More than 20 years ago, Dr. Michael Naughton and Dr. Bill Cavanaugh were establishing a Catholic Worker House at a local Latino parish. As the project unfolded, parishioners expressed that the most pressing need for the community was scholarships to make higher education possible for their children. Naughton and Cavanaugh channeled their efforts to create a scholarship fund for Latino students at the University of St. Thomas. This was the birth of the Catholic Studies Latino Leaders Program, now known as the Latino Scholars Program.
From its inception, the intent of the scholarship was not only to make a university education possible, but more importantly, to ensure that the recipients were immersed in a transformative educational experience. Inspired by St. John Henry Newman’s vision of university life, this experience includes an integrated approach to education. For this reason, Latino Scholars are required to complement their professional choice of study with a Catholic Studies major or minor.
Latino Scholars officially launched in 2000 with one full-tuition scholarship and one student. Today, there are 35 Latino Scholars. Throughout its tremendous growth, the purpose of the scholarship and formation program has remained the same: to ensure that each recipient engages in a transformative educational experience, one that develops in them the ability to recognize and pursue what is true, good, and beautiful.
As a community formed, four pillars of the program evolved: academics, community, faith, and servant leadership. To support the academic pillar, Latino Scholars receive personal accompaniment throughout their four years of university life. As a result, the retention rate for Latino Scholars has remained at 92% over the past five years.
The pillars of community and faith go hand in hand. Latino Scholars meet monthly to celebrate a bilingual Mass, share a meal, and receive a brief “enseñanza,” or small teaching, that they can apply in their daily lives as students.
And finally, servant leadership. All Latino Scholars serve the local Latino community by helping with youth ministry in Latino parishes, leading a college immersion program for Latino high schoolers, or participating in Ignatian Bible studies on campus.
In the beginning, the scholarship was the pathway through which these students were able to study at the University of St. Thomas. While the program has more than doubled in size, generous Catholic Studies donors and the university have increased financial support for Latino students. Today, recipients can receive approximately $14,000 from the Latino Scholars Program throughout their four years at St. Thomas.
What began as a scholarship that paved the way to St. Thomas for a couple of students has become an integral part of the Catholic Studies movement. A vibrant community of faithful Latinos receives a transformative educational experience while they prepare for professional and vocational responsibilities.
This story is featured in the summer 2023 issue of Lumen.