Donnelly College is transformed into a TV studio for tapings of EWTN’s ‘Catholicism on Campus’ series
by Jessica Langon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — People who know exactly what a gem Donnelly College here is sometimes refer to it as the “best-kept secret in Kansas City.”
If there’s truth to that secret part, the cat’s about to be let out of the bag.
Donnelly College, set in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas, will be seen by Catholics on a global scale thanks to a TV series — focusing on faith and the college years — that airs on the Eternal Word Television Network.
Monsignor Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College, developed the concept that became “Catholicism on Campus” when he was working with Catholic students at the University of Illinois.
He continued coordinating and hosting the TV show for years in his next post at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, before becoming Donnelly’s president in 2014.
When EWTN renewed the “Catholicism on Campus” series for another season, the KCK college was ready.
“We shot it here at Donnelly College,” said Msgr. Swetland.
And even though the shows won’t likely air until next year, the production has already begun, which made for an exciting start to March on the campus.
Making the show
From March 2-4, Donnelly’s Community Event Center was transformed into a television studio.
Backdrops set the stage for Msgr. Swetland and his guests, who interacted with a student audience for each segment.
With the precision of seasoned professionals, everyone moved from one session to the next amid TV lighting, a maze of cords and television displays.
“Let’s do this!” called Msgr. Swetland as one group of students filed out after completing an episode and more students took their places, with some even pausing to have their makeup touched up before the next session.
“It’s something that everybody on campus is talking about, and everyone is excited and buzzing about,” said Becky Haworth, marketing manager at Donnelly, during a break from the shooting. “It’s been a very different week so far — but in the best way.”
This season’s shows focused on the spiritual life, with an emphasis on prayer.
Students from Donnelly College, Benedictine College in Atchison, Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, and the University of Kansas in Lawrence participated in the shows. A Donnelly alum, now a student at Kansas State University in Manhattan, also returned for one of the tapings.
Monsignor Swetland has traditionally employed a multi-campus approach, featuring guests and viewpoints on Catholicism from a number of different campuses.
“It was nice to have students from Kansas for people to see the various ways that the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is doing apostolate to the students who are in college,” he said.
Donnelly students and instructors were on deck the first day.
Father John Melnick, SSA, vice president of ministry, and Sister Marie Kathleen Daugherty, SCL, instructor and associate dean for liberal arts and sciences, shared the work Donnelly College is doing.
“We had a . . . class come on and talk about fundamental theology, the foundations of faith,” said Msgr. Swetland.
St. Paul’s Outreach made an appearance, and one of the shows featured Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
“He did a great job talking about his own spiritual life. The students were interested in hearing how he prayed,” said Msgr. Swetland. “And it was good to hear him challenge the students to be men and women of prayer.”
Some of the sessions featured the Apostles of the Interior Life.
“Of course, they specialize in helping people form their prayer,” he said.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students was involved, and some of the shows included the work of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU.
Finally, there was an interview with Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College, who spoke about lay spirituality.
Altogether this time, 13 shows were created, all focusing on the spiritual life.
As he led discussions about this topic, Msgr. Swetland found his own spirit bolstered.
“I was talking to some of the cameramen about this,” he said. “It’s always a nice boost to our spiritual life to see the enthusiasm and the dedication of the students who like talking about the spiritual life and have interesting questions to ask.”
The questions “touch deep into your soul,” said Taleah Berger of Kansas City, Kansas, a freshman who was quick to sign up when she learned she’d been recommended to participate in the production.
“I always talk about Christ wherever I go,” she said.
“It’s a great opportunity, since Donnelly is such a small college,” said Tria Jefferson, a sophomore from Kansas City, Kansas, who also participated in the show.
Donnelly has a lot of activities and great people, she said, and she was excited for the EWTN program to share the college with its audience.
“It’s really diverse here — that’s one thing I like about it,” said Jefferson. “I’m more of an outgoing person but, here at Donnelly, you can make new friends all the time.”
That includes forming bonds with students and faculty.
Both women also enjoyed watching their college president host the show.
This was the first time Berger had interacted with him in that way, and Jefferson said she enjoyed the opportunity to “see him in action doing something he loves to do.”
It’s important to reach the college demographic, said Msgr. Swetland, because so much happens in people’s lives between the ages of 18 and 25.
“Most people will make adult decisions about faith [during that time],” he said. Whether they grew up in a particular faith or with no faith at all, this period is when many people make decisions about how they are going to live their faith lives.
This is also the time when they will develop some of the most significant relationships of their lives.
And they will make major decisions about their vocations.
Many are living away from home for the first time, and it’s important to minister to them as they encounter different points of view, he believes.
“They’re contemporaries with people who hold this worldview that reduces everything to the material: that which can be measured, that which can be understood through the scientific method and also emphasizes consumerism, sort of, ‘I shop, therefore I am,’” said Msgr. Swetland.
“We’ve got to challenge that with, ‘No, the most exciting things in life are invisible,’” he continued.
Things like friendship, love and truth.
“We need to be proposing that there’s more to life than you can see. And actually, the most important parts of life often go beyond what can be seen and measured,” he added.
Although he didn’t yet have a schedule for when the Donnelly episodes would air, Msgr. Swetland said his experience suggests that it might be as late as fall of 2016.
Berger and Jefferson will be eagerly anticipating how it all comes together.
Great things come in small packages, says Berger, and that’s true for Donnelly.
“I’ll do anything for this school because I love this school,” she said.
Haworth loved watching the students interact with Msgr. Swetland and with students from a variety of campuses — and seeing their faces light up when they caught a glimpse of themselves on camera.
“The students are why all of us work at Donnelly,” said Haworth. “We love them, and we’re excited that we get to do this work for them.
“It’s really just an exciting time for them.”