College Campus Ministry


The Presence of the Church on Campus - UMass Lowell

At a public university, campus minister Bernadine Kensinger shares the Gospel just by being a Catholic presence. Two-thirds of the students at UMass Lowell self-identify as Catholic, but that doesn't mean it's always an inviting place for believers. Especially for those in engineering and the sciences, fellow classmates of different faiths or no faith can raise challenging questions for Catholic students. "An essential question that we have to help people answer," Kensinger says, "is, Why the Church? Why sacraments? How are these relevant to me?" She sees Catholic campus ministry as a crucial point of connection between the Church and the wider world.
Sunday Mass is the center of the Catholic programming at UMass Lowell, but it's not the only opportunity for worship. Weekly Eucharistic adoration and daily quiet hours of prayer invite students to find God in the midst of busy schedules. Although campus ministry has the benefit of being located in a new, state-of-the-art student union, it can be challenging not to have space that is specifically reserved for Catholic activities like Holy Mass. During prayer events, Kensinger gives a Catholic feel to the otherwise unadorned Serenity Room by setting up icons and candles. "Even the beauty of an image of the Blessed Mother or of Christ Pantocrator can speak to people of the value of faith," she says.
Once a week a Capuchin intern sets up at a table in the library lobby, welcoming passers-by to learn more about campus ministry events or just to chat about faith, life, or whatever is on their mind. Sometimes the ministry involves special focus on an individual, whether it is accompanying a veteran through the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life, or working with local charities to help a financially-strapped student travel home for the holidays.
Kensinger's successful community service programs give students the opportunity to serve meals, run charitable donation drives, or do construction projects, but she also sees campus ministry as providing something distinctive in terms of volunteering. The university as a whole has been increasing its emphasis on service, both promoting charitable works and also asking how one's career can serve the good of the world. Kensinger builds on these values by helping students and faculty root them in Christ.
In short, the work of campus ministry at UMass Lowell is really about being a Catholic presence at an institution where so many aspects of the secular world and contemporary culture come together. As one student told Kensinger, "Even on the weekends when I can't attend the student Mass, I still like knowing that it's happening on campus." Through prayer, service, and accompaniment, the Church is indeed present on campus.