If you've done your research on Siena, you may be wondering what it means to attend a college with deep roots in Franciscan and Catholic traditions. Will I be expected to participate in prayer? Do I have to be Catholic? What edge can the Franciscan tradition give me post-graduation? For answers to these common questions and more, we sat down with Siena College President, Brother Ed Coughlin.
Can you give us some background on St. Francis? What does it mean when we say, 'Siena is Franciscan?'
Francis Assisi was a 13th-century son of a merchant who chose a different path in life than that which was being proposed by his father. Francis was being socialized to become a good merchant, but decided that was not really what he wanted after having a key encounter with a leper. He decided to work among the lepers to minister to them, serve them and care for them. From this, he inspired a whole revolution based on his alternate vision of how the world ought to work. He didn't set out to form a religious community, but people were inspired by his example to explore a different way of living together. His story is about sharing the goods of the earth. That’s what humility and service are all about, after all—sharing the goods you have. Many people embrace this vision today, Christians and non-Christians included.
In other words, students really don't need to be Catholic to find meaning in Franciscan traditions, right? (Which is why Siena very much promotes diversity.)
I think when students hear the word Catholic, they think about the church and its rules and regulations. Ours is really a tradition that has been inspired by a vision, and offers a new way of thinking about things in terms of moral and ethical questions.
One of Francis’ messages is to wish people peace and good. That peace, which can mean so many different things today, is about being in a right relationship with yourself and everybody in your life.
How can this tradition be seen or experienced on campus today? What might students notice on tours, for example?
We've created a campus that is beautiful, which is a large part of this tradition. Architecture and beauty are both important for creating and appreciating relationships; what you see matters, and how you take care of things matters. We have a number of Franciscan friars who live and work on our campus, too.
Students will also notice there are a lot of places to gather around campus. The Grotto, the paddock, the benches outside the residence halls and the academic quad are all welcoming places that encourage you to stop and sit, to take time to reflect. Pausing from time to time is another key component of the Franciscan tradition.
We encourage our graduates to take Francis' vision and share it wherever they go. It isn't about doing this or doing that, but about deciding how they are going to utilize these values to determine the kind of person they want to be. Will you treat people as brothers and sisters and be generous? Will you be humble? Will you be someone that is willing to serve others? Where did you learn that? From Siena.
One of the things that businesses that hire our graduates consistently say is that our students are very relational. A Siena education isn't just about academics. It’s about guiding our students as persons and giving them opportunities to perform acts of service in Third World or developing countries. It’s about providing you with a vision that is formative, and that allows you to look at life in different ways.
To learn more about how Franciscan tradition plays into the Siena experience, click here.