Synod on Synodality Campus Executive Summary

Marquette is participating in the worldwide Synod on Synodality, being led by Pope Francis.  A synod is a process of engaged listening dedicated to better knowing the joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties of the human family and discerning how the Spirit of God is calling the Church to give witness to the Gospel while accompanying persons towards a hope filled future.  

The following synthesis reflects feedback gathered on campus.  This document has been shared with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Vatican.

Find out more about Marquette's participation in the Synod on Synodality.

Marquette University
Synod on Synodality
Executive Summary

About Marquette University

Marquette University is a Catholic, Jesuit university dedicated to serving God by serving our students and contributing to the advancement of knowledge. Our mission, therefore, is the search for truth, the discovery and sharing of knowledge, the fostering of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith, and the development of leadership expressed in service to others. All this we pursue for the greater glory of God and the common benefit of the human community.

Marquette is located near the heart of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States and offers a comprehensive range of majors in 11 nationally and internationally recognized colleges and schools.  The university is a home away from home for 11,320 undergraduate and graduate students. Marquette has 7,660 undergraduate students and 3,660 graduate and professional students. Current estimates indicate that 55% of undergraduate students identify as Catholic when applying for admission.

Marquette’s focus on the four core university values of excellence, faith, leadership, and service challenges students to integrate knowledge, faith and real-life choices in ways that will shape their lives.  Faith and spirituality affect the way teaching, learning, research and living take place on campus. Students, faculty and staff of every religious tradition are invited to engage in conversations about faith, God, social justice, the search for truth, the desire for peace, global issues, ethics and the dignity of humanity. A Catholic and Jesuit education at Marquette is marked by the active intersection of the Gospel with culture and the intellect, as well as a deep commitment to the well-being of the whole human family.

Marquette University’s Synod Activities

Marquette University Campus Ministry organized four opportunities for students to participate in the Synod on Synodality.  These opportunities varied in scope and focus in order to provide a variety of ways for students to participate in the Synod.

Lunch with Pope Francis: A Livestreamed Conversation with College Students
The first event served as a kick-off to create awareness of and energy around the Synod on campus.  This event was entitled, “Lunch with Pope Francis: A Livestreamed Conversation with College Students,” and featured a free boxed lunch and a live viewing of Pope Francis’ conversations with college students from across the Americas.  The livestream and conversations with Pope Francis were organized, facilitated, and made possible by Loyola University – Chicago.  32 people participated in this event.  Conversations focused on immigration, caring for persons on the margins, and climate change.

Marquette’s Listening: Student Voices on Faith, Campus Life, & Beyond
As part of the second event, students gathered for a free New Orleans style lunch and a facilitated conversation exploring three questions: 1) what have been the joys and obstacles in your journeying together with the church or Catholic community, 2) reflecting on your group’s response to question one: what resonated most for you, what was most powerful, what touched you, and 3) reflecting on our conversation, how might God be prompting you, our campus community, the church and/or the Catholic community to improve the ways we are able to journey together.  Students sat at tables of six persons with a trained notetaker. 27 students participated in this opportunity.

The major themes, ideas, or points that surfaced:
Students resoundingly gave thanks for the gift of community and belonging to a community of faith.  While students came to experience the Church as a community through different experiences and journeys, they emphasized that friendship creates the roads and bridges that lead to having a sense of belonging.  Conversely, students also reflected on communities and relationships that led them away from living a life of faith or made it more difficult.

Students struggle with divisiveness and infighting within the Church.  Notably, more students talked about justice issues and discordance within the Church about these issues than about Jesus.  Areas that came up repeatedly include the Church needing to be a place of welcome to LGBTQ+ persons, division and fighting about abortion, and a lack of ability for Catholic communities to foster dialogue amidst conflict – especially regarding politics.  Students value inclusivity, in the sense that the Gospel message is for all and challenges the Church to welcome persons where they are and journey with Jesus towards a life of transformation and joy.

Students touched on the value of being with others who are striving to live a Christian life and desired to have a deepened understanding of Catholic faith to better articulate their faith in the midst of the world.  This did not seem to be an appeal towards a renewal of apologetics but seems to come from students who may not have had strong or regular Catholic formation growing up and/or struggle with talking about their faith with persons who are against faith. 

Some of these conversations with persons against Catholic faith are fueled by an assumption that a homogenous Catholic community exists.  For example, if a person hears Catholic leaders speaking against LGBTQ+ persons, they presume that all Catholics are guilty of this by association.  This may cause them to speak out against Catholicism and be against living a life of faith.  College students may decide to hide their faith because of the fear of being criticized by others for belonging to a community that is perceived as not respecting the dignity of persons on the margins.

Quotes or testimonials that illustrate overall themes or perspectives from the 2nd Event:

  • There is strength in community.
  • I feel fortunate to have friends who are people of faith.
  • If you are associated with it, you take up those qualities. (i.e., hyper conservative, anti-gay)
  • I often hear from my LGBTQ friends that they don't know how to fit in with the church. I want to know how we can welcome them and help them feel a sense of identity within the church.
  • Accompanying others is most important. I'm concerned about the trauma others feel by being excluded. It is important to not try to fix people, but to welcome them.
  • We seem driven to argue and try to convince others to accept our views.
  • We hope to encourage a movement toward open communication and less rigidity. To have "two ears and one mouth." Respect and listening from a desire to understand, not argue.
  • The most beneficial way to draw people in is through joy – a free meal brings me joy
  • I feel a personal discomfort when I am unable to provide answers for my faith.
  • I feel that it is important to listen to others without dismissing them and to be open to people whatever their viewpoint. Americans are increasingly not very good listeners. It often feels that there is a "U.S. echo chamber." We are not open to other viewpoints. We can also love others by challenging them. Love and Truth can be held in balance. It is important to be vulnerable. We need to create spaces in which to be open with one another.

