September 19, 2017 // Local

Catholic on campus: lifelines for students

For students going to college for the first time, or returning to college, stress can set in very quickly. There’s a lot to think about: projects to plan, schedules to maintain, tests to study for and a plethora of other worries.

Finding a secluded place on campus to pray is the most rudimentary way to stay connected to one’s faith while away at college. Photo by Nick Stump

Surrounded by new people who have different backgrounds and charged with some serious multitasking, it’s easy for the faith to slip away. Not only that, but college is a time when everything a student knows and believes will be put to the test, both academically and spiritually.

Many college students find themselves falling prey to the rhetoric and temptations that come with the college experience; but there are resources for students who want to keep their faith alive and well. The most prominent of them is a lifeline for those treading the rough waters of uncertainty; an oxygen mask when it feels like there is no room to breathe. It’s called the Newman Center.

The Newman Center is a Catholic resource designed to connect college students to their faith. It is a place to unite a community, to allow Catholic students and those who are curious to learn about the Catholic faith in an environment outside of the classroom; and to identify and strengthen core values when they may be at their weakest.

Father Dennis Di Benedetto celebrates an outdoor Mass at Friends Pavilion on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Thursday, Sept. 14.

Jennifer Kopecky is the coordinator of Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Fort Wayne area, serving the diocese for almost a year. She shared what students at local college campuses told her when they were asked about the importance of a campus ministry. One student described Catholic resources on campus as the safety tether to his spaceship, as he explored unknown territory; another saw them as the foundation to navigate the social movements and pressures on college campuses.

“Most students stand up before they fully know what they stand for,” Kopecky remarked. “By not having this lifeline or core value system, these movements often promote students to stand up just because those around them are doing so or because someone told them to.”

College students are often pressured to support what they believe in, or worse — what someone else wants them to believe in. Campus ministry is there to guide them through those situations and to encourage them to stand for what is right and just.

Mastodon Catholics at of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne meet for lunch following the conclusion of “Mass on the Grass” Thursday, Sept. 14.

There will be conflicts to face, no doubt. And unfortunately, not every student is very receptive to maintaining or continuing to develop their Catholic faith. For them, the best thing to do is pray.

Additionally, not every school has a campus ministry, or perhaps any faith resources immediately available. But there are options for those students as well.

One of the first things students should do when looking to attend a college is research the surrounding area. If the college is away from home, finding out where the grocery store, gas station and definitely the coffee shop are located is a crucial part of transitioning to a new area. The same can be said for looking up the location of the nearest parish, and should be included in the research process.

Even if the school does have faith resources on campus, finding a local parish is still crucial. Kopecky stressed how important it is to get to the sacraments, as a college student. Or, if the student wishes to take smaller steps, Kopecky recommends he or she check out campus social media feeds; there is usually at least a small Catholic community represented on them somewhere.

There’s also a resource available called Newman Connections. Newman Connections is a nonprofit organization dedicated to support campus Catholics across the nation. It has web and social media resources for outreach and community connection purposes; and anyone can access what Newman Connections offers and be part of a national, online Catholic community. It can also help individuals or groups who are interested in setting up a Newman Center at their school. The diocese where the school is located may be able to help as well.

As students begin to trudge through the thick of the academic semester, they will have a lot on their plates. To them, Kopecky offers advice: “Pray as much as you can, in silence and in large or small amounts of time — offer up your suffering. Do good, it’s simple. Be the face of Christ.”

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