Alumni Spotlight:  Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan O.P.

The Academics blog recently published a great article interviewing AMU alumni, Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan O.P.. Father Vincent came to Ave in 2006 to pursue a degree in pre-Theologate studies as a part of his discernment process after graduating from St. Olaf in Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in Music. He fell in love with Ave and dove into the community, joining the Esto Vir household, singing in the choir, and directing musical studies at Donahue Academy. Father Vincent recently traveled back to Ave for the first time since he graduated in order to participate in the Vocations Festival as a representative for his religious community, the Dominican Friars of the Province of Saint Joseph. To read more about his discernment, reflections on how Ave has changed, and current ministry, click here!


Student Spotlight: Caitlin Grant

Caitlin Grant, a senior at Ave Maria University, has been a part of Ave Maria since the campus moved from the Vineyards, in Naples, here to its' new location. While her vocation has not always been clear, she has followed God's call for her life fearlessly and boldly and has decided to pursue a Master's degree in both Russian Studies and International Relations at NYU in New York City. In order to further prepare, this summer, Caitlin will be taking an 8 week Russian Language intensive course in Arizona and spend the remaining month immersed in the language while in the country of Kyrgyzstan. 

Have you always been interested in politics? 

Absolutely. I’ve always been in awe of different cultures and languages. I remember when I was little, I used to check out library books about other kids from around the world and look at what they did and what they wore. It was fascinating. I always wanted to learn languages… I wanted to be able to communicate with the people I saw and read about in the books. As I grew up, I became increasingly interested in what was going on around the world. My friend’s parents used to laugh at me because I would always know what was going on in Africa and Asia and South America. It made me wonder why more people were not as invested in international affairs. I guess that is how I originally got into politics. 

How did you decide to come to Ave Maria?

I looked into a number of different undergrad schools before I decided, but Ave gave me a great scholarship which of course helped my decision. I came down to visit for the first time in February of 2005, and when I sat in on Dr. Seana Sugrue’s International Relations class, I was sold. All I could think was “This woman is worth every penny that I will pay to go to this school”. I took her class when I came here and we read Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy”, which changed how I saw the world. I had grown up thinking that America was always “the good guy”, and I still believe that America is good and I love being American, but that book really kick-started my thinking about studying international relations. It's not that Americans are wrong, it’s just that we don’t always look at the whole picture…I want to change that.

I know that you are a non-traditional student. Could you explain the timeline of your studies?

I came to Ave in 2005 and I was here for 3 years before I felt that perhaps I had a vocation. I moved to Europe and discerned a religious vocation, living both in Spain and Italy. After I decided that the religious life was not my calling, I worked in Washington DC for the Art of Being a Woman Project. It was an amazing experience working for an organization with a mission that I felt passionately about. It was awesome to be able to get a feel for DC, but after that, I decided that it was really important to finish school, so I came back! I know that I’m a non-traditional student, but I’m so happy that I decided to earn my degree. I get so much out of learning from the new students, even though there is a big age gap. 

How has Ave changed since you started here in 2005?

I started on Ave’s old campus in 2005, and I was here the very first year that we moved out to the new campus. There were about 10 houses here at that point in time. There was no Publix, no Pub, no Field House… I don’t even think the Bean was here. There were only 3 dorm buildings and about 500 students, so that gives you a sense of how small it was. It’s funny to me now, because every day I see someone who I have never seen before, which is surprising! I think that there is more diversity, insofar as there are people who are coming here for different reasons. I love that. It is also amazing to me how many new majors that there are. Celebrating Tom Monaghan’s birthday last weekend just made me realize how one person can deeply touch so many lives. I hope Ave Maria never gives up on its dream of becoming a big school that is strong spiritually, academically, and athletically.

What did you do during your time abroad that helped you to develop your skills? 

After living in Europe, I really knew how to work with other people that thought differently than I did. I was in Spain for two years and Italy for another two, which was absolutely incredible. I did go to Europe to discern, I just wasn’t a religious the whole time that I was there. Part of the time, I worked for a news agency translating from Spanish to English. It was very humbling because my co-worker was a man whose first language was Portuguese, and he was translating from Spanish to English. We would check each other’s work, and he would correct MY grammar. He was translating from one foreign language to another and he was correcting me in my first language! It is just incredible how smart some people are.

Another amazing thing was being able to help with an organization called Aide to the Church in Need. I was in charge of working the camera or doing the interviewing, so I was able to meet some spectacular people. Being able to see and learn from so many individuals from all walks of life was a very moving experience. The most memorable was a man I interviewed who was from Iraq, who wouldn’t let us take a headshot. He was afraid for the safety of his family back in Iraq, so we had to take many precautions. It made it very real that people are living much differently than we are.

