Undergraduate Admissions

Juliana Vossenberg

Medical Ethics Conference

Several weeks ago, I traveled with a fellow student to the University of Notre Dame. There, we attended an annual medical ethics conference put on by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. We became aware of this conference through one of our professors in the Theology Department, who knew that we were interested in both Medicine and Ethics. Generously, the University of Scranton and the University of Notre Dame covered the costs of our travel and accommodations for the conference!

The conference was geared toward medical professionals, so we, as undergraduates, were in the minority. Besides some wonderful free food, we also were treated to a variety of insightful talks given by doctors and bioethicists. We heard a presentation about the ethics of talking about financial issues with patients. We learned about CRISPR gene editing and the implications of this new and easy-to-use technology. We were presented with case studies that revealed how trust can breakdown in patient-doctor relationships. The keynote presentation, my personal favorite, explored the philosophical currents that lead to the revolution in women’s reproductive medicine.

After each presentation, the conference attendees were split into smaller groups and had the opportunity to discuss what they had heard with each other. This was by far the most impactful part of the conference for me. I had the privilege of speaking with some top-notch bioethicists and doctors who dealt with ethical issues in their practices every day. It was inspiring to see how committed these people were to upholding their ethical standards. Conversing with them was also a mentoring experience, as many of them were interested in my own career aspirations and plan of studies. Overall I am grateful for the opportunity I had to attend this conference, and I hope to be involved with the Center in the future.

As a funny side note: I recently received a letter in the mail from Notre Dame informing me that I had received Continuing Medical Education credits from the conference. I’ll have to save those for the future!



SJLA: My Central College Experience

Much of my college experience at Scranton had been defined by SJLA. The Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) Honors Program is a philosophy-based honors program at the university. Before my freshman year, I was offered a spot in the program. I didn’t know much about it, but I did know that one infamous class, The Trivium, trained students intensely in public speaking. One of my weaknesses in high school had been speaking in front of crowds, so I knew that I had to give myself this opportunity to improve. I accepted the invitation into SJLA, and that decision has enhanced my college studies immeasurably.

My first impressions of SJLA came from a inaugural meeting during my freshman year. All of the teachers and students from other grades were in attendance. I noticed first that when the teachers were introduced, their students went wild for them. They clapped and hollered. It was charming to see how much the students appreciated their teachers. Then, during a talk given by a student, I noticed that the student made many jokes, all relating to various courses they had taken in the program. Laughs resounded through the hall; the freshman, myself included, awkwardly smiled, unsure what the jokes were about. But beneath that awkwardness was curiosity. I wanted to know what tied all of these students and professors together. Now I know that the shared pursuit of good through education enables such strong bonds.

The SJLA curriculum hopes to produce well-rounded students through rigorous exposure to the humanities. Together, students take two theology, two english, one interdisciplinary, and eight philosophy courses throughout their four years. Through these classes, SJLA hopes to build a community of scholars. In my experience, this is certainly the case. One of my SJLA teachers last semester joked about how he can tell the difference between his SJLA classes and his other classes: When he approaches a normal class, there is complete silence, and when he walks in the door, many people are on their cell phones. In contrast, when he walks to an SJLA class, from down the hallway he can hear “a commotion, like there’s a bullfight.” That’s because we’re all talking excitedly with each other before class — talking about our lives, the assigned reading, some new thought we had.

This camaraderie makes all the difference; classes become all the more interesting because I am in them with friends. Friendships are initiated and strengthened by the classes; in listening to others express their thoughts and opinions in class, I learn more about them and can grow closer to them. There is something magical about maturing in education with one group of people. At times, I am struck by how much a particular friend of mine has grown in her ability to think well; or I feel pleasure when another friend who struggles with participation in class raises his hand and asks a brilliant question. Seeing my friends and acquaintances grow in their abilities spurs my own growth and enriches my gratitude to the process of education.

The courses we take are truly superb. They are taught by some of the best professors on campus, who bring their passion and personality to the classroom. You can’t help but become excited with them. In my Subject and Medieval Thought class this semester, I sit on the edge of my chair, immersed in what the professor is explaining. I can’t wait to talk about the lecture with my friends after class. One of the key features of SJLA for me is that it extends beyond the classroom. The ideas are so interesting and important that we just have to talk about them over dinner, late at night, on the weekend. Here is a link to the current SJLA program, where you can see the required courses.

Please contact me if you’d like more information about the program! I seriously love to talk about it. My email is juliana.vossenberg@scranton.edu.


