Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 5, 2001
Luthern College attracts Catholics
Camrose institution aims to be truly ecumenical, says college president
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
CAMROSE — Augustana University College, a 90-year-old Lutheran-run institution, no longer attracts just Lutheran students.
Christians and non-Christians from across Canada and about 30 other countries have found a home here.
Last year, Roman Catholics made up the largest recognizable faith group at Augustana with 135 students, surpassing even the Lutherans.
This year, out of total student population of 918 students, Catholics are the second faith group on campus with 117 students, trailing behind the Lutherans by just 16 students.
There are also 57 students from the United Church, 30 Baptists, 22 Anglicans, 10 Pentecostals and 18 members of the Alliance Church. Even some Muslims study at Augustana.
Why do Catholics and other Christians attend a university run by Lutherans? "Because we are a Christian university and we are truly ecumenical," says Augustana president Richard Husfloen.
"As president I am very conscious of trying to support people in their religious expression as opposed to trying to make them into something that is alien to their faith tradition.
"And I think we've succeeded in that in a very good way so that people feel welcome here but they also don't feel that we are doing a number on them."
Another reason for Augustana's success is the fact "we are an undergraduate college and because of our small size we can give more personalized attention to students," said registrar Milo Shaw.
"Here instructors do their own marking and have much more direct contact with students than do instructors at larger institutions."
Catholics agree, saying Augustana offers what larger institutions don't.
In addition to its small and intimate classes, its peer-driven residence life program and its top-of-the-line sports program, Augustana offers superb academic opportunities as well as opportunities for spiritual development, says Brendan Lord, an Augustana graduate.
"I think this is a fantastic place," says Lord, 22, a Camrose Catholic who graduated last May with a bachelor of arts in music. "I couldn't imagine going anywhere else; I wouldn't want to have gone anywhere else for my undergraduate degree."
He said his faith "definitely grew" while he studied at Augustana. "Here we feel encouraged to try to develop our spirituality, develop our faith, our religion, without judgment."
Jennifer Guhle, 19, a Catholic who is a second year business student, came to Augustana because she wanted to study close to her home in Daysland and get a first-rate education in a small, Christian-oriented university. She believes she's found what she wanted.
"Augustana is very good," she said. "Teachers are always concerned about your educational life as well as your spiritual life here. I find that my spiritual life has grown a lot since I enrolled."
Her faith is "challenged a lot" too because of the number of religions represented on campus.
The best part of studying at Augustana, though, is the small campus, Guhle said. "Here the teachers are very accessible and they know you by name. Sometimes in larger schools you get lost." There are about 55 full-time professors for 918 students at Augustana.
Guhle also likes the university's "excellent sports program," which offers everything from volleyball to basketball to hockey and other Olympic sports.
Augustana has the only private natural luge course in Canada. For years, it has trained Olympians in biathlon and cross-country skiing. In the last Winter Olympics, three Augustana alumnae were on the Canadian teams in cross-country skiing, biathlon and speed skating.
Augustana excels in many areas, including music, fine arts, campus ministry, physical education and the sciences. It has international programs in Cuba, Mexico, Germany and Norway.
And while it is a university in the Lutheran tradition, it is ecumenical in spirit.
Lord's decision to enroll at Augustana four years ago wasn't hard. He liked the fact Augustana was in his hometown, had a Christian orientation and a reputable music program. Plus he knew many students who had attended Augustana and had only good things to say about it.
"They thought it was the best place on earth," he recalled. And in the four years he spent there, "Augustana definitely proved to be that way."
The way he sees it, Augustana "not only nurtures your mind and your intellect but there are so many opportunities to nurture your spirit."
Being a Catholic in a Lutheran-run institution was never a problem, Lord said. "I was student coordinator for campus ministry here for three years and I never felt excluded. It was very comfortable."
In addition to a variety of religion courses, Augustana also offers ecumenical chapel services five days a week. As ministry coordinator, Lord was in charge of the music for the celebrations. He composed music for a Catholic Mass which Augustana now uses often in its own worship services.
He also helped organize and supervise a program called Jesus at Midnight Jam, which is a contemporary worship service held once a month on Friday nights at the university chapel. It's a type of a liturgy that includes lots of singing, readings, prayer and small group discussions and activities.
Pakistan's Hafizullah Kakar, one of 80 international students at Augustana, found out about the university through the Internet. He is now in the first year of the four-year computing science degree. "Education here is very good and less expensive than in Pakistan," the 21-year-old noted, while studying for an exam at the university's library.
"I've never encountered any problems regarding my (Muslim) faith at Augustana. They respect my beliefs here."
Augustana University College was founded in 1910 by the Alberta Norwegian Lutheran College Association, a voluntary association of Lutheran congregations in Alberta. When operations began in 1911, it provided a quality academic secondary education program.
Augustana began offering university courses in 1959 and became a degree-granting college in 1985. It was the first private college in Alberta to receive degree-granting status from the Alberta government.
Since then the university has granted three and four-year degrees in the arts and the sciences with specialization in areas such as art, music, political studies, psychology, religious studies, sociology, history, English, biology, chemistry, computing science and economics.
Originally known as Camrose Lutheran College, Augustana University College took its present name in 1991. The word Augustana refers to one of the central confessional statements of the Lutheran Church - the Augsburg Confession published in 1530 in Augsburg, Germany.
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