College Campus Ministry

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Creating a Welcoming Space for Faith - Bridgewater State University

"The first time anyone--students, faculty and staff, outside visitors--ventures into the Catholic Center," says Marlene DeLeon, campus minister at Bridgewater State University, "their response is, 'Wow, what a great space! It's so homey!'" It's not only the comfy couches and the quiet library that creates the welcoming environment. It's also the warmth of DeLeon and Barbara Henault, the center's administrative assistant whose love of the students is evident from the smile on her face and the photos in her office.
 
Providing a home-away-from-home atmosphere is key at BSU's campus. Two-thirds of students are commuters, and the one-third who live on campus often go home or to friends' houses for weekends. Many students therefore don't feel much of a connection to campus. The Catholic Center is one space that tries to create a sense of belonging, in multiple ways.
 
Henault has been a big part of the welcoming and caring presence at the center, not only through her own warm personality but also by inviting nearby parishioners to contribute to fostering an atmosphere of care and support for students.
 
Being a student can be a financial struggle, so the Catholic Center has a regularly-stocked food pantry where anyone from the BSU community can help themselves to soups, pasta, and other items. There is also a clothing exchange area where community members can donate extra clothes or pick up something they need—an especially helpful service for international students who may not be used to dressing for New England winters.
 
Sunday Masses at St. Basil's Chapel are a highlight of the ministry at BSU. Graduate students provide the music for a beautiful celebration that brings together both students and members of the wider community. Attendees also include local tenth graders who are preparing for Confirmation, which gives the college students a chance to be role models.
 
"I tell our students, 'The high schoolers from the Confirmation class are looking to you as examples of what it means to be a person of faith during your college years,'" says DeLeon. Social receptions after Mass help to build a sense of community among Catholic students.
 
 
Students live out their faith beyond campus as well, volunteering to read aloud to children at local social service sites and teaching English as a Second Language at Catholic Charities.
 
DeLeon's ministry also reaches out to multiple groups of students who have particular needs and gifts, including veterans. She has collaborated with other departments on campus in the Vets Speak project, which brought together veterans to write and tell their stories. The program culminated in a theater production that shared these reflections through monologue, music, and dance. The events allowed veterans to know that their stories are worth listening to, and allowed the community to learn from the large but often overlooked population of men and women returning from military service.
 
In short, DeLeon provides many touchpoints to keep people in contact with the Catholic faith and the life of service that flows from it. Whether it's an annual retreat or monthly spaghetti dinners, Catholic campus ministry is actively building up the BSU community, within the Church and beyond.