For many young Catholics, leaving home for college means leaving a routine that was encouraged and nurtured by their parents. They suddenly become responsible for doing laundry, buying food and going to Mass on their own.
Oftentimes, these young Catholics go to public colleges where the Catholic faith and weekly Mass is not encouraged – and many times is opposed and challenged. In response to these problems, Catholic college groups minister and provide community to faithful students who are away from home and away from the religious routines that they had been practicing for the first two decades of their lives.
Mastodon Catholic primarily ministers to college-aged Catholics attending Purdue University Fort Wayne, and welcomes several others from the tri-campus area. Steven Dellinger assumed the top role in leadership for the group during the 2022-23 school year, and said that collegiate ministry at public universities helps students learn to practice their faith after moving out.
“I think one of the major factors is that people our age are really coming into their own with their faith, learning how to live out the Christian life outside their parents’ homes, and college is one of those first places that they’re really exercising that independence. So having a Catholic group not only offers them a sense of formation, but also a community that reaffirms their identity as Catholics so that they can begin to develop a sense of confidence in how they’re practicing their faith.”
Typically, Mastodon Catholic celebrates Mass on campus once each week, with opportunities available for the sacrament of reconciliation as well. After Mass, they build community at lunch. Every month, they host a bigger community-building event.
Dellinger is trying to expand the ministry’s offerings, which shrank due to COVID-19 restrictions. This expansion could include more focus and outreach to young adults who are living in student housing, exploring volunteer opportunities and hosting joint activities with other Christian groups on the PFW campus.
He added that it is more important than ever to help mothers in need in the wake of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, and that he hopes Mastodon Catholic will be able to organize volunteer activities aimed at helping pregnant women.
“Having a visible Catholic presence on campus witnesses to the importance of the Church in Catholic students’ lives and serves as a way to expose non-Catholics to our faith. Students trying to seek out the truth, or those of other Christian traditions looking for a fuller way to live out the Christian life, are able to find a community willing to walk alongside them.”
Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne hosts the group Catholic Warriors. Former group president AJ Smith says that it is important to have a Catholic group on campus for students to feel a sense of community and belonging because new college students may find it hard to fit in.
“It was nice for me, especially as a Catholic all my life, to immediately have a group I could join and feel comfortable around, and who shared the same beliefs and values that I did.”
Like Mastodon Catholic, Catholic Warriors celebrate Mass weekly. They also host a regular Bible study and group lunches. In the past, Father Patrick Hake has invited the group to his rectory for a back to school event where they all hung out and played games together.
Smith added that many Catholics get to college and they stop practicing their faith, but the community that he found through Catholic Warriors helped him to persevere against that statistic.
“It helps you to find your place and fit in faster with people who you know are like you.”
The group Manchester Catholics serves students studying at Manchester University. Bridget Nash, a leader in the organization, says that until someone enters college, they’re still under their parents’ influence, but when they go to college, they begin to discover “what parts of yourself you want to own.”
She added that students on college campuses with Catholic ministries have “the option to remain steadfast in what they want” and praises the accountability aspect of the organization, which allows students to “be able to stay in touch with your faith and find other people with like minds. I think it allows them to have some kind of room for growth in that area so that way there’s always somewhere where they know they’re able to go.”
Manchester Catholics have, since 2019, been housed at a Newman Center building across from the campus.
“We have an upstairs chapel where Father Dennis [Di Benedetto], who is our chaplain, leads weekly Mass.”
Nash also says that the group is open to people who are not Catholic, and that many non-Catholics have participated in the organization’s events.
Newman Ministry reports that more than 80% of students stop practicing their faith in college. Freshmen entering collegiate life may be afraid of falling away from Catholicism as the overwhelming majority of their peers will, but these Catholic organizations aim to change that statistic and are there to help.
Through not only their consistency in making the sacraments available, but also their community-building activities and union with the greater Church, collegiate Catholic organizations offer a place of much-needed refuge during a time of great change in students’ lives.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.