Finding Balance

I’ve struggled my fair share with balancing schoolwork, relaxation and socialization. Erring on the side of schoolwork can be not only lonely and exhausting but also disrespectful to one’s friends, but putting relaxation first often times leads to disappointment in academic work. This semester I’m doing the best I ever have at finding balance, and I want to try to put into words the skills and strategies I use to accomplish this equilibrium.

The first and most important piece of advice is something a philosophy teacher brought to my attention last semester: “Don’t work hard to play hard.” We succumb too easily to the mentality that we work through the week as a punishment in order to receive our reward: free time on the weekend. This is a damaging mentality because it makes students see their studies as means to the end of a weekend of pleasure. If we can somehow find pleasure, find play and imagination, in the work we do, we see it in a more positive light. Every day of schoolwork is not sheer torture, but is (dare I say?) fun. When I take classes that I enjoy when I allow the material to apply to my life, I work hard and play hard at the same time.

A second strategy I use to add relaxation and socialization into my days is utilizing meal times as social gatherings. Eating with my friends is a great way to catch up with them without using up time I would have used for homework or studying.

Lastly, I think it’s very important to have a planner or another type of scheduling device where I can actually write out and keep track of how much time I spend working and not working. That way, I’m not tempted to try to multitask work with friends or work while watching netflix (both of which are never successful enterprises).


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

The Spring Semester has arrived with full force! So far I am incredibly pleased with the courses I enrolled in this semester. I thought it might be interesting for you all to hear about 3 of my favorite classes.

  1. T/RS 490: The Life and Afterlife of Saint Paul. This Theology course is the capstone seminar for all Theology and Religious Studies majors this year. Majors must take the seminar either in their junior or senior year. The topic of the seminar changes according to the teacher who is leading the seminar each year. I love the environment of this class: it’s a group of 11 students around a small table discussing the letters of St. Paul once a week. We’re all Theology nerds, so it’s a delight to discuss the history, meaning, and impact of the Pauline epistles in such intimacy. Because we only meet once a week, the work load is pretty heavy (one epistle + 2-3 secondary sources). However, it’s a good amount of material to keep us discussing for the entire 2 and ½ hours of class time. Yesterday, we discussed Paul’s letter to the Galatians and Martin Luther’s enormously influential interpretation of it.
  2. T/RS 386H: Mariology. This Theology course is a tutorial in the Honors Program. Our class is small — only 3 students! — and we meet once a week in my professor’s office. Like the Capstone, there is a lot of reading, but it’s been incredibly enjoyable. The topic of the class is the Blessed Virgin Mary. We read an article on Mary’s shadowy appearances in the Old Testament last week, and now we are discussing her periodical appearances in the gospels. I always wish this class could go on longer; that’s how much I enjoy it!
  3. PHIL 341J: The Subject and Medieval Thought. This Philosophy course is a junior-level course in the SJLA Honors Program. Because the SJLA group has been taking classes with each other for the past three years, we know one another very well and have a great time in class. The pleasure of learning with friends is only augmented by our energetic teacher, who somehow manages to make tedious medieval writing exciting and mind-blowing without dumbing it down. We always roar with laughter at some demonstration (for example, we played charades the other day to see if, as St. Augustine argued, we cannot learn anything from signs signifying things or signs signifying other signs). It’s obvious that our professor has an intense respect and love for medieval thinking in all of its obscurity, and that makes for a marvelous class.

An Adventure in the Ceiling

It’s Finals Week, which means that we are all more likely to do crazy things, like ordering three venti coffees from Starbucks at one time, or putting class notes in a ziplock bag in order to study in the shower. Yesterday, two of my quadmates and I decided to do our own little crazy thing: We took a study break by playing hide-and-seek in our apartment. The apartment is relatively small, and there are not that many places to hide. Nevertheless, we got creative. Our hiding spots included the cabinet beneath the bathroom sink, the top of the wardrobe, and behind the shower curtain. It was nice to be silly for a while after a weekend of serious studying.

After our game, we were talking about the challenges of hiding in our apartment. One of my friends looked up at the ceiling and noticed that it was constructed of removable tiles. As you can imagine, we were curious… so my friend climbed the kitchen counter and poked her head up into the ceiling crawl space. I wanted to see up there myself, so I climbed up. As I was scanning the space, I noticed a cylinder-shaped object a few feet away. I grabbed it and brought it down. It was a time capsule!

The outside read: “Montrone 303 Time Capsule”. Inside was a note written by two inhabitants of the apartment, two semesters ago. They had also included a little trinket — a plastic palm tree — that we now keep out in the apartment. I was so excited to find the time capsule! It was like something from a movie; it felt so surreal. My quadmates and I wrote our own note for the capsule introducing ourselves and giving some advice. We also included trinkets (I gave a rosary). We put the capsule back into the ceiling in the hope that next year, the new inhabitants of our apartment would be adventurous and journey into the ceiling.

