I was asked to give a testimony at this past summer’s Defending the Faith Conference on the way that Franciscan University has helped me grow in my faith and as a person. While preparing for this talk, I thought I’d like to share with you the same. Because this school certainly has changed my life!
I learned of Franciscan University while I was in High School. I was adopted from China as a baby. My birth mother was unable to keep me and she left me in a basket with only a note including my name, birthday, and asking that I be taken care of. (I kind of feel like Moses.) The name she gave me, “Zheng Pan,” in Chinese means, “Hope for a Better Life”.
I was raised Catholic here in the states but I struggled with my faith quite a bit. I went to a public high school where living out my faith was difficult with pressure from students and teachers who discouraged many of my beliefs. I developed the “go along to get along” mentality. I was living something of a double life, going to Mass and Youth Group on Sundays but dappling in the party scene on the other days. In the summer of my junior year of High School, I had the opportunity to travel back to China for the first time. I had wanted the trip to be like a pilgrimage, a journey united with the Lord. But while I was there, I fell into old habits. Returning I felt I had wasted my time there and regretted many things that I’d done. I decided that my life needed to change. I rediscovered a life rooted in prayer and the Church.
Seeing this change in me, my youth minister recommended that look into Franciscan University. My family was overjoyed at my interest and we made the trip to Steubenville. I fell in love with the university! I decided that Franciscan was the only school that I would apply to.
That fall, I was enrolled in classes as a Biology major with a Pre-Med Concentration. My classes were challenging. I never studied much in high school. I knew the school’s slogan was “Academically Excellent, Passionately Catholic” but I didn’t realize just how academically excellent they really were. I had to learn self-discipline, to die to myself and embrace my vocation as a student.
I was surprised at how faith and a spirit of prayer were integrated into the classroom. I took a Developmental Anatomy course from my advisor, Dr. Doroski. He taught an argument for the beginning of life at conception from a biological perspective. I have used this argument many times in my conversations with others and it often appeals to them and reshapes their thinking.
Independent form my required courses, I am an intern studying under Dr. Stephen Sammut. We work in an animal laboratory conducting research on Post-Abortive Depression. Our hope is to experimentally find a positive correlation between abortion and depression to show the physiological harmful affects of abortion on women. We pray before conducting experiments and place the work that we do in the Lord’s hands that it would be for His glory according to His will.
One unique aspect of Franciscan is the relationship that professors have with their students. My professors are invested not just in my educational success but my growth in prayer and flourishing as a person. I frequently see their families at daily mass and around campus. They take the time to pass on their knowledge of the Catholic faith and show me what it looks like to build God’s kingdom on earth serving Him as the laity. In many ways, Franciscan feels like a home.
I am also a student in Franciscan’s Center for Leadership program. The Center for Leadership is an action-oriented, seminar format, four-year program that fosters virtues, imparts knowledge and cultivates practical skills essential for effective, lifelong leadership. We have many opportunities to travel for “field trips”. On multiple occasions we have been to Washington D.C. where we met congressman Jeffery Fortenberry of Nebraska, a graduate of Franciscan, He spoke to us about how his faith is not separate from his public life because it is truth to who he is as a person.
I am also a member of Handmaids of the Lord Household. We are a Marian household devoted to emulating Mary’s fiat and virtues. My sisters in Christ are a supportive group of women who hold me accountable to striving for holiness. Multiple nights a week we meet for commitments. One of my favorite commitments is the Holy Rosary where we come to reflect on the memories of our Blessed Mother and the life of her son.
The most recent event in my life at Franciscan has been my mission trip back to China. I never thought going back to China would be a possibility. During one of our trips to D.C. with the Center for Leadership, we visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There was an image of Our Lady of China and as I sat at her feet, I saw myself in the Christ child, as Mary never let go of me when I was abandoned; and also in her as I felt called to hold the children of China who have Christ within them. I traveled with a Franciscan alumni, a few university students, and a priest. We celebrated mass each day in secret. Evangelization in China is so different than here in the states. Discussion of Christ must be done through forming relationship with people sought out first by charity. We volunteered with an organization that takes in abandoned babies with complex medical needs. It was there that I truly saw the value of human life because of God’s love for them. God gave me a gift of immeasurable value in that trip. It was as if he offered me redemption in the time that I’d failed before.
If you told me four years ago that all these blessings would be placed in my life, I wouldn’t have believe you. Through her prayers and intercession, I believe that St. Clare of Assisi, my confirmation saint and St. Francis’ dear friend, brought me to this place. I cannot nor will I try to understand the reasons for these events, but rather hold them in my heart and know with certainty that God is good.