After serving nearly six years in uniform, Emily Knitter, of Ellicottville, feared that the camaraderie and higher purpose she’d found in the United States Army might be a thing of the past.
So did Olean native Greg Kahle, a U.S. Army veteran with five years' experience as a military police patrolman. “Moving away from the disciplined and regimented lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to was a hard task,” said Kahle.
Today, these former warriors are classmates at St. Bonaventure University where they are pursuing degrees and purpose in a post-military life.
“The transition out of uniform has taken far longer and been more challenging than any of us expected. But the opportunities available through Bona’s have connected us once again,” said Knitter.
One of those opportunities is a nine-day pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, where student veterans can explore the history of the Franciscan intellectual tradition and engage in healing meditations, informative conferences, and prayer and liturgy. St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, was born in the small Italian town in 1181.
“Not every veteran is given the opportunity to fully deal with the complexities of combat, and not every wound is visible,” said Frank Morales, a retired Army master sergeant and director of St. Bonaventure’s Veterans Services Program.
Too often, the return to civilian life cuts off former warriors from receiving the “battle buddy” support they have learned to count on, he noted.
“The pilgrimage is structured to help heal the veteran’s soul,” Morales said.
The Veterans Services Program has launched a fundraising initiative to send two student veterans per year to Assisi. Beginning now through April 15, they hope to raise $7,500 through the #BonaVetsToAssisi initiative, with a long-term goal of establishing an endowment to support a yearly pilgrimage for two new student veterans.
“Partnering veterans [together for this trip] who have similar experiences will allow them to receive the buddy aid they might need,” Morales said. “Being able to express yourself without judgment can ease a heavy burden.”
ST. BONAVENTURE HAS long valued the military veteran as a member of its community, Morales noted. It was during the First World War that St. Bonaventure brought the Students Army Training Corps to campus, and in 1936 it added the Reserve Officers Training Corps program to the curriculum.
After World War II and into the 1950s, war veterans and their young families called St. Bonaventure home. They lived in what was dubbed “Diaper Row” — a collection of 12 Quonset-type huts across Route 17 (where the Country Inn and Suites now stands).
In 2016, the university expanded its outreach to veterans with the development of the Military-Aligned Students program and full-fledged Veterans Services Center.
“I believe the journey to Assisi will help our Bona vets with their transition from soldier to student,” Morales said.
“Some of us separated from the military only weeks before classes began. Others found their way after a longer, more tangled path,” she said. “Diving deeper into conversation and enhancing our awareness in such a hallowed setting is a crucial step on the journey toward connection and success.”
For more information about #BonaVetsToAssisi or to make a donation, visit http://www.sbu.edu/BonaVetsToAssisi or call Susan Anderson, director of fundraising communications, at (716) 375-7637.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #5 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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