’re going to classes and getting involved. I think it’s working out well so far. But anytime you make a transition, you have to see how it plays out fully. I’ll be keeping in touch with them to see how it’s working out for them.

“I’ve seen Marian reaching out. They’ve helped with the transition and the healing. I’m very grateful and proud of what Marian has done. I’m a strong believer in a Catholic education, and in a small Catholic college. I’m glad to be at another school that has the same sense of mission of educating the whole person. At the same time, I lost my home. Now, I have a new home. They are good people. I’m feeling good about being here.”

‘I’m like a Puma and a Knight’

That feeling of connection is also strong from Marian’s perspective, says the university’s president Daniel Elsener.

“We’re both Catholic institutions, both were started by religious orders, both with a core of liberal arts, so we are part of a family,” Elsener says. “And in 2000-2001, Marian on paper should have closed [because of financial concerns]. So I had some empathy for their situation and the trauma their students would go through.”

That connection and concern led Marian officials to come to the St. Joseph’s campus shortly after the announcement of the closing. They came offering a plan to help the students. Elsener also led a meeting at Marian in the spring for St. Joseph’s students—and their parents—who were planning to transfer to the Indianapolis university.

“The bigger story here is that you have your values on the wall, but it’s really what you do when that moment of truth comes,” Elsener says. “I’m so proud of our faculty, our staff and our board. And I’m sure the Holy Spirit is involved in this. I’m so proud of the students from St. Joe, too. They’re very talented. They’re part of us.”

That connection is still evolving for Christian and the other students from St. Joe’s.

“I see the Pumas all the time,” says Christian, whose girlfriend and some core friends also transferred to Marian. “It’s pretty much who we all know right now, and we’re trying to branch out. I’m thankful to Marian for what they’ve done for us.”

As for his future, Christian’s dream is to find homes for foster children, to make a difference in their lives.

“I’ve grown up in the system since I was 2,” says the psychology major. “I plan to become a case manager for foster kids. I want to be a motivator, touch some lives and get them into a successful home that gives them a loving, caring and productive environment.”

He found that kind of home at St. Joe’s. He’s hoping that Marian will be the same way.

“I’m like a Puma and a Knight,” he says. “I’m not going to forget where I started, but I’m glad I’m here.” †

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