When Peter sees Jesus transfigured upon Mount Tabor, he exclaims, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” After witnessing this moment of glory, the apostles then begin their journey toward Jerusalem, where Jesus proceeds to enter into His passion, death and resurrection. This mountaintop experience allows Peter to contemplate the majesty of the Lord alongside his fellow companions and receive the strength and courage to face the trials that are soon to come.
Similarly, encountering Jesus through the sacraments, Scripture and faith-based community provides Catholics with the remedy for the trials and struggles life in a secular world can bring. These burdens are felt profoundly on many college campuses, where important questions of faith, morality, ideology and lifestyle are often answered with non-Christian, or even anti-Christian, responses.
At many of the institutions throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, students have access to resources and support for deepening their faith and persevering through the daily challenges they face. This includes not only the Catholic colleges, but also those without any historical Christian designation.
At the Fort Wayne campus of Indiana Tech, since 2017 it has been the students themselves leading the charge to nourish their Catholic faith and turn it into action on campus. Senior Paxton Simerman, a graduate of Bishop Dwenger High School and parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo, has developed the Catholic Warrior student group as it hosts weekly on-campus Masses and Bible studies. Participants also are making arrangements for regular opportunities for reconciliation and eucharistic adoration.
These opportunities have provided a greater sense of fellowship, community and awareness for how the intentional group of disciples can live their faith in a largely non-religious environment. Simerman shared: “Right now we are doing a FOCUS-based Bible study on living out the Gospel that is geared toward college students. We’re able to go deep in our conversations. One girl started coming who had been away from the faith for over a year. As someone who is trying to grow the ministry, I don’t always see the effects, and I wonder about the work and effort put into the planning. But to receive feedback like that is a true Holy Spirit moment, reminding of the good work God does when we allow Him to work in our lives.”
While the upswing in numbers has been modest, she emphasized that “it has been amazing to see the group grow. Since it has become an official student organization, we’ve been able to publicly promote our events on campus and have seen consistent increases in student attendance and the length of time we spend discussing Scripture in our meetings. Because people with great knowledge and love for their faith are coming to participate, it allows us to go deeper. I wouldn’t be able to lead a Bible study like this otherwise. The first couple weeks have been amazing, and I look forward to seeing how deep we can go.”
Freshman Jessica Hartmus, a graduate of Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne, and a parishioner at Sacred Heart, stated: “In the college world, if you want to talk about anything religious, you have to first start with the formal philosophical proofs for God’s existence, otherwise you’re often dismissed or people don’t care. But here, because we understand and agree on the basics, we can get into the more complex ideas about Scripture. I also know that since everyone here is accepting of my faith, I can be myself, and I don’t have to be on the defensive about everything I believe. We can all discuss questions about Church teaching, how to understand it and respond intelligently about it.”
She added that “it has been beautiful to see Paxton’s leadership and humility as she seeks to learn more about her faith and guide the group, yet still acknowledging that she has much more to learn in her spiritual life.”
“Sometimes I’ll get a question in class about the Catholic perspective on something because the professor knows I’m Catholic,” Simerman said. “In those instances, I know I can bring the issue to our group for further discussion. There have been times when I wasn’t completely sure how to respond in the moment, but after bringing it to our conversations here, I could go back to my professor with a logical and comprehensive answer to their inquiry. Just because I’m leading this group doesn’t mean I know everything. We’re simply trying to provide new opportunities to give the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives.”
Dave Stevens, senior director of institutional advancement, and associate professor Maximo Ortego serve as faculty advisors for the Catholic Warriors. They likewise shared their admiration for Simerman’s leadership and initiative to provide a receptive Catholic environment for her peers, from which they can go forth in confidence to live their faith with enthusiasm. Additionally, they expressed their gratitude for the celebration of Mass on campus, which allows for practicing faculty and staff to participate as well.
Junior A.J. Smith, a homeschool graduate and parishioner at St. Paul of the Cross, Columbia City, also said that Catholic Warriors offers an extra boost during the week
“Since Indiana Tech is not a Catholic or Christian school, it’s nice to have an area and group on campus where I can be a sacramental Catholic and grow my faith. I’ve learned a lot from the Bible study and from the priests who come for Mass, since we have pizza and discussions afterwards. The priests have been open to sharing their vocation stories and answering various questions about the faith.”
The priests who have supported Catholic students at Indiana Tech include Father Tom Shoemaker, Father Patrick Hake, Father Daniel Whelan and Father Wimal Jayasuryia.
“I’m impressed by the initiation of the group,” shared Father Hake, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Fort Wayne. “They started that group without any help from a parish. They saw a need, a desire and took steps to bring it to reality. I’m very happy to support them. We need that sort of initiation at every level of the Church.”
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