The Dean's List

Encounter, Conversion, Community, and the Academic Life

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The Dean's List

Encounter, Conversion, Community, and the Academic Life

"Franciscan University’s core values of encounter, conversion, and community are intrinsically connected to our search for and dissemination of truth.”

Winter 2024 | Dr. Stephen Hildebrand

In This Article

The search for truth and the discovery and dissemination of knowledge are at the heart of a university, and at a Catholic university, this search is taken up into the life of faith. As John Paul II writes, a Catholic university’s “Christian inspiration enables it to include the moral, spiritual, and religious dimension” (Ex corde Ecclesiae, No. 7).

A Catholic university sees the truths of its various disciplines in the light of the Truth revealed by God. God has revealed himself as Father of his incarnate Son, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). A Catholic university’s search for the truth about the world, the human person, and about God unfolds in the context of this revelation of the Truth.

Franciscan University’s core values of encounter, conversion, and community are intrinsically connected to our search for and dissemination of truth.

At Franciscan, the discovery of the truth is an encounter with the Creator and Source of all Truth. It is an encounter with Christ the Teacher, who made the human person to discover the truth about the world and the truth about his place in the world. And to discover truths and the Truth is to be wise, to be ever more like Christ.

The discovery of truths and of the Truth is itself a conversion. We cannot remain the same after this discovery. Truth impels us in two directions. It moves us to honor and love God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as the source of all truth. It also directs us to love others. For once we know what is true, we know what is good. Once we know what is good, we know how to love, and love does not rest until it achieves its fulfillment.

Moreover, conversion is not a single moment, either in the life of holiness or the academic life. One conversion sets us up for another. One discovery calls forth the next, in a never-ending progress, truths into deeper truths and truths everdeeper into the Truth.

The discovery of truths and of Truth both assumes and creates communion. We can make no progress in this discovery apart from others, for there is increase in knowledge from generation to generation as well as through creative collaboration and fruitful exchange. In the search for truth, we encourage each other, collaborate with each other, and correct each other. The Lord designed us to need each other, so the very activities at the core of the University draw us into community.

Thus, we live out in our academic life encounter, conversion, and community. Not only are each of these profoundly and intimately connected with the academic life, but also each of these values is ordered to the other and ordered to Christ. Indeed, Christ is the center. He initiates the encounter, accomplishes our conversion, and creates our community. When we accept him, he changes us and brings us into communion with him. But conversion also leads to encounter and builds community, and community brings encounter and conversion.

We can illustrate these relationships in the academic context. The encounter with truth calls us both to conform ourselves to it (conversion) and to share it or teach it (community). But once we are formed by the truth, that very formation (conversion) calls us to our next encounter and to communion with others likewise formed and likewise called further in. And community in the truth brings mutual accountability (conversion) and inspires further discoveries of truths and encounters with Truth, which will, in turn, deepen the community that gave rise to them.

Encounter, conversion, and community are the steps of a helix, a spiral staircase, that by the movement of the Holy Spirit and by our own effort—in the academic life, the effort to discover and disseminate the truth—brings us to wisdom and holiness, to union with God.


Dr. Stephen Hildebrand is the vice president for Academic Affairs and a professor of theology at Franciscan University.

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