Swaffords ‘Paying it Forward’ After Faithful Catholic Education
Today Dr. Andrew Swafford teaches students the same theology course that inspired him to convert to the Catholic Church years ago. He and his wife, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries, are grateful for their life-changing experiences at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
They both graduated from the Newman Guide-recommended college and say that their experience at Benedictine transformed their “entire vision for the future — most especially dating, marriage, and raising children.” The couple recently welcomed their fifth child.
Today, Dr. Swafford is an associate professor of theology at Benedictine. He is the author of several books, host of Ascension Press’s newest Bible study series on “Romans: the Gospel of Salvation” and a contributor to the Great Adventure Catholic Bible and a new book on the sacraments.
Sarah is a popular national speaker to teens and young adults on “Emotional Virtue,” dating and relationships, and interior confidence. Her ministry had its beginnings at Benedictine College and has since impacted the lives of countless young people.
We are grateful to the Swaffords for telling their story of the faithful Catholic education that they received.
Newman Society: Dr. Swafford, can you share about your conversion experience while a student at Benedictine College?
Dr. Swafford: I came to Benedictine as a student for one reason, namely, to play football. My first season went well—I made the travel roster as a freshman, as well as the more limited 48-man playoff roster, though I certainly could tell even at that point something was missing.
In May after my freshman season, we played an exhibition game in Paris, France. At the time, I really didn’t want to go—I wanted to get home to Ohio in order to train for the upcoming season (that was my frame of reference then). In the game, however, I broke my fibula in France. My world was crushed.
Earlier that semester I had happened to have had two theology classes with Dr. [Edward] Sri that spring (just before I broke my leg). I was intrigued intellectually, but not ready to change my life yet. Over the summer (after my broken leg), what had intrigued me intellectually began to move from my head to my heart.
When we came back to school, I went out to lunch with Dr. Sri. I had all sorts of questions for him. Over this conversation, he suggested I consider adding his class called “Christian Moral Life,” which at the time was full, but he thought he could get me in. I had decided to redshirt that upcoming football season, after not having been able to train all summer. Consequently, I had more time and went ahead and added the class, bringing my course load up to 20 hours.
That class singlehandedly changed my life. I thought it would be about “rules” of the Church and the Bible; I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was about freedom, friendship, virtue, happiness—all of sudden I could see why I wasn’t happy.
About this time, I also got involved with FOCUS and noticed that those guys had a certain stability, joy and peace I didn’t have—and it was because they knew Jesus. By the end of that fall semester of my sophomore year, I was ready to go all-in with Jesus and the Catholic faith. That set me on the journey I’m on today. In fact, I now teach the same class that changed my life so many years ago—”Christian Moral Life”!
Sarah transferred into Benedictine the following year. I look back fondly at God’s work in preparing me to meet her, since she only knew me “post-conversion.”
Newman Society: Sarah, why did you decide to transfer to Benedictine College? How has your education impacted you?
Sarah Swafford: I went to play basketball at a Catholic college in Iowa, and I came to find out that not all Catholic colleges are created equal. I longed for authentic Catholic fellowship and an environment in which I could go deeper in my faith, both in prayer and fellowship as well as intellectually.
At Benedictine, I discovered the riches of real Catholic friendship, with both women and men. And I received my deepest spiritual and intellectual formation here and really found my mission in life—to know Jesus and bring others to him.
The fact that my husband and I both had this common formation has been so important. We’ve always been on the exact same page, which has paid massive dividends in terms of raising our kids, but also for our marriage and ministering together to others, such as our current Benedictine students.
Newman Society: Sarah, your work on “emotional virtue” has become a very popular resource for young people. How did working at Benedictine College help shape this work?
Sarah Swafford: My ministry certainly has its roots in the formation I received as an undergraduate at Benedictine, but it really was birthed in my time as a Resident Hall Director—where I was the “dorm mom,” so to speak, of a 142 freshman women. Watching them transition from high school to college, I kept giving the same advice over and over again.
Eventually, one of the girls suggested I give a talk on “all this”—namely, the repeated advice I kept giving. To my surprise, some 300 women showed up that night, and in truth, my ministry took a life of its own from there. Men and women were hungry, and they latched on to the idea of someone guiding them through the waters of dating and life with social media. Drawing from my formation at Benedictine, I see myself as just paying it forward.