Tiny Catholic college in Warner a perfect fit for some students
Serenity abounds on the campus of the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college. (Shawne K. Wickham/Union Leader)
It's not that students are sleeping off a party from the night before.
They're in church.
That also appealed to Melody Wiklund, 16, visiting from Upton, Mass. "I like how Catholic it is," she said. "You could go to Mass every day here and you say the rosary at night, so that's nice."
That prompted a glare from her 18-year-old cousin, Connor Curley of South Carolina, who is a freshman. He's confident the education he's getting will open doors for him.
"I love the place," Curley said. "Love the school, the people, everything about it."
She said parents are grateful for the strict rules.
Kathy French of Siren, Wis., sent her daughter Shayla to Magdalen after she found the school recommended in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College."
Shayla French, now a senior, said she "fell in love" with Magdalen on the first visit. "I just felt like I was at home."
Because of the college's size, people learn how to get along despite their differences, French said.
"Sometimes I wonder how we haven't killed each other yet," she said with a smile. "You have to learn how to deal with people; you can't pretend they don't exist.
She likens Magdalen to a greenhouse: "You don't put tomato plants out when it's liable to frost. You let them grow stronger so they can handle the world outside."
In true Socratic form, teacher Neil Gillis presses them to defend their assertions; questions lead to more questions. And the students rise to the challenge, finding humor and wisdom in the ancient text.
"The point for us is not ... to outdo each other. We're all in this together."
Indeed, the deepest roots of the church are embraced at Magdalen. In the chapel, stained-glass windows feature images of both Eastern and Western bishops.
A retired Navy chaplain, Boucher has been at Magdalen about four months, and he's deeply impressed with the student body.
Students do most of the work on campus, raking leaves, vacuuming rugs and making meals. That's also true in chapel, where they lead prayers and the evening rosary. "I just do Mass," Boucher said.
Sophomore Miriam Torres of Ann Arbor, Mich., jokingly calls Magdalen "an acquired taste." And while she said the size could be off-putting to some, she likens it to a family whom you love "even with all its funny quirks."
Roommates Hannah Howard of Boise, Idaho, and Angela Zikowitz of Readfield, Maine, left Magdalen last May after freshman year.
The two transferred to a larger Catholic university in Florida. But one week into fall term, both realized independently they'd made a mistake.
Instead of reading original texts, there were large lectures where professors talked and students listened. They missed the conversations among students and professors that often spill over into the dining hall after class ends, they said.
They also missed the Socratic method of learning.
"It's not about just parroting back information on a test," Howard said. "It's about understanding where the author is coming from and if you agree with them or not."
"We felt like the prodigal daughters," Zikowitz said.
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