New program offers community, support from graduate students

Photos by Ben Rose-Fish

Sebastian Gonzalez
Staff Writer

A graduate student reflected on his days as a freshman, saying he had a “naiveness” when it came to realizing how lonely university life could be without community.

However, being invited by his resident assistant to play frisbee with the Disciples of the Word household changed everything for Adam Boyle and gave him a chance to build community at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Although many students are able to find a community like he did, Boyle said an unreached number of students come into campus unaware of the loneliness they are about to feel. To combat the loneliness of these students, the Graduate Assistants Program was born.

Bob Lesnefsky, director of pastoral ministry for student life, and the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of FUS, initiated the program. They realized that having six grad students providing outreach to new undergraduate students “could benefit the campus greatly,” said Shelby Ellis, another graduate student who is involved in the outreach as head of women’s ministry.

Because of this program, graduate students can work a job at the university and learn how to be professional and Catholic in the real world while pursuing graduate school academics.

The goal of the Grad Assistants Program is to reach out to students who aren’t reached by Franciscan’s other programs.

“Life is meant to be lived with and for others,” said Boyle, who is in charge of the evangelization office.

Boyle’s life and experiences in the rich community offered by campus impacted his decision to return to Franciscan for graduate school.

Boyle always desired to have a future in Steubenville. During his freshman year, Boyle felt lukewarm towards his faith, but his household community helped him find his way. The Disciples of the Word were focused on a life of prayer and rigorous schedules that builds discipline and care for the soul.

“Take your faith seriously but not yourself,” said Boyle.

The structure of the specific household’s Lord’s Day had a sense of goofiness, but prayer was heavily emphasized, Boyle said. All of this and more changed Boyle’s sense of prayer and his worldview.

For this reason, when looking at grad schools, Boyle desired and prayed to God that the specific program he was looking for would be offered at Franciscan.

One morning, before heading off to household commitment, Boyle saw a flyer for the program for which he had been praying.

The Grad Assistant program, Boyle said, is the ideal that in its service, “Jesus has to be the goal and end result.”

Ellis graduated Franciscan in 2020 and went to work with Vagabond Missions. There she worked with teens in the inner city and saw a great need for the counseling of teens.

“I am in love with this school because it is working to do God’s will in the world,” said Ellis.

She returned to Franciscan so that she could help young women to recognize God’s gifts to them. At the same time, she is attending graduate school for mental health counseling.

Boyle said the program has been set up on campus to be a part of God’s desire for hope on campus and to show individuals where this hope is.

The other grad assistants include Oliver Sibley on men’s ministry, Natalie Garza on freshman outreach and dorm ministry, Margaret McKee on sports and freshman outreach and John Ellender on house ministry.