What are your plans for the summer?

I was told about a few different summer intensive Russian language programs when I spoke to Georgetown about grad-school, so I applied to a few of them and got in! The program that I will be participating in this summer is through Arizona State University, so I will be spending the summer in Phoenix! I was blessed to receive a scholarship too, which of course always pulls you closer to something. The neat thing about the program is that 8 weeks of learning will take place in Phoenix and for the last 4 weeks, we will be in Kyrgyzstan! I am super excited about that! Kyrgyzstan isn’t part of Russia, but it used to be, so it has very deep cultural Russian roots. The London School of Languages and Cultures has a satellite school in Bishkek, which is the capitol of Kyrgyzstan. That is where the intensive study will take place and we will be living with host families as well, in order to get the immersion aspect. Every weekend we will do an excursion to a different part of the country, which will allow us to see quite a few cultural sites. I am so excited because I know that this will help me to understand Russia from a different point of view.

Where are you going to grad school?

I have decided to go to NYU, which is an amazing school for politics. They are ranked #3 in networking for their alumni in the country, which is huge in the world of politics for gaining connections. NYU has awesome professors and really great alumni. I’m really open about what I will do with my degree because I know life takes you places and that you never expect, but of course you need goals, so my goal is to work as a foreign diplomacy officer for the State Department. I feel like by knowing Russian, I will be able to work with the people on a personal level. I don’t want to go over there and come across in a way that conveys, “We are the good guys, you are the bad guys, would you please behave?” I have never been to Russia before, but at NYU, you have the chance of going pretty much anywhere in the world that you want to study for a semester. My time at NYU will be two years, and then I’ll see where life takes me! My degree when I graduate from NYU will be a joint degree in Russian Studies and International Relations.

What is a goal that you have for the future?

Continue Reading

When I was in Europe, I discovered that I really love photography. I want to teach the West about the East, so I would love to do something like Humans of New York, but over in Russia.

What is the hardest part about learning a new language?

The embarrassment! When you’re learning a new language, you really need to put down your guard and make the sounds that seem weird to you, because if you don’t make them, you sound weird to them! You’ve got to come out of your shell in that sense. I don’t feel like you can really capture the essence of a country without learning their language. 

What gave you a desire to learn Russian?

Everyone knows that the Middle East is important, but Russia is an incredibly pivotal country as well, and no one thinks about them nearly as much as they do the Middle East. Historically, Russia has had a way of making their presence felt internationally through violence. I just want the West to see that we are open to listening in other ways. I want the world to see that Russia is more than Putin and communism. The passion to make that known grew in my mind and my heart and lead me to choose to learn the language. I enrolled in a Mango language course and have been learning Russian online for the past year, thanks to the Ave Maria library! I am so grateful that they provide that resource. I actually wasn’t going to go to Grad school for a couple of years, but then I realized that most people wait to go to grad school so that they can learn about themselves and I have already had that time to learn about myself. I also want to learn Russian because at NYU you need to be advanced in Russian so that you know Russian by the time that you graduate. In addition to the summer program that I have enrolled in, I will probably audit advanced Russian classes just to immerse myself.


To help support Caitlin in her dream of becoming a U.S. Ambassador to Russia, contribute to her GoFundMe Campaign.


Student Spotlight: Pauline Gilmore

Sophomore Theology major, Pauline Gilmore, is an exemplary presence on Ave Maria's campus. As a New York native, Pauline has spent her summers bringing her love for Christ to young adults by attending and working for Camp Veritas as a counselor. This summer, Pauline plans to set off on a missionary journey with Camp Veritas in the UK and is excited for the chance to truly encounter God's children and tell them how loved they are.

What are your plans for this summer?

This summer, I am going to Ireland to be a counselor for Camp Veritas! Before that, however, I will be visiting my family that lives in different parts of the country. Camp Veritas started in NY, and that is where I first encountered Christ and where my faith was awakened. My faith became my own there. Camp Veritas has American counselors come and minister to Irish kids to help deepen their faith in a country that has become distant from Catholicism. It is a regular camp during the day, and then there is mass and adoration at night. After my time in Ireland, I am going to England and I am doing a two week Focus mission trip and working with the Missionaries of Charity in London. The trip will be very evangelization based and allow my fellow missionaries and I to participate in parish ministry as well. During the last part of the mission trip, we are putting on a student leadership conference for British university students, kind of like SEEK, but on a smaller scale. It’s going to be really awesome! When I'm in Ireland visiting my family, I will kind of be a missionary too, because the number of practicing members of the Catholic faith in Ireland are very low. Even just evangelize to my extended family members that would mean so much to me. I want Ireland to find that fire for the faith again. That’s my European adventure plan for this summer! 

