Many college students will be delving deeper into the life of St. Paul during his Jubilee Year, which almost coincides with the academic school year. Catholic colleges across the country are celebrating the year by offering special lectures and courses on Paul and his writings, as well as liturgical and ecumenical events honoring his spirituality and evangelical mission.

Brian Schmisek, dean of the School of Ministry at the University of Dallas, said it is encouraging that Pope Benedict XVI has inaugurated the Year of St. Paul. “This apostle to the Gentiles was perhaps the most influential writer of the New Testament. During this historic year, Christians throughout the world will be paying closer attention to the letters and theology of this ‘least among the apostles.’”

The School of Ministry is planning a symposium where Schmisek and other Scripture scholars will give presentations on Paul’s letters and his impact on the Church.

The school, which offers summer courses at its campus in Rome, will focus next summer’s courses on the life and writings of St. Paul and will host a tour of five major cities where Paul evangelized: Thessalonica, Philippi, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus.

Said Schmisek, “Though it has been two millennia since his birth, we can expect that the life and writings of Paul will continue to influence Christians of all denominations for at least the next two thousand years.”

The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio dedicated the 2008-09 school year to St. Paul and handed out 2,000 Pauline medals and prayer cards to students at its orientation in August. According to Third Order Franciscan Father Dominic Scotto, university chaplain and theology lecturer, the first priority for the year’s events is the liturgical services. Pauline themes will be incorporated into the homilies at Mass and spiritual meditations at Benediction, as well as Father Scotto’s weekly chapel bulletin articles and liturgy courses.

Franciscan’s chapel ministries are sponsoring a number of campus events to honor the saint. This fall, Scott Hahn, director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, will lead a Bible study on Paul’s writings, and Pauline speakers will be invited on campus. With a novena leading up to it, “St. Paul Conversion Day” on Jan. 25 will include a Mass and a bus trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pa., for a prayer service to gain a plenary indulgence. During the spring semester, campus talks will take an evangelical approach, including how to talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other faiths will be invited to an ecumenical Pauline “Preach Out” planned for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“I’m sure we’ll get the students fired up,” said Father Scotto. “The Pope mentioned the fact that we need apostles today, so people don’t think that it’s left to others in the past or to just priests and missionaries. We want to reawaken the faith in every Catholic because it’s not an exclusive faith, but one that we want to share with others.”

Around the Nation

To the west, Wyoming Catholic College in Lander welcomes the Year of St. Paul as an opportunity to attain a deeper understanding of the unique role St. Paul played in building up the mystical body of Christ on earth. It “aspires to live this year in a spirit of communion with the Holy Father and the entire Church,” according to its website, and the chaplaincy is planning special observances with the students to mark the Pauline Year.

Back east, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., and Saint Anselm College are teaming up to offer a three-part series on Paul for anyone in the diocese, according to Pat Gabree, executive director for education and formation of the laity. Professor Dennis Sweetland will lead off the series in September with an introduction to Paul, his life and letters, exploring the issues of justification and the relationship between faith and works. The second part of the series in January will be a prayerful experience with Paul. National speaker Mary Birmingham will give a talk in the spring on how to live out Paul’s message.

“We’re trying to honor the year of St. Paul, but we didn’t want to do a one-shot deal,” noted Gabree. “I think for many people in our diocese and I assume across the country, we hear the letters of Paul during the Sunday liturgies, and yet most of us don’t know a lot about Paul or the communities to whom he was writing.”

To the north, the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., will host a series of faculty colloquia on Paul’s writings. Christopher Thompson, academic dean, said one of the themes will focus on the work of the Synod of Bishops in Rome this October and their discussion of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

“We’ll use their document for a series of presentations and conversations available to our graduate students and seminarians. In the seminary, there is a general enthusiasm for this, and I’m certain there is a degree of enthusiasm among the graduate students. Our Scripture faculty is optimistic about the fruits of the efforts for the year,” said Thompson.

An eight-foot statue of St. Paul, designed by noted liturgical artist Angelo Gherardi and crafted by Italian sculptor Franco Dolfi, was recently installed on the seminary grounds, the first for the apostle’s namesake city.

“The activities Paul engaged in on his remarkable missionary journeys, using the most up-to-date travel and communication media of his day, fearlessly encountering people from very different backgrounds and cultural assumptions,” said Father Jan Michael Joncas of the theology department, “could truly inspire a new generation wanting to stand for something sure, trustworthy and life-giving in the smorgasbord of opinions that make up post-modern life.”

Barb Ernster is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.