When Judith Cebula joined Butler University in 2003 as director of the newly created Center for Faith and Vocation, she faced a significant challenge: Figure out what religion looked like on the Butler campus.
“At the time,” she said, “there was no religious life center. There were only a few student religious associations. And so the question was, how do we support those in new ways? And the idea of talking about religion—no matter how inclusive the conversation—was going to be tricky on a campus that had a strong and committed secular identity.”
Ten years later, the results have turned out better than she expected. The center’s presence on campus, has grown exponentially—both in location (from a small Jordan Hall office to what’s known on campus as “the Blue House” at 4615 Sunset Ave.) and in influence.
Cebula, a former Indianapolis Star religion writer, said Butler students, their professors, and staff mentors now relate to spirituality and religion better than they did, and that includes students with deep religious commitments as well as secular students and those who doubt. The University, she said, also has better interreligious dialogue, with the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish group Hillel collaborating on interfaith activities, and Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelicals working together on projects from homecoming events to baccalaureate.
In addition, the center has placed four student interns each semester in faith-based and social justice non-profit organizations across Indianapolis, including the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which does pro bono work for families facing foreclosure or undocumented workers dealing with labor issues; refugee services at Catholic Charities; and the Raphael Health Center. “Our students are showing up at places in Indianapolis that they didn’t before because we’re paying attention to that intersection between faith and calling,” she said.
The center also has helped faculty by putting on workshops designed to make them better academic advisors and mentors. They’re able to talk with a student in a more meaningful way about study abroad, careers, and graduate and professional schooling, among other topics, Cebula said.
“Butler is a stronger university because we’ve paid attention to these issues,” she said, “and I think as the University moves forward with the collaborations with Christian Theological Seminary, with our new Desmond Tutu Center, or even with the BIG EAST—nine of those 10 schools are religiously affiliated; we’re the only non-affiliated school—what the center started could grow and become more of a service to the rest of the institution.”
The Center for Faith and Vocation (CFV) opened thanks to a series of Lilly Endowment Inc. grants totaling about $2.3 million. The five-year ButlerRising capital campaign that ended in 2009 helped establish an endowed fund to keep the center staffed and its doors open.
The center’s ultimate goal, Cebula said, is to help members of the Butler community develop lives of purpose, meaning, and contribution. And from what students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends told Butler Magazine, it has succeeded.
For the 10th anniversary, here are 10 of their stories.