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Saint Leo University Emphasizes Growth in Mind, Body, and Spirit

The new College of Health Professions and Wellness Center will offer opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and the community to forge connections to their mental, physical, and emotional/spiritual health.

Tags: Catholic Identity College of Health Professions Counseling Services Featured Health Center Health Education and Health Promotion Nursing Online MSW Press Releases University Ministry Wellness Center
23 July 2021 - By Mary McCoy
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As a community, Saint Leo University embraces seeking growth in mind, body, and spirit. This belief is woven into everything that makes up Saint Leo. It is a part of the university's Benedictine heritage as St. Benedict emphasized this interrelationship builds the whole person, and said we should make time for all three in our daily lives.

Evidence of this emphasis on mind, body, and spirit can be found in the introduction of Saint Leo's new College of Health Professions and its degree programs and in the new Wellness Center at University Campus, which will open in late fall.

Education through 'Culture of Health' lens

The new college offers degrees in nursing, health education and health promotion, and respiratory therapy. The college's degree programs reflect the "Culture of Health" philosophy espoused by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health care philanthropy. The Culture of Health emphasizes that professionals should consider the health of people holistically.

"It means that health and well-being are at the center of what our health professions students do," said Dr. Kathleen Van Eerden, dean of the college. "Each program emphasizes achievement and maintenance of health. Each person, family, and community is viewed through a Culture of Health lens—how do we support health and well-being? How do we look beyond an illness or condition?

"Students will not only see people in structured health care settings such as hospitals and long-term care settings, but they also will see them in their homes, schools, and in the community where health is viewed as a continuum." 

Saint Leo students will not only focus on their patients and future patients, but also their future careers as health professionals. "In addition to our focus on health for those we work with, our programs emphasize clinician well-being—stress management, resilience, mental health, spiritual well-being, and healthy habits and behaviors, in order to provide a base on which to build a long-fulfilling career," Van Eerden said.

Promoting Wellness

When the 59,000-square-foot Wellness Center opens later this year, it will be a place for Saint Leo students, faculty, and staff as well as the surrounding community to forge connections in their mental, physical, and emotional/spiritual health. The center will be a physical representation of Saint Leo's mission, serving students and the greater community in mind, body, and spirit.

The Wellness Center will be the new home of Health Services, University Ministry, Counseling & Prevention Services, and Recreation, incorporating the mission of development in body, mind, and spirit.

Counseling Services

"The very mission of Counseling Services is to create a team of highly competent staff who are deeply committed to providing prevention, intervention, and modeling to encourage students to take responsibility for their mental, emotional, social, spiritual, physical, and occupational development to become contributing members in their community," said Lawson Jolly, director of Counseling and Prevention Services. "We see individuals in a holistic sense and believe that difficulty functioning in one area is best addressed by considering the entirety of a person and their situation."

When Counseling Services meets with a student for the first time, team members complete an extensive intake together to learn about all areas of their life—not only their emotional well-being, but also their physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual well-being as well. "During our sessions, each student brings a unique experience and perspective to what they are working on," said Tiffany Nelson, assistant director of Counseling and Prevention Services.

"Achieving balance is unique to every person," Nelson said. "For me personally, it includes intentionally scheduling time in my schedule for downtime.. If I don't schedule this time purposefully, I may fill it mindlessly with distraction or let work creep in even when I am not in the office. I also try to find something physical that I enjoy, from walking my dog to trying a new activity or hobby. Spiritually, taking the time to reflect, worship, or find community with others is equally as important."

The Counseling Services team is looking forward to occupying the new lakeside space in the Wellness Center. Plans include not only continuing direct therapy service, but also offering more group and prevention activities. Some of the group activities will focus on reducing anxiety, managing depression, building healthier communication in relationships, and managing stress around finals and the holidays. "These groups will vary from one-time sessions to three-session programs and are designed to build community while helping students find balance in their mind, body, and spirit," Nelson said.


The Saint Leo Recreation Department incorporates growth in mind, body, and spirit, by instilling "lasting behaviors that cultivate a lifestyle of well-being within our community and beyond." Among the department's goals are unifying all wellness efforts and initiatives throughout the university community, providing programming that is challenging, rewarding, and fun, and inspiring positive behaviors through participation.

Boasting a resort-style pool, fitness area with cardio equipment and weights, dance and yoga studios, cycling center, multipurpose gymnasium, and an indoor walking track, Saint Leo's new Wellness Center will provide multiple venues for recreation and fitness.

New fitness classes are in the works, said Conner Kilpatrick, director of Recreation. "In the past we have had yoga, Zumba, 'butts and guts,' and boxing classes," he said. "We hope to increase our workout buddy program and personal training program."

The pool will be open for swimming laps and general recreational swimming, Kilpatrick said, and there will be "open gym" times for basketball, volleyball, and pickle pall. And the gymnasium space also will be used to expand intramurals offerings.

Embracing the Spirit

The Benedictine concept of balance of mind, body, spirit incorporates time praying, studying, and working, and the Rule of Benedict calls for checks and balances in all activities. St. Benedict developed this approach from the Fathers of the Church who got it from Greco-Roman philosophy, said Father Randall Meissen, university chaplain and director of University Ministry.

Many are familiar with the quote, "Mens sana in corpore sano," which is traced back to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, Meissen said. "When someone asked 'who is blessed?', Thales said, 'whoever has a healthy body, a sophisticated mind, and teachable nature.'"

"That idea was repeated by the Latin poet Juvenal, from whom we get the common expression: 'We must pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body,'" the university chaplain said.

The concept was adopted as Christian thought, and it influenced universities in the Middle Ages. Today, Saint Leo University educates its students in the Catholic liberal arts tradition. "The educational aspiration of Christian humanism is to perfect the human person in all dimensions by pursuit of that harmonious development of the physical, intellectual, and spiritual qualities," Meissen explained.

University Ministry

Saint Leo's University Ministry office will be housed in the new Wellness Center and a small chapel for prayer also will be part of the center, giving students, faculty, and staff a place to join in fellowship as well as quiet meditation.

"As a university, the first thing that we look at is the mind, for education and forming the intellect that is necessary to impact the world around us," said Lucas Nocera, music minister for Saint Leo. "Our work does not end there, though. We require sound bodies in order to tackle the work that ought to be done. Through areas that focus on the health of the body, such as athletics, intramural sports, and classes that can be taken at the new Wellness Center, we get to enhance the way that we engage in study. Lastly, in regard to the souls that each of us have, we seek to allow both our minds and bodies to be touched by God. We pray that the chapel that will be in the University Ministry wing of the Wellness Center will be a place where all our students can reconnect spiritually and recharge."

With the creation of the new College of Health Professions and the construction of the new Wellness Center, the Saint Leo community will have even more ways to focus on holistic growth and support the university's mission.

Find Out More

Information about degrees offered by the College of Health Professions can be found on the university's website. For information about Admissions, email or call (800) 334-5532.

To make a donation to the bond-funded Wellness Center, go to