NYC Field Trip

The University’s Theology Department sponsored a field trip to New York City last weekend. I and a handful of other Theology majors and minors boarded a Martz bus to New York at the very early hour of 7 am. Along with us came two Theology professors. After the 2 hour ride, we arrived safely in the Port Authority terminal. From there, we decided to take a long walk to our first destination, the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. We stopped along the way at the New York Public Library and the Bryant Park Holiday Market, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We arrive at St. Vincent Ferrer just in time for mass. We sat on dark intricately carved wooden chairs in a choir format (two rows of chairs facing each other) and we knelt on wooden kneelers. After mass, the Dominican who had said mass for us gave us a tour of the Church. It was so beautiful. The architecture was gothic.

We ate lunch with the Dominican at a nearby Italian restaurant. We ordered far too much pizza for our group, but it was so good, so it was worth it. We then had a bit of down time during which some of us got coffee and others explored St. Vincent more. After our respite, we journeyed on to our last stop: Park East Orthodox Synagogue. We joined the congregants for a Jewish night service. The women and men were separate, with the women confined to a small box in the back right of the synagogue. The men participated in the service, while it did not seem mandatory for the women to do so. Thankfully, many of the Jewish women around us took us under their wing and explained to us the various parts of the service as they were happening. After the first part of the service, the community invited us downstairs for a communal meal, during which a young man gave a “Torah talk” about Abraham and Isaac. The most beautiful part of the whole service was the singing during the meal, particularly the singing of Psalm 23 in Hebrew.

We arrived home in Scranton content at having such an adventurous and delightful Saturday.

The China Study’s Author Visits Scranton

On Wednesday, November 11, I ventured up to the 4th floor of The DeNaples Center with a friend. I had cajoled him into coming with me to listen to a science talk. When we entered the lecture hall, we were astounded by the number of people in the audience. Almost every seat was filled, and my friend and I struggled to find two seats next to each other. Looking around at the audience, I noticed that not only University of Scranton students filled the chairs — also adults who I had never seen before, probably from the larger Scranton community and other schools.

We were all gathered to hear Dr. T. Colin Campbell speak. Dr. Campbell is the co-author of The China Study, a book which examines the health benefits of traditional Chinese nutrition. The book, which I had started to read the week before, contains an extensive amount of research. It looks at how the Chinese diet compares to the American diet and how this affects the occurrence of cancer, heart disease, and obesity, among other medical issues. Surprisingly, the Chinese diet has more calories than the American diet, but the people there are less affected than Americans by cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Besides being more calorically heavy, the Chinese diet contains much less protein and fat than the American diet, and almost none of the protein and fat in the Chinese diet are from animal products.

Dr. Campbell began his presentation with a bit of history about himself, noting ironically that he lived and worked on a farm in his youth. He then focused the rest of his talk on the negative affects of animal protein if eaten for more than 10% of one’s diet. His powerpoint slides contained charts that were shocking: one showed how an increase in animal protein caused rats to develop cancer, while an increase in plant protein did not. Dr. Campbell explained his scientific findings well and was very passionate about his research. It was frankly stunning to see research that goes against the modern American trend to “pack in the protein” in one’s diet. Dr. Campbell’s talk was engaging and inspiring, and has made me think more about my own patterns of eating.

Encountering Mystery

Several weeks ago, I and 30 other students ventured to the University’s retreat house on Chapman Lake for a weekend retreat. Last year, one of the campus ministers reached out to me, asking if I would help to lead the Mystery Retreat. I happily agreed after learning about the retreat’s focus. The word “mystery” in the retreat’s title refers to “mystagogia,” a term for the first year after a catechumen is received into the Catholic Church. During this new and exciting year, converts live in the mystery of God — they are faced with questions about the paradoxical truths of their new faith and about how to live well as a Catholic. They question everything.

The idea for this retreat was to revive the spirit of questioning among Catholic students at the University. Too often, we cease to live an adult faith that questions and we instead resign ourselves to a childish faith that blindly accepts doctrine without understanding foundational principles. The retreat seems to have been inspired by something St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). The Mystery Retreat was designed as a time for Catholic students to put away their childish faiths and enter into a period of questioning that would help them to discover the adult reasoning that supports Catholicism.


