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Faces of Faith: Students

Faces of Faith: Students

photos by Larry Burgess December 04, 2019
In their words and actions, these students work to fulfill the divine on a campus that welcomes all faiths.

Matty Spicer

Roman Catholic
Junior graphic design major

Matty SpicerI have been attending Catholic Mass with my family ever since I was young. It has been a great source of joy for me and a major part of my faith life throughout the years. During my grade school and high school years, I really strived to be involved with and understand the Mass. Learning about the Church’s teachings has helped me grow closer to God and understand how we are called to help others. Once I got to the University of Dayton, I looked to deepen my understanding of the Mass and other ways I could bring this understanding outside of the church.

I chose to go to the University of Dayton because of its Catholic, Marianist traditions. I grew up going to a Montessori school where many different cultures and religions were widely celebrated. This concept of inclusion was very important to me when picking where I wanted to go to college. During my tour, I was pulled in by UD’s commitment to community that ensures everyone feels welcome, involved and appreciated.

I like to represent my faith in the simplest of ways. I think a smile or an acknowledgement goes a long way. Three principles I strive to live out every day are patience, kindness and listening. I believe an important part of my faith is making others feel important and valued.

 As a graphic design major, I look for ways to bring my faith to life through my work. As a chapel student worker, I have the opportunity to help design prayer cards and media for the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and Campus Ministry. This has given me the ability to share what is important to me in my faith while bringing joy to others. 

This semester, I have gone through formation to become a lay Marianist. My mission under this lifelong commitment is a devotion to Jesus through Mary, social justice and the Marianist family. As a lay Marianist, I strive to bring Jesus to the world as Mary has so wonderfully modeled for us, and I hope to inspire others to do the same.

Alazhar Al Hinai

First-year graphic design major
Muscat, Oman 

Alazhar Al HinaiEverything in our life as Muslims is a kind of worship. It consists of prayer, the fasting (Ramadan), donating, being a good person with others and helping others. All of this is a part of our religion.

We practice our religion in all things, in our life from before we’re born, with our parents preparing for us, through being an adult when we work on things that will benefit us in the afterlife. So it’s not just a faith — it’s a whole life. The rules of our life came from our religion, so they are directions that lead us to the optimal life in this life and the hereafter.

Our religion also gives us the freedom to select what we want. We can help or support our religion by the choosing of our majors. For example, my major is graphic design, so I can change how others see my religion through my design or my art vision.

I’m happy to be here. I knew before I selected this university that it’s a Catholic school, but that doesn’t matter with what we believe. As Muslims, we want to make a change in the minds of others, so they can know more about us and understand the truth about our religion. I realize this can be a challenge. But some things here are easier. The University made the prayer room for us, and that’s an amazing thing. Muslims can’t find it like this in other schools or universities in the United States.

Andrew Buchanan

Roman Catholic 
Sophomore secondary religious education major

Andrew BuchananSocial justice helps me practice my faith and see the real issues and problems that my city is facing and, on a bigger scale, that the world is facing. My faith made me into a person who sees a holistic view of building the kingdom of God.

I applied for a job on campus in the Center for Social Concern because I really feel like faith without works is kind of empty. I’m very involved with social justice because I know after college that’s the stuff I want to do.

My sophomore year of high school, I went on a service-learning trip in Cincinnati, and it was my first real experience with people in poverty. You can learn about it all you want on a PowerPoint, but you don’t really get the full effect until you meet someone. 

Last year I participated in REAL Dayton, an immersion that connects us with our city and its people. This year, as a leader of the engagement experience, I’ve really gotten to know the people who run nonprofit organizations in Dayton. Dayton is a cool city because you know the people who run nonprofits and you can just email them and sit down for lunch. These people actually want to hear from you and see what you can bring to the table. You don’t get that in another city. I always knew I wanted to do social work and work with nonprofits, so for me it’s really cool to have the ability to have these kinds of experiences in my city.

If I had gone to a public university, I still would have sought out faith-based organizations. I don’t know how everything else would’ve gone, but I know one of my favorite parts about UD is how faith is a central aspect. The people in Campus Ministry, my adviser, they really care about me and my success. I can talk about stuff going on in my life, and those kinds of relationships are incredibly valuable.