Camino Small Group Listening Sessions
Students belonging to Marquette’s Camino Small Groups (a.k.a. Christian Life Communities) participated in a facilitated conversation exploring three questions: 1) what have been the joys and obstacles in your journeying together with the church or Catholic community, 2) reflecting on your group’s response to question one: what resonated most for you, what was most powerful, what touched you, and 3) reflecting on our conversation, how might God be prompting you, our campus community, the church and/or the Catholic community to improve the ways we are able to journey together.  These listening sessions took the place of one of their regularly scheduled weekly community nights. 20-24 students participated in these sessions.

The major themes, ideas, or points that surfaced:

Students highlighted the gift of community and friendships that encourage living a life of faith as key parts of their experiences within the Catholic Church.  Opportunities to celebrate the sacraments within and as part of a community were also lifted up.

Students also desire that their voices be heard, and their gifts be used in Church settings.  One group had a significant conversation about exclusionary language and practices that limit youth and young adults from being full participatory members of parishes. 

Students echoed previous listening sessions’ concerns about a lack of inclusivity within Catholic communities, especially towards LGBTQ+ persons and people of color.  The negative witness of Catholics, particularly towards marginalized communities, impacts the lives of other Catholics.

Quotes or testimonials you feel illustrate overall themes or perspectives from the Camino sessions:

  • Joys that come to mind are having a community of people with likeminded values and knowing that they will support them.
  • In public school it was shameful to be catholic and could never voice opinions because it would always come back to attack me. It was always a negative struggle and would begin to adapt that mindset as well of the faith which was tough.
  • It was so difficult to have these conversations with people back at home [about faith] because they felt judged. Opening dialogue with people would completely change the representation. Be contemplatives in action and embody what our beliefs are - because that can transform the way Catholicism is understood by all.
  • Having more open dialogue and having more cross-cultural and cross-faith conversations without the judgment/attacks and practicing this. Meeting people where they are at.
  • How powerful the Church community can be both for good and for bad. Sometimes the Church shuts the door to others and can shut them down. …You have to welcome and love people first, you can’t just force people to adhere to Church teaching: you have to present it and invite, not force.
  • Struggled to even make it to Mass on Sundays without supportive Catholic friends. Finding the right group – like the one I’ve found in grad school – has been really important. Finding the right people who’ve gone through the same difficulties and can support you is hard, but it can really help people build better relationships with the Church
  • I sense a lot of division within the Church which mirrors the division in our culture – political division, generational division. Those are difficult and concerning experiences for me.
  • The Church can be as much an obstacle to God as a facilitator to God.
  • I think God is calling me to act and lead by example in small ways that will help other people lead and act by example. If we can all do small things, then we can together help correct our own communities by including others in conversation, doing more than just going to Church, and spending time in personal prayer with God.
  • For me going forward, I want to be even more compassionate and make sure that I’m careful with how I treat people so that I don’t drive other people away from the Church in the ways that have been discussed. I want to be more attentive to issues regarding trauma in even broader ways than focusing on trauma from child sexual abuse in the Church. I’m frustrated because I think formation for priests and religious needs to be changed, but there’s nothing I can do to change it since it's so decentralized.
  • Be a positive change in the world ourselves, rather than waiting for others to do this for us.  Inclusive, open, and loving.  Don't leave a negative impression - be a force of good.  Spread the love of Christ through our actions.

General Campus Survey
Marquette students were encouraged to participate in an anonymous survey, which was made accessible via an online link. The survey was open to any interested student and was promoted through university wide communications, announcements at university liturgies, and personal invitations to particular students or groups in some cases.  The survey was open for a week to 10 days.

Three questions were posed to students:

  1. What have been the joys and obstacles in your experiences with the Catholic community or the Catholic Church? Please share a brief story or example that illustrates your experience.
  2. How might God be prompting you, our campus community, the church and/or the Catholic community to improve the ways we journey together?
  3. If you could share one thing with Pope Francis, what would it be?

11 students participated.

The major themes, ideas, or points that surfaced:

The majority of participants expressed great love and gratitude for their Catholic faith.  Their responses seem to indicate that their faith guides them.  A few of the responders were not Catholic or are former Catholics and identified areas of gift and challenge for them within Catholic community settings.  Respondents’ comments echoed previous themes raised on campus consisting of the Church helping people grow closer to God and the harm created by the Church’s power dynamics and the marginalization of persons, especially LGBTQ+ people.

Quotes or testimonials you feel illustrate overall themes or perspectives from the General Survey:

  • I think the Catholic Church can give you an amazing atmosphere to be together as one.
  • I have left the Church due to the rampant abuse of minors and sexual minorities that continues to plague the institution of the Church.
  • I think the church encourages togetherness and in turn spreading love with other groups of people.
  • The one thing I still do not understand, and I know it's in the scripture and the doctrines over thousands of years, the non- acceptance of LGBTQ is truly an area that confuses me and many other people in this world. I think that needs to be examined, they need to be welcomed, and we need to review past historical documents to make sure that diversity, inclusion, are appropriate for today's lifestyle.