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Not “Laboring in Vain”

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The Dean's List

Not “Laboring in Vain”

Dr. Daniel Kempton reflects on Franciscan University’s theme for the 2021-22 academic year.

Autumn 2021 | Dr. Daniel Kempton

In This Article

Franciscan University’s scriptural theme for the 2021-22 academic year is “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build” (Ps. 127:1). As with most scriptural metaphors, the meaning is not that difficult to grasp. Conversely, living it out is incredibly challenging.

On a personal level, allowing the Lord to build our house clearly entails following his precepts as to how to live our lives. It means seeking not our own personal goals in life but instead discerning and living out our Godgiven vocation.

Living our vocation means accepting the hard truth that life is not about what you or I want; it is about what God wants for us. It requires trusting that our truest happiness comes in fulfilling not our own wishes but God’s plan for us. Living our vocation entails not just becoming a priest but becoming a holy and loving priest. It means not just becoming a husband but becoming a patient and selfless husband. It means not just becoming a mother or father but being open to life and living a life of self-sacrifice.

For our students, living a life of personal vocation entails not only discerning their future calling but also answering their current call to holiness and embracing their current vocation as a student. It means accepting every assignment as preparation for their future vocation.

Fortunately, under the leadership of Dean David Schmiesing, Franciscan University has now inaugurated an Office of Personal Vocation to assist students in understanding, discerning, and pursing their personal vocations. This office now helps our students learn to discern and helps them form the virtues needed to live out their vocations.

But the scriptural lesson that God is the true builder is not just for our individual lives but also for our communities. Franciscan University can neither plan itself nor work itself into success in what is undoubtedly a declining higher education market. Instead, in its preparations for the future, Franciscan University needs to discern God’s will for the University and have the courage to follow his call rather than our own wishes.

From my perspective, that is exactly what our Step in Faith was last fall— and is today. It has guided our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and many other challenging issues.

While planning is critical and industry is necessary, prayer is decisive. But it isn’t just prayer and perseverance that have made Franciscan what it is. It is the consistent pursuit of holiness.

We cannot effectively pursue our own personal vocation by focusing only on our state in life, marriage, the single life, or holy orders, and on our career path. Instead, “In whatever state they might be … all must imitate the most perfect example of holiness, proposed by God to humanity, namely, Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Lumen Gentium, No. 42).

Each of us is called to holiness, to be a better person. Pursuing our personal vocation begins with and includes the call to holiness. Similarly, the advancement of Franciscan University is dependent not only on planning, prayer, and industry but also on building a more Christian community. Loving God and loving one another matters. If Franciscan University is going to succeed in answering St. Francis’ call to rebuild the Church, we must rebuild our own community, make it more holy.

Although I am incredibly proud of how Franciscan University not only survived but thrived during the first year of COVID, the pandemic undoubtedly placed painful stresses on the University. Toward the end last semester, the strains were palpable. While I hope this year will be easier, there is little doubt that this, too, will be a challenging year. Despite this, our compassion for, assistance to, and forgiveness of one another will ensure that we are building God’s kingdom at Franciscan University and not “laboring in vain.”


Dr. Daniel Kempton serves as vice president for Academic Affairs at Franciscan University.

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