Indya Hood

Junior biology major
Detroit, Michigan 

Indya HoodI was raised Baptist Christian, but right now I’m on a spiritual journey, seeking guidance from Jesus and Buddha. All paths lead to light. 

Many people perceive me as happy. It’s all about mindset and choosing happiness. Buddhists believe in observing feelings and focusing on the good. I focus my energy on positivity to gain happiness in hopes of maintaining it. A goal of mine is to be a light in other people’s lives.

Following my heart raises difficulties for me on campus, since many students do not understand the power of meditation and manifestation. Those difficulties allow me to grow. I know who I am, so others’ opinions and judgments do not validate who I am. Since I go to UD where faith is actively practiced, having my spirit move me is most important.

UD has provided me with opportunities to explore and grow spiritually. Participating in retreats and singing at the UD interdenominational worship services has allowed me to learn about different religions.

My biggest core belief is that all experiences shape us into the people who we become. There is a saying that everything happens for a reason. As a biology major, I know I want to help and heal people. I’m proud to have found one of my callings — the discipline of chiropractic. The career I’m going toward is a holistic doctor, which involves healing the mind, body and soul. Every experience so far is a reflection of my beliefs and where I’m at spiritually.

Anna Biesecker-Mast

Sophomore English, religious studies and history major

Anna Biesecker MastThe label I associate with is Mennonite, which derives from the Anabaptist faith tradition. I would say I was shaped with the focus of facilitating and cultivating peace in the world where there’s so much violence and conflict.

Being at a school that’s founded in Christian tradition helps me keep my faith alive in ways that I might not necessarily be able to maintain by myself. I think it’s really important that I am conscious about my faith on a daily basis so that I am actually living my life the way I believe is fulfilling, important and meaningful.

Freshman year, I was accepted into the Chaminade Scholars program, in which we explored vocation. Now I’m in a faith traditions and prayer class, which is helping me to be more conscious of my intentional prayer life and more aware of the humanity in every single person and Christ in every single person, which is not something that I thought about daily until this class.

Also, I took Literature for the Common Good last semester, which I probably would not have taken if it weren’t at a Catholic, Marianist institution. That was really interesting because it intersected the Marianist charism with how we build relationships with people who live in the Dayton area who we might not necessarily interact with because of the UD bubble. That’s one instance where I was exposed to a uniquely Marianist characteristic. I thoroughly enjoyed that class, and it’s something that I think about regularly.

Isabel Gerardino Ríos

Roman Catholic
Senior international studies major
San Juan, Puerto Rico 

Isabel GerardinoI was born and raised Catholic in Puerto Rico, and I traveled to Dayton to spend my four years of college at UD. Coming from Puerto Rico to Ohio alone was challenging. It was a challenge to adjust to the new culture.

I don’t often practice Catholicism at UD. I truly believe that the Mass is a great and important space that is provided by UD for all who need it. However, I didn’t feel truly comfortable at Mass here like I did back home. The Catholic culture is much different here. For example, during the peace offering at the end of Mass, in Puerto Rico we hug, rather than shaking hands. While assimilation to a new country and culture has been hard, attending various events at UD has made it easier.

I have been able to practice my faith in many alternative ways on campus, such as going on Campus Ministry retreats. I joined an international Spring BreakOut to Ecuador for which Giovani Onore, a Marianist brother, was the host. He’s the founder of the Otonga Foundation, a foundation focused on preserving biodiversity and fostering education based on Marianist values. Going to Ecuador was the most culturally, spiritually and ecologically conscious experience I have had in my life. I was able to meet so many amazing students from UD, an ecology professor who changed my view on life, a minister who has become someone I trust here at UD, and so many local Ecuadorians with whom I got to connect to and learn from through conversations about biodiversity, cultures, politics and the educational system in Ecuador.

Besides being involved in retreats and immersions, I am the vice president of the El Orgullo Latino Club on campus. El Orgullo Latino is a safe space for students who identify as Latinx and a way to support the Latinx community in their interactions with each other.

