As college campuses across the diocese welcome students this fall, the Office of Evangelization’s College Campus Ministry is up and running with its own sort of welcome. As a distinct presence on campus, Campus Ministry coordinators Emily VanFossen and Ash Scarbrough are working diligently to empower students to live their faith while they navigate the challenges and joys of college life.
“Campus ministry is trying to build the kingdom of God,” says VanFossen. “We want to make sure these students are able to live their faith while they are in college. We want to help them deepen their faith or even find it if they haven’t yet.”
Scarbrough, new to this position this year, agrees adding, “It’s a chance to open our eyes to Jesus already being on campus and He’s trying to meet them where they’re at.”
It’s been estimated that 70 percent of students entering college practicing their Catholic faith, graduate and leave not practicing. To combat this statistic the campus ministry works diligently on seven northeastern Indiana campuses to offer students the opportunity to gather not only for Scripture study and sacraments but also support, fellowship and fun.
VanFossen coordinates Catholic groups, known as Newman groups, on four campuses — Manchester College, Trine University in Angola, Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne (IPFW) and Indiana Tech.
Scarbrough covers Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana University at South Bend and Goshen College.
Together the two manage to meet with each campus student group, provide resources, coordinate Mass on campus or at a nearby church, facilitate Bible study discussions, work closely with each campus’ chaplain and much more.
According to Scarbrough, this generation is relational, so creating a faith community on each campus requires meetings for relationship building, as well as a connection on social media sites.
“It’s getting to know each other, our backgrounds and stories and where God has already been active in our lives,” says Scarbrough. “Then we give them a chance to step beyond that experience by bringing Mass to campus, by bringing priests and religious to campus.”
Though the ministers work to gather students to experience Mass together on campus, they also encourage involvement in a home or nearby parish.
“We try to create communities that are intentionally about going and being a part of a local parish,” says Scarbrough. “It helps bridge where they’re at to where they’re going to be spending the rest of their faith lives, which is attached to a local parish.”
Many of the local parishes encourage the university students to get involved with special Masses as well as Eucharistic Adoration.
Conventual Franciscan Father Bob Showers, chaplain for Trine University, notes that having the students involved at his St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Angola is equally as beneficial for the parish as it is for the students.
Other chaplains assigned currently are Father Tony Steinacker, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, for Goshen College; Father Tom Shoemaker, pastor of St. Therese Little Flower, for Bethel; Father David Ruppert, pastor of St. Anthony de Padua, for IUSB; and Father Andrew Curry, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine, for Manchester College.
Both Scarbrough and VanFossen agree that parents are foundational in the faith formation of their students. And, says VanFossen, once their student is away on campus, parents can continue to be a faith example by being available to “ask the right questions and then just listen.”
Campus Ministry holds region-wide events to bring students together each year as well. Summit Awakenings, a weekend retreat to be held in Fort Wayne this year will bring all interested college-aged students together to experience a personal encounter with Christ. Another event held in January is an intercollegiate day-retreat held at the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center in Fort Wayne where Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will celebrate Mass.
As this new school year progresses several students feel blessed to be involved with the Catholic faith group on their campuses. Senior A.J. Reynolds, student body president at Bethel College this year says by having been part of the Catholic group he has been able to connect with other students with different faith backgrounds. “Bethel’s Catholic Club has played a major role in my personal and faith development over the past years and I look forward to it continuing to sharpen my abilities this year,” he says.
Claire Miller, a senior at Manchester College and president of Manchester Catholics, the Newman group there, says staying connected to the faith community on campus has helped her live her beliefs with passion and confidence.
“After being a part of this group for three years, I can honestly say how crucial it is to surround yourself with good Catholic friends and groups as a young adult,” Miller says. “It is difficult to stand for the Catholic faith if I feel isolated. It is why it has been so important to me to attend the Manchester Catholic weekly meetings, learn more about our faith, and then be sent back out with a renewed sense of knowledge that I am not alone in my beliefs.”
Teresa Berger, senior at Indiana University at South Bend, says, “I came to IUSB and found the Catholic Newman Club the first day, and it has been the best part of my college experience by far. … I have met so many Catholics who inspire me every day to be a better disciple of Christ and encourage me to learn more about my faith. The support system that I have found with the Church during my time in college is incredible.”
Elise Fisher, junior at IPFW, couldn’t agree more. “… To develop your faith and integrity in the way that we are intended, we must surround ourselves with faith-filled brothers and sisters of Christ. Because finding these people can be incredibly challenging, religious organizations, like IPFW’s Newman group, are key in seeking out friends with a healthy moral compass. IPFW Newman group was exactly what I needed to find friends that would lead me deeper in my faith.”
As the Campus Ministry continues to grow this year the goal is still the same. “Our goal,” concludes Scarbrough, “is to encourage students to experience the love of God and extend that to others.”
Summit Awakening is an annual weekend retreat sponsored by the diocese and the University of Saint Francis, put on by college students for college-aged students. This year’s retreat will be held at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Fort Wayne from Oct. 9-11.
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