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Faith in a UD education

3:20 PM  May 30th, 2017
by Shannon Shelton Miller

When Brother Blaise Mosengo, S.M., joined the Marianists, he, like all vowed religious, accepted the call to go wherever God needed him.

During the last five and a half years, that place has been the University of Dayton.

“I came to UD as a mission,” Mosengo said. “I live in a community of people who teach here and work here. That’s their mission. God called me to go to UD and to study. That’s my mission — to be a student.”

A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire), Mosengo came to UD in fall 2011 when Marianist superiors wanted him to obtain a master’s degree to enhance his administrative skills. Mosengo, a high school principal in the neighboring
Republic of Congo and 2013 graduate of UD’s educational leadership program, is now working on his doctorate. 

Mosengo is one of about five international Marianists pursuing advanced degrees at the University with the goal of returning to their home nations to strengthen established missions there. With Asia and Africa providing the bulk of the Catholic Church’s growth in the late 20th and early 21st century, the Marianists see those two continents as crucial to spreading the Gospel, and established Marianist schools there already educate thousands of students annually.

“How can we assist our growing presence in the developing world? We have an excellent university,” said Father Jim Fitz, S.M. ’68, who lives in the Stonemill community with Mosengo. “We can bring them here for academic studies, especially from east and west Africa and India. It’s one thing we can contribute at the University of Dayton to the worldwide Marianist community: educating them so they can then enhance their educational missions at home.”

Fitz, vice president for mission and rector, said the Marianists commit to supporting advanced degree study at UD for four to five international members at a time, and an alumnus, who chooses not to be named, funds their living expenses. Brothers from Kenya, Congo, India and Togo, among other nations, are currently completing graduate work.

“Having these men here allows us to maintain a global perspective,” Fitz said. “We’re not just ‘filling holes.’”

Father Ignase Arulappen, S.M., is another member of the Stonemill community studying at UD with assistance from the Marianists. “Father Iggy,” as he’s nicknamed, was executive director of the University of Dayton Deepahalli Educational Center in Bangalore, India, before coming to UD in August 2016.

Arulappen taught theology in India and is completing a doctoral program in theology with a focus on Mariology through the International Marian Research Institute. When he’s done, he plans to return to Bangalore.

“All my life as a Marianist, I have been teaching and administering a formation program,” he said. “My interest in education was already there, and the Provincial Council in the United States and the Regional Council in India made a request to me to see if I wanted to take a break from my work and do these studies.”

During their time here, the international Marianists also get involved in the greater UD community. Arulappen presides at the Eucharist at Holy Angels Church adjacent to campus, and the communities host students for dinner and conversation. Mosengo has developed friendships with students from China and Saudi Arabia through the Center for International Programs, and they often reflect on the commonalities they share beyond their individual faith traditions.

“We come from different faiths, but we come together to talk about one God,” Mosengo said.

The international Marianist presence in Dayton extends beyond the men receiving graduate-level scholarships. Koreans study at the novitiate at Mount Saint John, as no novitiate exists in South Korea, and five Marianist sisters from Vietnam, Italy and India have studied on campus, learning English through the Intensive English Program.

The international Marianist network isn’t a one-way connection either. Other partnerships develop when American-born UD students spend time at international Marianist missions in places like Zambia, Kenya and Malawi. Fitz notes the example of Matt Maroon ’06, who spent a year at a mission in Malawi and remains there more than a decade later operating the nonprofit charity Determined to Develop. 

As for the Marianists who do earn advanced degrees and return to Africa and Asia, they’re already making a difference. Brother Basant Kujur, S.M., earned a master’s degree in human services in 2010 and works as a scholasticate director in Bangalore as well as a faculty member at the Deepahalli Educational Center.

“The UD environment opened up a new horizon for me to see the new reality of Marianist pedagogies of education,” Kujur said. “I am very grateful to all my professors and classmates, Marianist brothers, sisters and
fathers, and the entire UD environment for giving me a golden opportunity to learn and to be formed as what I am. I am grateful to
God and to my Marianist family.”

Mosengo, the Congolese high school principal, noted that the United States is currently the only nation with Marianist universities, meaning Marianist higher education is unavailable to most of those they serve.

“In many countries in Africa, parents and students will complain that we provide education until a student graduates from high school, but there’s no follow-up,” Mosengo said. “The idea is that we can start having a Marianist presence at a higher educational level in the countries where we are.”

With his impending doctoral degree, Mosengo hopes to further that mission.

“I would love to teach in college, but I can also help in the administration,” he said. “I want to go back somewhere in Africa, but which country, I don’t know. I know what I would like to do, but I will wait and see where they ask me to go.”

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