It started gradually in mid-to-late August, then accelerated going into Labor Day Weekend. As more and more students and faculty returned and mingled with the many new arrivals on campus, you could just feel the excitement that energized every room and hallway. The grace of the Holy Spirit indeed flows freely here, touching the hearts of so many welcoming souls.
"After being away for the summer, for about the last month I was looking forward to coming back," said
sophomore Paul Cottingham. "That’s what most of the students said. Just to walk up to the doors and see everyone again, it was exciting."
Much of the excitement is due to the significant increase in the number of students. DWC has seen its enrollment numbers double in the last three years, primarily because of a change in its mission which has led to an expansion of the student body. DWC now welcomes religious sisters, seminarians from other orders and lay people from SVD parishes.
Molly Evers is DWC’s bookkeeper and works out of the business office near the main entrance.
"The summer was very quiet. Now with all these new faces, I sit at lunch and see someone and think, ‘I need to know him,’ or ‘I need to introduce myself to her,’" she said. "I tell people, ‘I can’t wait for Mondays. I’m so happy to come to my job.’ I never know what part of the world that I will talk with, we have so many international students."
Indeed, DWC is educating students from 17 countries outside the United States—including new students from Jamaica, Columbia, Canada and Thailand—representing virtually every continent on the face of the globe. The traditional seminary enrollment for pre-novitiate candidates for the Society of the Divine Word has also increased from 29 in the fall of 2008 to 45 in the fall of 2010.
"We are heading in the right direction," said Len Uhal, director of admissions. "All this will benefit the Universal Church with more men entering our novitiate as well as more prepared religious women and lay ministers to serve the Church."
This growth has translated into tremendous vitality which can be felt throughout the institution. Fr. Jim Bergin is Rector of DWC.
"I’ve been committed to Divine Word College for many, many years. It’s just wonderful to see that the change in the Mission Statement and the focus has resulted in such a rich diversity of students," he said. "I think we’re really blessed with the students that we have. They bring a life and energy, and for me as a Divine Word Missionary, it brings hope for us in our Society."
Larry Udry, assistant professor of ESL, says the vitality has spread to the classroom where he sees multiple benefits. Students, especially the sisters, are enthusiastic about learning every detail.
"You have all these different perspectives," he said. "You have sisters, diocesan priests, and now lay people. All of a sudden you have all these different perspectives in class. It makes for a much richer learning environment."
This also translates to the individual. Cottingham is a very good example.
He came to Divine Word a year ago. He knew no one and kept to himself. Within a few months that changed. He made friends who encouraged him to become involved in the DWC community. Last spring, the students elected him Vice President of the student body.
"Divine Word has become more like family," he said. "It’s good to be back."