By Peter Baugher
In April of 2023, Franciscan University announced the selection of theology professor Dr. Stephen Hildebrand to assume the position of vice president of academic affairs.
According to the university website, Hildebrand “was selected from 31 applicants following a nationwide search that began last summer.”
When asked about his motive to apply for the position, Hildebrand told the Troubadour, “I wanted to place myself in the service of my colleagues and students.”
After he was prompted to give his message to student, Hildebrand said, “I want the students to know that I love them and am grateful to God for them. I definitely would not have taken on this position were it not for them.”
“Franciscan’s gift – the gift that God has given it, and that it, in turn, gives to all who work and study here – is an integrated life … There is no opposition between study and prayer, or work and worship, or professional formation and faith,” said Hildebrand.
“My message to the students would be to live this gift, and you’ll find your calling and the life that God has prepared for you,” explained Hildebrand.
Reflecting on his Catholic upbringing, Hildebrand explained, “[My parents] went to high school in the late ‘60s and from that time until fairly recently there have been woeful inadequacies in catechetical formation.”
Hildebrand continued, “They never left the Church and I didn’t, but none of us were all that well prepared to face the cultural forces that undermined the faith and the practice of the moral life.”
When asked to recall his time as a student, Hildebrand reflected on his journey to academic scholarship:
“I was aimless as an undergraduate. I certainly had no idea that I would pursue theology until my senior year. Early on, I just pursued my interests – hence the math major. My alma mater, like FUS, required a fair amount of philosophy.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed these courses and, at the same time, experienced an intellectual awakening that embraced the faith and my practice of it,” said Hildebrand. “So, I added a philosophy major. The final key piece for me was a wonderful mentor who took me under his wing – Fr. Thomas Kelly.”
“He died a few years ago, but I’ll be eternally grateful for him and what he did for him. He gave me spiritual help, academic guidance, and practical advice,” said Hildebrand.
“It was really under his direction that I went to study historical theology under Father Joseph Lienhard, SJ, at Fordham University in the Bronx. And this was a wonderful experience,” said Hildebrand.
Looking forward, the Troubadour asked Dr. Hildebrand about his goals and visions for the university within role.
Hildebrand reasoned, “I’ve discerned a few broad goals: First, unleash the creative potential of the faculty to do the good things that God is calling us to do.”
“Franciscan, long before I came in 2001 and certainly over the last 20 years, has accomplished a great deal. But I believe that God is calling us on,” continued Hildebrand.
“This could mean some new programs or revitalization of some existing programs. But no matter what, it will mean doubling down on what makes us flourish: our fidelity to the Lord and the Church,” said Hildebrand.
When asked to give advice to a student wishing to pursue academia, Hildebrand said, “I think the most helpful thing a student can do is get the counsel and advice of faculty mentors.”
“The path will be different for different disciplines, but the faculty know the way and will be able to help students discern what to do and when,” said Hildebrand.
Per the university press website, “As vice president for Academic Affairs (VPAA), Hildebrand will serve as Franciscan University’s primary academic officer.”
“He will oversee the development and implementation of academic programs, including graduate and undergraduate, online and on campus, to further the University’s mission to educate, evangelize, and send forth joyful disciples,” the university website stated.