With the renewed fervor within the Catholic Church to reach out to youth and young adults, dioceses across the U.S. are working diligently to assist college students in staying connected with their faith wherever they are. To combat the staggering statistics that show that of the 1.8 million Catholic students who enter college each year, about 80 percent stop practicing their faith, many colleges and universities offer Newman Centers or Catholic campus ministries as a faith resource for students.
Named for Cardinal John Henry Newman, Newman Centers are residence and Catholic ministry centers that provide pastoral services and ministries to Catholic communities on non-Catholic campuses around the world.
In an effort to ensure incoming freshmen in the area stay committed to their faith formation the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries employs the assistance of Hannah Quast and Emily Van Fossen as coordinators of Campus Ministry for their area college campuses.
Hannah Quast works as liaison between the diocese and the Catholic student organizations at Bethel College, Goshen College and Indiana University-South Bend in the South Bend area.
Emily Van Fossen serves Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW), Indiana Tech, Manchester University and Trine University in the Fort Wayne and surrounding area.
Both women work closely with each campus’s student leaders of the Newman Centers, faculty advisors and chaplains to meet the unique interests and needs of the Catholic students.
The Newman Groups generally focus on “faith, friendship, prayer and service,” notes Van Fossen. “That might manifest in celebrating Mass together, praying the rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet, studying the saints, engaging in a book or Bible study, working with community through a service project, or just getting together for pizza and board games,” she says, adding, “There is also a fall retreat for all four campuses at St. Felix in Huntington in early October. IPFW has regularly scheduled Mass and a Meal on Tuesdays at noon in Walb Union, as well as a regularly scheduled Thursday evening event in Cole Commons.”
In the South Bend area, Quast says, “the ministry looks different on each campus in order to both meet the students where they are and help them to grow closer to God in the ways that are best for them. … Last year on Bethel’s campus we met after the all-school chapel on Wednesdays for coffee and to chat about the content of the chapel that day. This coming year we hope to show the Catholicism series on campus in order to have deeper discussions and perhaps draw in some of those on campus who have questions about the Catholic faith.
“At Goshen College, we meet in the evenings for coffee, Bible study and ‘Catholic trivia.’ At IUSB, we have a weekly Mass, with cookies afterward, as well as weekly faith sharing. Last semester we read part of G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Orthodoxy’ and then went through the ARISE Lenten program. This year we are hoping to offer a tri-campus retreat for the students on all three campuses,” she says.
Evangelizing and strengthening the Catholic presence on campus, Van Fossen says, requires communication in many forms. “It’s a matter of using social media, like Facebook, to communicate with existing and potential members; participating in campus-wide events such as move-in days, Freshman Fests, orientations and other social gatherings where we are able to meet and interact with students, continuing our relationship with the Newman Connection (newmanconnection.com), and doing some grassroots marketing on a parish/community level.”
With the goal of active participation in one’s faith at the college level as a springboard to a faith filled adult life, these Catholic campus ministers work to stay in touch with the students as they move on to graduation. According to the Newman connection website, newmanconnection.com, “College graduates active in campus ministry, are more likely to attend Mass, volunteer for leadership in parishes and consider a religious vocation.” Quast heartily agrees, saying, “I have found that the young people who remain and are active in the Church are full of great enthusiasm for the faith. They are excited to live a holy life and they joyfully share it with others.”
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