There has been great excitement on campus about the relationships being
forged between DeSales University and the Missionaries of St. Francis
de Sales in India. Not only did President Fr. Bernard O'Connor's
semester break trip to India establish an overseas degree-granting
program in that country, but over spring break, a group of 11 DeSales
students and 3 faculty members, representing the TV/Film, dance, and
theology departments, traveled to India in a trip that encompassed
service, research, presentation, and spiritual self-discovery.
"I decided to take this trip because I love to see and experience
different cultures," said Emily Perkins '08, a dance major. "Traditions
and behaviors are sometimes very different from place to place, but we
are all human and all very much the same."
For the first days of the trip, the group stayed in the Oblate Mission
in Bangalore, India, considered by the poor of Bangalore to be a beacon
of light in the community. During their time in India, the group worked
with orphans, interacted with Indian college students, and traveled to
Mysore for an experience that immersed them in spirituality and
educated them in the ways Eastern philosophy strengthens and blends
with Christianity in India.
"Considering that we were only in India for six days, I think everyone
got an excellent feel for the country and the charm of its people,"
said Maura Smith, assistant professor of TV/Film.
A day after their arrival in India, the group began one of the
service-oriented aspects of their travels when they met and interacted
with orphans under the care of the Missionaries of St. Francis de
Sales. While many of the children were not orphans as it is understood
in the United States, (some of them have living parents or families,
but they are too poor to provide for the children), the interaction
proved to be a humbling and incredibly fulfilling for the group.
"I chose to go to India because I have always wanted to do mission
work," said Natalie Antrim '08, a theology student. "I wanted to step
out of my comfort zone and learn about what life is like in a country
so far from my own. I love working with children, and I've always
wanted to work with orphans. This is definitely a trip I took for
In preparation for their trip to India, each DeSales student exchanged
letters with an orphan, so the meeting became a meeting of friends
rather than a first time introduction.
Tim Cowart, assistant professor and director of the dance program at
DeSales, said this first day working with the orphans proved to be a
highlight of the trip.
"In addition to the gifts such as Frisbees and pencils we brought for
the children, we also took them on a special excursion to an amusement
park—a chance of a lifetime for orphans from poor families," said
On their third day in Bangalore, the DeSales students and faculty
changed their focus from service to education when they went to Suvidya
College and Saint Francis de Sales College and hosted a day of lectures
and interaction with their Indian peers. Following lectures on
theology, dance, and film-making, the American and Indian students
divided into small group to discuss lessons and share ideas.
"This cultural exchange between young people of similar ages, while one
of the goals of the trip, was also another highlight for our students.
They reveled in their chance to share ideas and compare cultures," said
That evening, in thanks for the group's work with the Mission and in
Bangalore, the orphans and the seminarians hosted a dinner party and
ceremony for their new American friends.
As part of the ceremony, the children and seminarians gave each DeSales
student and faculty member a shawl—an article of clothing that typified
the traditional sari and multi-layered wrapped clothing of India.
Following dinner and gift-giving, the orphans performed a dance,
choreographed by the seminarians, and a re-enactment of the Bible's
Parable of the Good Samaritan.
"The presentations and gifts were so wonderful because it was obvious
that they prepared this ceremony for months," said Cowart. "It really
summed up the graciousness, warmth, and hospitality we were offered
during our entire stay in the country."
That wonderful evening also included a unique opportunity for the
group—all students, regardless of their dance experience, studied the
traditional Kuchipudi dance with Vyjayanthi Kashi, founder and director
of Shambavi School of Dance in India.
"Ms. Kashi was a master teacher. She was able to guide a group of
complete beginners through Kuchipudi, a dance where everything from the
hand motions to the movements of the chin and eye is choreographed,"
said Cowart. "It was a fantastic class, and I think it gave all of us
insight into how religions, movement, and culture intertwine in the
During their time in Bangalore, the students in the TV/Film programs
also provided service to the Mission while incorporating their own
learning experience. At the Oblate Mission, the TV/Film students made a
documentary for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, describing who the
Oblates are and what they do in India. The students also shot a film
documenting the trip to India to serve as a shining example of
DeSales's continued commitment to globalization.
Following their many lessons and their lovely stay in Bangalore, the
group traveled to Mysore, the second largest city in the Indian state
of Karnataka, where the students and faculty enjoyed the opportunity to
explore more of the city.
"Our trip to Mysore was magical," said Smith. "Seeing the flower market
was a visual feast. The visit to the grounds of the Palace was
exceptionally exciting because of the elephant rides."
For most of the DeSales group, Mysore also held an experience that was
unique to anything they had ever experienced—a three-day retreat at the
Anjali Ashram, a Catholic silent retreat center in which each person
spends time in meditation and self-exploration. In Indian culture, an
Ashram is a place for religious devotion, cultural enlightenment, and
For many students on the trip, this opportunity for spiritual growth was one of the most important aspect of the journey.
"I know a lot about the Catholic Christian faith from studying
theology, but I want to actually live it out," said Antrim. "You can
learn about Christ all you want, but it's how you live and how you
interact with His people that helps you actually meet Him personally
and grow in love and faith."
The retreat gave students the opportunity to participate in two staples
of Indian spirituality: the siva (labor, such as cooking, pulling
weeds, and cultivating gardens) and the dharma (lectures and learning).
In their time at the retreat, however, students and faculty not only
challenged their minds and hearts to listen for God's voice in three
days of silence, but also challenged their bodies through spartan
accommodations. Everyone slept on boards, ate with their fingers, and
spent their days participating in chores, prayers, and self-exploration.
"Sitting on the floor, sleeping on boards, it was very difficult for
all of us," said Cowart. "Our bodies are not trained for that. But the
focus on self-actualization was a really unique experience. The spartan
conditions quickly brought us down to the essentials in faith and in
At the Ashram, the group woke each morning before sunrise and went
outside to sit in nature and watch the sun rise—a breath taking
experience for everyone. Following morning meditation, everyone
participated in a Catholic Mass before beginning their day of chores
and prayers. The group also had a chance to listen to lectures on
coming to an understanding of Christianity from an eastern perspective,
from the eastern philosophy of India, by Fr. Swami Granajyothi, better
known to the DeSales group as Fr. Luis.
"Time slowed as we all quietly reflected at the Anjali Ashram," said
Smith. "I am confident that none of us will ever forget the magical
Mass said cross-legged on the floor, or the mediation time as the sun
During their brief time in India, the students and faculty from DeSales
experienced many unique facets of Indian culture, from dance
performances and preparing Indian cuisine to spiritual retreats and
time spent with orphans and the poor. And everyone who participated in
this global excursion has been changed, and challenged, by their
"The trip to India was for global, educational, spiritual, and social
development," said Smith. "We all expected to come back to DeSales with
significant personal growth, and that's exactly what happened. The trip
to India has inspired our students to continue their exploration of