Kunal Paresh Parikh

Graduate student, computer science
Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India

Kunal Paresh ParikhIndia is a country of many religions and multiple layers. I am very interested in exploring religions, and that is the reason I am keen to know all the religions. I believe in humanity and would claim that as my faith.

When I first came to the USA in 2018, I was really excited to explore a completely new place and culture. Students are here from all over the world — and how beautifully they are celebrated here on campus with festivals of different cultures and countries. I see everyone is given equal importance no matter what religion or what faith they follow. This is the same as my home country, and my personal belief is the same.

As I know many of the religions and faiths of India, I also got a chance to explore a bit here. I work in Marycrest dining with students from China, Japan, India and the United States. We share what is the same or different about our culture and America with one another.

All the religions at the end of the day lead to one destination: love. Different religions are the different parts of the same destination. There is a phrase that has been carried out for centuries in my country and I carry it with me too, sarv dharma sambhav. It means no religion is superior to other religions and all are equal. Unity and diversity are important in all things, as exploring our differences is what brings us closer together.

Sarah Bertrand

Junior communication major

Sarah BertrandComing from a Catholic high school, I knew I wanted to attend a university where faith is actively practiced. It was important for me to have those same values rooted in community on a college campus.

As a campus tour guide, I take prospective students through our chapel, explaining the identity of our University and how Marianist values are intertwined in everything we do. Whether or not someone identifies as Catholic, those values are for the greater good.

I live in a Marianist student community that’s all about intentional living. We have prayer and dinner together once a week. This takes our everyday roommate relationship to another level, where we grow in faith and friendship in a way I’ve never experienced before.

College allows me to figure out what I stand for and believe in instead of having others dictate my beliefs. One of my core beliefs is “Love one another.” As a Catholic, my calling is to be the hands and feet of the Lord. We have to love everybody always, even when it’s challenging.

Despite challenges to practicing my faith on campus, I try to stay steadfast in what I believe. It’s up to me to go to Mass and to pray. I have to continue the habits I want to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Adeeba Fatima

Graduate student, computer science
Hyderabad, Telangana, India

We are all created by a maker. We co-exist and we may have difference of opinions obviously; it does not make us enemies. This is the diversity we talk about. 

UD has been a safe place for us to practice our religion. When I’m on campus, I use the prayer room in the Rike Center. It’s very helpful to have the prayer room available, since I take class and work on campus. It also makes it easier to know other Muslims on campus and get together as a community.

Many people ask me if it’s mandatory that I wear the hijab. I tell them yes, every faith has rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, and so does Islam. There are reasons why we have rules and regulations. If you know them, you appreciate them, if you don’t know them you don’t. I’m OK with them asking this question. People are curious to know more about religions. They ask about the hijab, and then we get to have a conversation. Those who are attracted to you would be attracted for the right reasons, for who you are, what you stand for, the sacrifice, the sincerity.

Islam means peace. If you are righteous, you will be content. It is spread through the honesty, character and conduct of Muslims.

Jacob Speller

Junior sport management major
St. Louis 

Jacob SpellerAs a member of a temple of a reform sect of Judaism, we’ve taken the Torah and adapted it to modern life. So I don’t necessarily keep kosher — I really like bacon — but it’s the same core beliefs that are at the center of Judaism. Even though I’m not someone who’s going to be wearing a yarmulke and going to Shabbat services every single Friday, I still follow the basic ethical values that are at the core of Judaism.

I know I am a minority on a Catholic campus, but I am not treated like one. I had professors I went to months ago saying I’m going to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services so I will have to miss class. They were very welcoming and always said, “Let me know how it goes the next day I see you, we’ll get everything else figured out.”

When I visited UD at an open house, my mom came with me and she looked around and said, “Did you know this is a Catholic campus?” It’s always weird going into a classroom and seeing a cross. I don’t think it’s ever going to not be weird for me. But at the same time, it’s still a classroom. It’s still somewhere I can learn and be my best self.

