Journeys of faith and intellect

Lizzy Balboa

After a long day of lecturing and grading 5,000-word papers, most professors like to take a break. A few relax with roles in local theater. Some play sports. Many raise families, and a lot conduct outside research.

Sister Lucia Treanor is different, though. When Treanor takes off her teaching cap and leaves the writing classroom for the day, she heads to an idyllic life that many only experience in their English Literature reading assignments.

After all, how many can say they tend a cemetery, nurture a flock of chickens, maintain an onion garden and prepare a chapel sacristy for visiting priests? Possibly only those who serve alongside Treanor, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, at the Life Process Center in Lowell, Mich.

As a Roman Catholic sister, Treanor’s typical day consists of an early rising with morning prayer, a stop at St. Andrew’s Cathedral for Mass, a full day of teaching freshmen writing courses at Grand Valley State University, evening prayers, dinner, farm work and night prayers. And when all the work is done, she makes a little time to watch Masterpiece Theater on Sundays.

Treanor said she thinks nothing of the transition from the rustic spiritual center to the secular university campus.

“I really never thought about it, but just do it,” she said.

Her treks across campus in a brown habit have just become a regular part of her day. Along the way, she’s never been met with hostility by non-Catholic students, and while not all professors have expressed their approval of working alongside a religious sister, the general attitude is supportive and accepting, she said.

Treanor, who attended secular schools until her college years, said her decision to work in a public university was natural.

“I see it as my mission,” she said. “Not one that I chose—it just fell that way in life, but it is one that I am used to because I have attended and taught mostly in secular institutions.”

Her mission does not include proselytizing, though, as public university code forbids it.

“I think it is both realistic and an expectation that those with strong faiths teach according to GVSU’s mission and commitment to welcoming students of all religions or non-religions,” said Maria Cimitile, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs at GVSU. “Professional ethics of teaching demands that faculty create an atmosphere of free thinking and critical inquiry. If a faculty member prescribes his or her views (of any type) in such a manner that he or she shuts off dialogue, that is a violation of professional ethics and practice.”

The university does not take proactive measures to prevent this sort of proselytizing. “We rely on faculty members’ integrity but if a problem arises, we address it immediately,” Cimitile said.

But Treanor doesn’t aim to proselytize, anyway.

“My task is to teach writing, so I’m not there at Grand Valley teaching religion,” she said.

As the faculty adviser for Students for Life and the Catholic Student Association, Treanor gets ample opportunity to discuss her faith in an appropriate atmosphere with students of similar views. But she still values her interactions with non-Catholic students and professors.

“The Franciscan way is to be with the people,” she said. “By being at Grand Valley, or wherever any of our sisters are, we are informed about what society is doing, and we can better address the issues of society in our programs and meetings.”

Essentially, Treanor’s secular involvement guides her ministry and dissolves any distinction between her two lives. “I incorporate my professional life into my religious life,” she said.