As an Ursuline biologist my work at Wits University is mainly with groups of first year
Medical School students in the context of the Academic Development Programme that
runs parallel with mainstream courses. The tutorials are meant for students who desire
some help with their mainstream courses. Many, but not all in my groups, come from
townships or the rural areas. First year at university has its own challenges. Being
away from home for the first time, campus life has its own attractions and challenges.
For many, first year University experience can be quite bewildering at times.
My task is to help students with biology. In weekly tutorials I guide them through the
previous week's lectures by means of worksheets especially prepared for them. Sitting
in peer groups, students work through these papers together. They learn how to write
notes, use literature and try to answer questions, solve problems. Most of all they
have to learn how to study and how to use their time efficiently. Students study
together and teach each other. They soon find out that the best way to understand a
topic is to tell a peer what one thinks one has understood.
Besides the academic side of their study, students find themselves in new social
situations and have to learn how to handle these. How does one make friends with fellow students from different race
groups? Students participate in social or political movements that at times result in rather scary strikes, where property
is damaged, classes are interrupted and police might be called in to restore peace on campus. There is no parent to ask
for advice, and one is responsible for one's own life and that of fellow students. Students have to learn how to
adequately express their opinions. During these times students come just to find refuge, a willing ear, understanding or
Students are given great freedom to choose and many face for the first time the choice of a boy/girlfriend. They have to
learn to use their freedom when living with men and women on the same campus. Does freedom mean licence to do
whatever one fancies? Again, there are those that find out that they have a different sexual orientation? How does one
deal with that and make friends? They soon find out that there are students and lecturers living with AIDS. How does
one live with those who are infected and how does one protect oneself?
Being away from a sheltered home environment, one has to learn to stand up for one's own convictions and also make
choices about one's faith. There are Christians of many denominations; people of other religions and philosophies:
Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, Communists and Socialists. Respecting each one's convictions, without
getting confused, is not always easy. One needs an open heart and open mind to find one's way, be inclusive, not
Then there are ethical issues to deal with. Where does one stand with regards to evolution, or what to think about
new genetic techniques like genetic engineering or cloning of human cells? These require open discussions where any
opinion can be aired without one feeling threatened. All these issues help young adults to make informed decisions and
grow into responsible adults in a multi-racial society.
Another aspect of my life at Varsity is the contacts I have with colleagues at the University and all over the world. That
contact is very precious. It is wonderful to collaborate and contribute to knowledge in one's field of expertise. Many
colleagues are advising governments on laws to protect nature. In biology there are pressing issues on the development
or degradation of the environment, care to preserve biodiversity. In order to formulate informed proposals, one has to
collaborate in order to understand the interactions between organisms and between organisms and their surroundings.
When the going to frontiers in research, where no one else has gone before, becomes a very lonely journey, colleagues
need each other's support. Great and valuable friendships have developed in a Varsity environment.
Reflection on Evolutionary Faith:
During my recent retreat I took "Evolutionary Faith" written by Diarmud O'Murchu for guide and it really inspired me,
answered many questions and put into words what I have long intuitively felt: Our God, "Word-Made-Flesh",
"Participator", or perhaps better to express HIM/HER as, the "Evolutionary Power, Energy", "Creating Creator",
"Source of all Being", from the greatest Universe(s) to tiny mites, "All-Encompassing" and at the same time "All
Transcending Love", "All-Mighty and Baby-Vulnerable", never "Comprehensible", but always "Surprisingly NEW", "
Always-Pregnant-Womb"! Religion and Science, when understood well, can NEVER compete with each other to distract
us from our Source of Life, as both seek the TRUTH, (about) GOD and CREATION and must agree. As both are
contemplating the same unfolding Revelation, but from/in a different perspective, Religion and Science must enhance
and complement each other as the one reveals its viewpoint to the other. There might be contradictions, but for the
mystics these contradictions are not obliterating one another, but heightening the MYSTERY that is not to be "caught"
into human logic and "riddles" ever new viewpoints, revealing new aspects of THE ONE ("wonder") WHOM WE SEEK and
whom we trust with our life!
Diarmud O'Murchu gave me hope that one day all official religion will catch up with and affirm research, entering into the
modern worldview and teaching accordingly. I only hope that it will not wait another 350 years.