For one of my classes, I had an extra credit assignment to go to a service of a faith that was unfamiliar to me so I went to Easter service. I had to step out once or twice just because it was so much and it’s unfamiliar. I have a mindset that the University of Dayton is for all but at the same time it’s a Marianist, Catholic institution, so there are going to be places on campus that, as a Jew, I’m not going to be comfortable going into. But I feel like recognizing that is important for me.

Rushabh Umeshkumar Phadkule

Graduate student, computer science
Pune, Maharashtra, India 

Rushabh Umeshkumar PhadkuleI would say that we are one of the most peaceful religions in the world. We practice ahimsa, which is nonviolence. With this, I follow a strict vegetarian diet, not harming anything. Being vegetarian is a big part of my life. What I believe in is that the world is not for human consumption. 

My religion teaches us that we are part of an interconnected world — animals, plants, all of those things. We need to find a way to live with them, not live in a way that humans are the most dominant creatures on earth but rather live with them. This practice of being non-violent against all living things is one of five vows that we practice so we can reach the highest honor: break from the cycle of life and death. We believe in reincarnation so we need to break from that cycle to achieve peace. So there are five things to do in order to achieve that. The first one is the ahimsa, which is nonviolence. The second one is not lying. The third is not stealing anything. The fourth is chastity. The fifth is to not possess things. I practice these vows every day, which is why one of the major things I consider before moving to a new university is that there should be faith on campus. Faith creates a community of like-minded people in which people identify with each other and care for each other based on their shared beliefs and commitments. This is why I chose Dayton.

Daniel Ehidiamhen Ebarekor

Roman Catholic
Graduate student, computer science
Lagos, Nigeria 

Daniel Ehidiamhen EbarekorMy brother Precious and I came to the University of Dayton last winter to study computer science. UD being Catholic was one of the main reasons we applied here. We have always had a religious education; our secondary school was Catholic, and our college was run by the Pentecostal Church, so we got to understand another dimension of religious doctrine.

Catholicism is the tradition in our family. My father is Catholic, and when he married our mom, she was Anglican and converted to Catholicism. We have a Marian altar in our home. Being Catholic — no matter where I am, no matter the country — it is part of our family.

The first time we went to Mass in UD’s chapel, everything went so slowly — and then it was over. It was quiet and peaceful, which is good, but not like home. There, we play the drums, sing, dance. With thanksgiving, praise and worship, Mass lasts for two hours. At home, we don’t miss a Sunday Mass — Dad wouldn’t allow it.

As a young adult, I joined an association that deepened our roots in the faith, the Legion of Mary. I am so immersed in the faith and in the doctrine. I feel comfortable where I am spiritually. It brings so much life into everything we do.

Navya Sri Tanneeru

Graduate student, computer science
Hyderabad, Telanguana, India 

Navya Sri TanneeruI believe Jesus is the living God, the only Savior of this world. No one goes to heaven except through Jesus. I choose to follow him every day of my life. I choose to maintain a relationship with God and make sure I spend at least two hours of time with him before I start my day. 

I try to influence others to see God through me, and I hope people will be inspired by my faith. Not everyone can read but they can see the word of God in our lives, that’s why I try to be nice. We are their Bibles, so I want to inspire them that way.

I chose to go to UD because it is a God-fearing university. Computer science is the place where we can reach out to people who are living in a corporate world who aren’t serious about God. I chose this field to be a blessing to others who don’t really know Jesus.

I feel like I would have had a chance to be lost in the world if I had gone to a public university. Every time I see the cross, it reminds me of my faith. The University of Dayton reminds me about God everywhere I go. 

I only went to the chapel once with my Catholic friend. I was able to understand the importance they give to the things that God did. The artwork in the chapel that talks about the last days of Jesus really inspired me.

My parents encouraged me to be a singer because of my family background. My grandma and all of them used to sing, so they thought I’d have a good voice. I used to lead worship in church services and play the keyboard. They encourage me to sing everywhere I go.


Special thanks to Brenda Lecklider for connecting us with students in her course for international students, Learning Connections. Interviews conducted by Lauren Durham, Michelle Gregg, Kaelin Kelly, Lauren Maier, Emma Mason, Kendra Zonca and Michelle Tedford.

Faculty and staff “Faces of Faith”