I can’t give too much away about the retreat, but I’ll describe one of the most interesting small group activities we did. On a large sheet of paper, we wrote down aspects of Jesus from the gospels. For example, my group’s descriptions of Jesus included “compassionate,” “counter-cultural,” “Jewish,” “storyteller,” and “loves children.” We wrote down close to 60 words describing Jesus! Then, we chose a hot-button moral topic and attempted to respond to it with the use of our Jesus-descriptors. What, for example, is the “compassionate” response to the question of homosexuality? What is the “counter-cultural” response to the issue of abortion? How would a “storyteller” deal with the death penalty? In this activity, we had the opportunity to try our hand at what the Church has done for the past 2000 years — develop moral thought based on the character of Jesus. We experienced firsthand the difficulties of applying the gospel to modern issues, but we were also surprised at the solutions we came to, many of which were exactly what the Church teaches.

Overall, the retreat was a great success. When we arrived back to campus for Sunday Mass, I felt that the retreatants “led” the rest of the congregation, singing and listening attentively. I was grateful that I had helped them to rediscover what it means to be joyfully Catholic.


The Church Tour of Scranton: St. Joseph


The next stop on our church tour of Scranton is St. Joseph Melkite Church, which is a 7 minute drive from the University. Founded by Lebanese immigrants, the church has existed in Scranton for over 100 years.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern (or Byzantine) extension of the Catholic Church, with its own history, tradition, theology, and liturgy. Although the Melkite Church is governed by a Patriarch (currently, Gregory III Laham), it is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. The Melkites are not a part of the Orthodox Church, which is separated from the Catholic Church.

The church service I attended was a communion distribution service rather than a full mass with consecration. This was the case because the pastor of St. Joseph passed away this year, and the parish has not yet received another pastor to hold traditional services. The consecrated bread and wine were brought in from another generous nearby Melkite parish.

Even though I did not get to experience the full mass, I was still awed and inspired by many novel parts of the communion service. For example, the presider processed the blessed sacrament around the Church in an act of praise and victory, and members of the congregation blessed themselves when the blessed sacrament passed them. This procession happened several times throughout the service. In addition, it seemed that members of the congregation made the sign of the cross whenever the name of the holy Trinity was invoked.

The music at the service was the most interested aspect for me. Although there was no instrumental accompaniment, the congregation sang words of praise in a very non-Western harmony that was strange to my ears at first. The tonality was Middle Eastern, and it reminded me of the Muslim call to worship. Also, because some of the liturgy was in Arabic, it was not uncommon to hear God referred to as “Allah.” (I’m not going to lie: Once or twice during the service, I found myself wondering, Is this my religion?)

After the service, members of the Church got to share and take home pieces of blessed bread. The bread was a yellow, dense square that contained hints of rose water and some other unusual spice. It was delicious! I’m so excited to return to St. Joseph’s when a new pastor is appointed to them.

Up next on the Church Tour: St. Ann Maronite Church.

The Church Tour of Scranton: St. Thomas More

What happens when you allow two Theology majors access to a car? They inevitably drive to various churches to experience their unique liturgies. Or, at least, that’s what my apartment mate and I have been doing for the past several weekends.

It’s finally feasible for us as juniors to have cars on campus, and my good friend and I have been enjoying this new freedom. Besides the campus (Roman Catholic) liturgy, we have attended services at various other churches in the Scranton area, all of them different rites of the Catholic Church.

In my next few blogs, I will recount my experiences at these churches.

First, we visited St. Thomas More Parish, which celebrates the Anglican rite. This parish, originally Good Shepherd Church, used to be Anglican. After undergoing catechesis, the parish and its pastor converted to Catholicism in 2005.

The Anglican Church and Catholic Church are historically very closely related, having split in 1534 at the prompting of the British King Henry VIII, who disagreed with the Pope on the issue of his annulment. Reunion of Anglican churches to the Catholic Church was made possible by a pastoral provision written by Saint John Paul II and an apostolic constitution written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Anglican priests (even married ones) can become Catholic priests, and Anglican parishes can become Catholic parishes, while maintaining the uniqueness of their Anglican liturgy. This was an attractive option for Anglican parishes who disagreed with the trend in the Anglican Church away from traditional Catholic doctrine in matters such as marriage, abortion, and ordination.

I attended the “low mass” (less ceremony than the “high mass”) at St. Thomas More. Of all the services I have attended of different Catholic rites, the Anglican rite was the most familiar to me. Some differences: The words were more embellished and proper, including the frequent use of the verb “hath” (How very British!). The priest faced away from the congregation except during the homily and parts of the consecration.

The coolest part of the liturgy? After professing our profound sinfulness, the priest offered a consolation: some comforting words of Jesus from the gospels, chosen at his discretion. This beautiful part of the mass is not a part of the Roman Rite!

Up next: St. Joseph Melkite Church!



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