If other Ave students wanted to get involved with Camp Veritas, could they?

Yes, absolutely! I would highly recommend it, especially for students that live near New York or Maryland. They could also come to Ireland with me if they wanted! We really need young adults that are on fire for their faith who can be role models for these kids. It changed my life. It's even more fun now being a counselor and being able to foster a relationship with the kids who come to camp. We don’t get paid, but you get free room and board. It’s also only one week, so it’s not a huge time commitment. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I probably will be back in New York, but I think the answer is just that I will be where God wants me to be. Maybe teaching? I feel called to a life in Christ.

What are you doing to get closer to your goal?

My biggest thing this year is intentionality - with my vocation, especially, in determining where God is calling me to use my talents, and also with my friends in building relationships, particularly through my sisterhood, Ti Voglio Bene. I want to make intentional friendships that help to build a community that is deep and lasting. My goal is to get to know people by truly encountering them. 

What is the best compliment you have ever received?

After mass, a lady said “I can tell you love Jesus by the way you sing”. I loved that because she’s not recognizing me, she’s recognizing Christ in me, which is my goal. It shows I’m doing something right. I think that that should be everyone's goal, you know? Do do whatever it is that you do best for the glory of God.

What frightens you?

That some unforeseen event will come and shatter my whole perfect little life. God could totally throw that at me. Everything is just so good right now that I’m afraid something will happen…like a parent dying, or being diagnosed with an illness. In a way, I suppose that that is a healthy recognition, because I am so aware of how much of a gift that every new day is, but it is also kind of scary.

Where would you like to get lost?

Rome…again. I got lost in Rome the last time I was there because there are just so many beautiful churches! I accidentally stayed too long in one of them and then everyone was gone...oops. I would love to purposefully get lost there, though, because who better to get lost in than Jesus?I was there to visit for a week last Christmas break as an assistant director of an all girls choir from New York. Rome feels like home! It was an amazing gift to be able to visit St. Peter's Basilica so many times and sing for Pope Francis' epiphany mass. St. Peter's is the heart of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church-- so it is exactly where I belong, along with every other person who visits there. 

What is your favorite book and why?

I used to be a huge Harry Potter fan. I think people at Ave might criticize me for that. Right now, I’m reading A Call to Mercy by Mother Teresa. It goes through each of the works of mercy and it is just really beautiful. I am enjoying it because it is full of these amazing reflections that Mother Teresa wrote.

Do you think your generation has too much self esteem?

No, I think people have too little of it, honestly. There is so much self-centeredness, and that probably leads to low self-esteem. Finding ourselves through gift of self is what we were destined for. Too much of a focus on self has lead to a "religion of self", which I think has been the destruction of our society. When we start to see ourselves as our own god, we forget to look outward. By serving others, we forget about ourselves, and that is what I have always found to be the most fulfilling experience in my own life.

Describe your most rewarding college experience

It has been forming friendships with my sisters in Ti Voglio Bene. One-on-one conversations that I can remember being really fruitful and really good are the most rewarding experiences. Learning how to be really authentic and vulnerable has been wonderful. There are about 30 of us and we pray together, have brunch, and just enjoy each other's company. 

How would you describe yourself?

Outwardly joyful and inwardly pensive. 

Using one word, how would you describe your time at Ave Maria University thus far?

One word to describe my experience at Ave would be BLESSED! I am so confident that Mary brought me here to her university, and that I am right where I am meant to be. I have been able to grow so much as an individual in my identity as a daughter of God. I have been able to identify my passions and focus my studies on them--namely, Theology, but also music and management skills through my classes, extracurriculars, and work that I have had the opportunity to participate in here. Being a student at Ave and a part of this vibrant community has also taught me what it really means to be Catholic, and that not all Catholics look the same! I can be confident that becoming more of who I am is becoming more of who God made me to be. In all things I hope to glorify him--in sharing my gifts and putting them to use for Him!

Any final thoughts?

Praise God for the gift of life!


Following the Unbeaten Path: My Personal Reflection on the Risk of Discernment

At the end of the day, when classes are done, books are closed, and the laptop is charging, I lay on my pillow and exhale a sigh of relief. Lingering yearnings and uncertainties in my heart seem to agitate inside of me. Where am I headed? Is this where I am supposed to be? To what end are my efforts aimed? These fundamental questions pierce to the very core of my being and I am dissatisfied with a simplistic answer involving some sort of professional occupation or career choice. These are questions about discernment, the intermingled relationship of the career choices I elect, and the ultimate fulfillment of my life. 

