History of AFCU

Informal networking among Franciscan Colleges and Universities goes back as far as 1995 around meetings of the Franciscan Federation and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. The AFCU was formally launched on February 4, 1997 at a meeting of Franciscan college presidents held at Washington Theological Union. Ten of the current 21 members were present at this organizational meeting.

In 1998 bylaws were drafted and an executive director hired. Initial activities following formal organization were the development of a mission statement and a logo, incorporation, establishment of nonprofit/tax exempt status and listing in the Official Catholic Directory. Early efforts included advertising in national journals and at national conferences in order to build name recognition. In the intervening years the organization developed a website, launched a journal, inaugurated a series of symposia, developed a student Assisi Pilgrimage program, began an on-line program in Franciscan studies and increased membership.

The purpose of the association as listed in the by-laws is to:

  • Support the member institutions in the mission of Catholic higher education as characterized by the Franciscan values of love/respect for one another and for all of creation, recognition that God is the Father of all persons, commitment to the search for truth, and for service with those in need;
  • Provide a forum for dialogue about matters of importance to the members;
  • Foster and facilitate appropriate and practical educational collaboration among the members.

The AFCU seeks to nurture a community of academic institutions committed to the Catholic and Franciscan spiritual and intellectual traditions and to promote scholarship and curricula that, in keeping with the vocations of Saints Francis and Clare, address the needs of the poor, attend to the environment, and promote peace.

Members pay a membership fee based on enrollment which helps support the operations of the organization. Currently member institutions touch the lives of approximately 48,000 students a year. The association has a half-time executive director and a 5-member Board of Directors, comprised of presidents of AFCU member institutions.

Activities of the association currently include an annual meeting for presidents held in Washington, DC just prior to the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. This wrap around meeting allows the presidents to attend the AFCU annual meeting by making only one trip to DC if they are also attending the ACCU meeting. The Board, with the support of the executive director, guides the activities of the organization between annual meetings.

The cornerstone activity of the association is the biennial symposium on Catholic Franciscan higher education, held in even numbered years at one of our member campuses. The symposium supports dialogue about Franciscan identity within and among the member schools. Through this dialogue administrators, faculty and staff are educated about and enabled to articulate the Franciscan intellectual tradition and heritage. The long-range goal is for the symposium is to enable institutions to integrate the Franciscan tradition and heritage into the modern education paradigm. The symposium involves a two to three day program of guest speakers from and beyond our campuses in addition to presenters from our campuses. Past symposia have been held at Cardinal Stritch University (2004), St. Bonaventure University (2006) and Alvernia University (2008). Symposium presentations can be found on the AFCU website. The next symposium will be hosted by the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN, in June 2010. It will take place Tuesday through Friday, June 8-11, 2010. The theme is: Educating for the Care of Creation: Contemporary Verses for the Canticle of the Creatures. The keynote speaker will be Keith Warner, OFM. Two faculty members at USF are chairing the planning task force.

Another major activity of the AFCU is the publication of the AFCU Journal published every year in January. Many campuses use the journal in a variety of ways. The Journal is packed with articles that are of interest to all any and all of our various constituencies.

The AFCU is also currently offering an on-line certificate program in Franciscan Studies. This is a non-credit curriculum that introduces faculty and staff to the Franciscan spiritual and intellectual traditions. Faculty and staff from AFCU member campuses take the following online courses toward the certificate:

  • Franciscan Origins & Values I: covers the historical background of the Franciscan movement, the stories of Francis and Clare and a brief history of the three orders.
  • Franciscan Origins & Values II: covers some of the essential values emerging from the early history of the Franciscan movement such as the justice of God, work and service, peace and creation as they relate to life according to the Gospel.
  • Franciscan Spirituality & the Evangelical Life: covers topics such as conversion, poverty, the Canticle of the Creatures, and the aspects of fraternity and mutuality.
  • Franciscan Tradition in Art & Literature: introduces the influence of Francis and Clare on artists from the Renaissance to the present day. It also covers the literature of Francis and how Francis is represented in poetry and literature.

The impetus for this program is the need to orient faculty, staff and administrators to the Franciscan tradition and/or to deepen their understanding of the tradition. The audience is faculty and staff at our institutions who may or may not be Catholic. They are not Franciscans in any formal way, but they are interested in learning about the Franciscan tradition. The on-line program is currently being offered through the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL.

The AFCU also supports the opportunity for students to participate in the Franciscan Pilgrimage program during their semester break.

Member presidents were invited to a workshop June 14-16, 2009 that took place at the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs. The theme the workshop was “Holding the Legacy in Trust: A conference for AFCU Presidents and Major Stakeholders.” Thirteen member institutions committed to participate in the conference which dealt with the education/formation/of future leaders to guarantee the institution’s

Catholic Franciscan identity. It included discussion of emerging models of sponsorship and the integration of the Franciscan charism throughout the institution. The president

and two or three stakeholders - administrators, Board members, congregational leaders, chief academic officers, mission directors - were invited to the conference to address the challenge of articulating the distinctive character of the “Franciscan” institution of higher education, an issue for our institutions in light of the changing demographics of the leadership of our colleges and universities as fewer members of the sponsoring religious congregation are involved in key leadership roles. This was first time leaders of AFCU institutions had the opportunity to gather and address in a creative and systematic way the challenges of identity and mission. This dialogue resulted in a concrete recommendation to establish the AFCU Leadership Academy.

The Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province partially funded the cost of this conference through the May Bonfils Trust. The trust also previously funded planning meetings for the biennial symposia held at St. Bonaventure University and Alvernia University.

Recently the member presidents were survey regarding present and future direction and activities of the organization. The responses to the survey will guide on-going planning.