Fraternity rooted in Catholic faith returns to the UW Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, May. 28, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Phi Kappa Theta Charter, UW-Madison
Stephen Leeb (left) and Michael Hess hold up their recently-received charter at a banquet May 2, making them an official chapter of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity on the UW-Madison campus. To view or purchase photos, go to (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- "Give, expecting nothing thereof."

That is the motto of Phi Kappa Theta-Wisconsin Lambda, a national social fraternity with a chapter recently chartered on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The chartering on the weekend of May 2 and 3 was the culmination of a two-year journey that served as a beginning to what the brothers hope to accomplish in the greater campus community as a whole.

Chapter President and UW-Madison senior Michael Hess said the fraternity is "focused on virtue, authentic brotherhood, and servant leadership . . . By living a strong Catholic lifestyle and maintaining our spiritual aspect of each and every one of our brother’s lives, we’re able to be an example to the Greek life system."

A 'vision' realized

From 1922 to 1970, there was a Phi Kappa Theta chapter on the UW campus.

The "vision" to reinstall the fraternity on campus gained momentum two years ago after Hess and fellow "Phi Kap" Stephen Leeb both followed a prayerful call to start the chapter.

The next step was to become an interest group, which required 15 members. The soon-to-be called "Aquinas Club" was formed after some guidance from Fr. Eric Nielsen, pastor of St. Paul University Catholic Center on the UW-Madison campus, and connecting with a "big brother" chapter at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hess and Leeb recruited "strong men" from St. Paul's.

"They know how to do things, they learn how to do things, and they do things right," Father Nielsen said of the chapter at its chartering banquet on May 2.

In just two years, Wisconsin Lambda was able to become a colony, be approved by the national organization, and be approved by the university -- which involved other colonies on campus waiting to be chartered letting Phi Kappa Theta move ahead of them in line.

"This group has really excelled at kind of finding an identity and sticking with that," said TJ Sargent, Greek Life coordinator at the UW. "Part of that is the faith-based identity that comes with the organization . . . that will be something looking forward that should keep them strong throughout that time."

Chartering weekend

Hess called the chapter’s chartering "the biggest weekend of our short history."

On the morning of Saturday, May 2, 36 men were initiated as full brothers of the fraternity in a "secret" ceremony at St. Patrick Church in Madison.

Many special guests were on hand for the chapter’s chartering banquet, held at Dejope Hall on campus. The guests included Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison and Fr. Owen Mullen, national president of Phi Kappa Theta.

Father Mullen had met with Hess and Leeb last summer at a national convention in Indianapolis.

"I was very impressed with them," Father Mullen said. "They seemed to have it all together. Not only their values, [but] their spirituality [and] their leadership."

Many guests spoke at the banquet, recalling the journey, as well as their hopes for the brothers going forward.

UW-Madison Dean of Students Kevin Helmkamp spoke and acknowledged negative public perception of Greek life, but he also set the bar high for the Phi Kaps.

"I think the time is right, and I think it is necessary, particular for incoming male students that this university needs student leadership from men who are comfortable being men -- who are not living a cartoonish lifestyle, who are not doing what is easy, who are not lowering themselves, but rather raising themselves," Helmkamp said.

Later, in front of more than 100 family and friends, with the brothers donned in distinctive maroon and gold bow ties, Father Mullen presented the chapter with its charter.

Other ceremonial parts included swearing in of officers and presentation of a gavel and ritual book.

Continuing the work

The next day, the brothers wasted no time in giving and expecting nothing thereof.

They helped plant trees at St. James Church in Madison and clean up a nearby park.

It served as a continuation of the work the brothers had been doing since day one, and part of what drives them to be members of the fraternity.

"A lot of the guys share strong morals and values," said junior Ryan Slattery. "All the guys surrounding us make each other the best versions of ourselves we can be . . . [we] really want to give back to the community."

For Hess, the most rewarding part of the fraternity is, "When we’re all together and we have 36 strong, Catholic men that really want to make a difference in campus life. That moves me."

"It's been a long and beautiful journey for us," said Leeb.