Discernment, in the Catholic sense, is the prayerful process of judging between alternative options with the objective of accomplishing God’s will, leading to a decision.

There is a distinction that must be made between the processes of discernment and decision-making. Decision-making is the process of choosing between two things. For example, you decide whether you should choose to take the Theology of the Body class or the Philosophy of Love class as your general elective. Discernment, in contrast, is a profound process that transcends an action causing decision. It is a movement toward existential fulfillment that enjoys internal and external congruence. Discernment always includes two good alternatives; one does not discern about doing something wrong.

I want to share with you a reflection on my personal process of discernment which led me to leave the religious life and come to Ave Maria University.

1. Risk

Tradition has it that the ancient Celts had a difficult time grasping the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. The tame and gentle symbol of a passive dove seemed contradictory to their personal experiences with the Holy Spirit. For them, the Holy Spirit sounded a lot more like a wild goose than a gentle cooing bird. There is a wildness to the Holy Spirit, an undomesticated nature of the mysterious, third person of the Trinity that resonated with the Celts for centuries.

I think I have to agree with the Celts on this. The unrelenting nature of the Holy Spirit has been an important element in my process of discernment. I have had to break away from the ideology of a controlled and structured path for my life and learn to take the risk of embracing the sporadic and creative movements of the Holy Spirit on this journey.

I entered the religious life when I was 19 years old, joining the congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, where I spent the most amazing four years of my life as of yet. Discernment (and life) seemed pretty straightforward to me during that time: you were to make an election (marriage, priesthood, religious life etc.) and enjoy living out God’s will. However, I discovered very quickly that in making the initial choice to follow God, I had signed up for an adventure. 

The systematic, formational stages of the priesthood gave me the impression that I knew the concrete path I was walking on. I quickly discovered, though, that there was no path at all. The more I learned about myself and grew in my relationship with God, I realized that I had very little knowledge of where Jesus was leading me. I quickly discovered that love constantly generates new paths and it was my vocation to follow them.

Discernment requires taking the risk of releasing control of your life. It requires surrendering the ideological structures that we hold fast to, and adopting the untamed and loving invitations of God. Only this can lead us to the ultimate fulfillment of our desires and plans. 

2. Love

Being part of the religious life, I had amazing experiences that helped me to grow in my capacity to love. Living in such a community helped me to enter into profound personal relationships with people from many different backgrounds. The spiritual formation with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit was the best ground to grow in my relationship with God, especially the daily communitarian adoration and celebration of the Eucharist. The time I spent in ministry to others opened my heart to experience true compassion and solidarity. Through serving the sick in the poorest hospital in Los Angeles, to ministering to the small faith communities in rural Alaska, I grew so much as a person.

So, why did I leave? That’s where the wild goose comes in. 

I remember sitting in the adoration chapel during my fourth year of formation begging the Holy Spirit to leave me alone because it was constantly bugging me to grow even deeper in my capacity to love. I realized that with my personality, my drives, and yearnings, there was a fundamental dissonance in me that clashed with the particular mission of the Congregation. God was calling me to a different vocation; to be immersed in the world, on the front-lines. He called me to serve Him in a different way, and I knew I had to answer.

Discernment is an invitation to remove all of the obstacles in life that hinder us from loving and being loved to the maximum in this life. 

3. Act

I did not even attempt to figure out how to proceed along this path on my own. Instead, I consulted my formation director at the time, my spiritual director, and my community. Each of these people accompanied me both formally and informally in my process for nearly a year. In addition to this, I consulted a psychologist, a Servite religious woman, who helped me to make sure that these inspirations were not simply unresolved issues from my life that inspired my dissatisfaction. 

With this great team of helpers, I received many confirmations that the inspirations that I felt to leave the congregation were coming from God, which was His way of leading me to a more profound realization of my personal mission here on earth. There were no logical syllogisms that lead to my decision or helped me along the way. Instead, I had to pull away from the limitations of my logic and hold on tightly to God in faith.

Leaving the religious life was the most frightening leap I’ve ever taken, however, God continues to demonstrate His confirmation of decision over and over. This encourages me to keep holding on - to keep trekking on this unbeaten path and to follow closely behind Him. 

Discernment entails congruent actions to the internal motions and inspirations of God, in order to test whether these inspirations indeed come from God and lead to doing His will.