Franciscan hosts Encounter Conference to start new school year


Franciscan University of Steubenville held its Young Adult Encounter Conference bringing together both the university’s students as well as other young people from across the country Aug. 29 and 30.

Around 700 university students attended the event, and 100 more young people joined the conference from out of state, traveling from Michigan, New York and even Canada.

Doors opened at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29, and during the day, students were able to attend Mass, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, listen to talks and sing praise and worship. In the evening, they could join together for adoration of the Eucharist. The next morning, students were invited to listen to the final talks of the conference and participate in Sunday Mass.

When asked about the importance of holding Encounter at the beginning of the school year, Mark Joseph, the executive director for Christian Outreach Services, explained, “When we encounter the love of God, our hearts respond generously. Everything we do is in response to what God does first.”

In response to his experience attending Encounter, Christopher Thorpe, a freshman at Franciscan University, expressed his appreciation of being able to be a part of a college where the first priority is to come together to adore and grow close to Christ.

“I think that’s a testimony to the goals and mission of the university,” said Thorpe, “it shows how this university emphasizes the faith.”

The conference brought together a team of speakers to lead the event. Two of the speakers, Ennie Hickman and Michael Gormley, are Franciscan University graduates. Hickman, the emcee of the conference, shared an analogy before Saturday’s Mass, saying if one is not hungering for the Eucharist, it means that he is “snacking on the world” instead.

The Rev. John Burns and Sister Bethany Madonna, S.V. represented the religious life on the team. During the first break-out session, Burns gave a powerful talk on discerning God’s will, reminding everyone how God cares about each choice in one’s life because every choice is either leading one toward or away from fullness.

“We need to make discernment a lot smaller,” said Burns, explaining how a person cannot turn to God for just the big decisions because he will miss all those little moments when God was communicating his will.

During the second break-out session, Sister Bethany Madonna spoke to women about the desire for intimacy as single Catholics.

“We can’t put our desire on any person,” she said, explaining how only God has the ability to give the love that one truly needs.

Ben Walther rounded out the team, leading praise and worship and allowing the students to join in song during Mass, throughout the conference and during adoration.

“I just liked how they were real about the faith, and they really wanted you to experience Christ in your own unique way,” said Sarah Beaver, a Franciscan University freshman, when describing the different speakers. “It was nice to hear that it’s ok to fail because God is merciful. His love is the best thing ever and they were such a great example of that.”

Junior Ellie Rich summed up the Encounter experience saying, “We’re super unworthy but (God) absolutely doesn’t care.”

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