No two colleges or universities are the same, and across the Archdiocese campus ministers are shaping their programs to fit the needs of their particular contexts. Click on a school below to see the exciting ways that the Holy Spirit is guiding Catholic campus ministry in Boston to "become all things to all" in order to better preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22).
- Bridgewater State University
- Emmanuel College
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Northeastern University
- Tufts University
- University of Massachusetts Lowell
- Wellesley College
"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 touch points 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.
As the only Catholic undergraduate institution in Boston proper, Emmanuel College is following the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur's mission of "making God's goodness known," right in the heart of the city. "Students here do a ridiculous amount of service," says campus minister Tony Krzmarzick. In fact, approximately 90% participate in volunteer activities during their time at Emmanuel. The Mission and Ministry office is dedicated to deepening that passion for giving but also to helping students connect it to spirituality. "With how many students we have doing volunteer work, there's a real opportunity to connect service and faith," says Krzmarzick.
One new initiative for doing so is the Four-Year Service program, which invites students to commit to volunteering at the same placement once a week during their entire career at Emmanuel. At monthly gatherings, the students engage in a theological reflection model that asks, "How is God revealing God's self to me through this service and the people I'm encountering? How is God also revealing my true self to me through this experience?"
Retreats offer another opportunity for reflection, a chance to get students together for an open, honest conversation that fosters a spiritual life. "Like all of us, so many students are just longing to be loved, affirmed, and connected," says Krzmarzick. "They just want an opportunity to talk about important things. That's why I love our retreats." While a day or weekend away provides a sacred time set apart, the work of campus ministry continues afterward in helping students ask, "How do we live in our daily lives what we tapped into on the retreat?"
Emmanuel's Sunday liturgies invite students to a deeper faith life by meeting them where they are at. Homilies focus on connecting the readings to college life, and the music appeals to a range of tastes, from chant and traditional hymns to contemporary praise and worship songs. The choir and instrumental group engages the talents of a student body that includes clarinet, violin, saxophone, piano, organ, and guitar players.
Emmanuel is also facing the same question as many institutions affiliated with religious congregations: as fewer religious sisters are available for roles on campus, how does the college maintain its founding charism? One of Emmanuel's answers is the 1804 Society. This innovative program forms a group of students throughout their college years to be ambassadors for the SND mission. In their first year they study the history and values of the sisters. As sophomores and juniors, they do service at SND sites around the city. In their senior year, members of the 1804 Society do a self-designed project that puts into effect what they have learned about the charism. The popularity and success of the program "has been remarkable," says Krzmarzick. "Now it's even spreading to some SND high schools."
At Emmanuel, the Mission and Ministry staff don't have to worry about being the only ones to help the Sisters of Notre Dame carry their spirit forward; the students they form are doing it quite well, too.
No one ever said MIT students were boring. Whether it is a solar-powered phone charger installed on a backpack, the ISBN number of a favorite book engraved in a class ring, or a self-built motorized skateboard zooming down long hallways, Tricia Lester says that she has seen it all among MIT students. But the school's well-known strength in sciences and engineering can lead to some challenges as well. Lester, a FOCUS missionary on campus, notes that the competitive spirit and heavy workload can leave some students feeling isolated. There's also the danger of developing a skewed sense of self-worth based solely on achievement.
The Tech Catholic Community brings the light of the Gospel to these challenges by creating opportunities for relationships rooted in faith. In addition to the Catholic campus ministry office which runs much of the programming, MIT is also one of a hundred colleges across the US where the Fellowship of Catholic University Students places missionaries. Lester is one of four FOCUS members here who embody a discipleship model to share the Good News with the campus through personal interactions.
The uniqueness of the MIT environment is evident in some students' hesitation to give credence to anything that is not empirically proven. Where can faith find a place in a modern world where even love can be explained as "just a chemical reaction"? The challenge for Lester and other FOCUS missionaries is often simply to invite students to consider the possibility of belief in God. Lester does so by sharing her own story of encounter with Christ and also by encouraging people to see what happens when they sit in Christ's presence, especially at Eucharistic Adoration.
"That experience can help people to understand prayer as 'being with another,'" she says. She hopes that being in Jesus' presence will lead students to the same realization she has come to about Him: "You are real, and You love me."
Students respond in different ways based on where they are on their faith journey. Some deepen their already-existing Catholicism and become Bible study leaders. Others who are still not sure what they believe come to events as a way of continuing to honestly seek the truth. In addition to multiple Bible study groups that encourage community-building, the Tech Catholic Community also has plenty of regular events that create space for devoted believers or new seekers to connect with the Church. Mondays offer faith discussions over dinner. Wednesday evening activities include Adoration, Reconciliation, Mass, and fellowship. Friday nights mix devotion and fun, beginning with Adoration and guided reflections, and concluding with dinner and games or movies. Sundays, of course, the community gathers for Mass, with a praise-style band providing music for the evening liturgy. Catholic campus ministry also meets the needs of specific populations through offerings such as a children-friendly wives' group.
Whatever the event, Lester says that it is the personal impact that is the true goal: "It's those individual moments more than any program in and of itself that make me excited--those individually changed lives." In a unique academic environment at MIT, Catholic campus ministry is inviting students to find the truth not just in the solution to an equation, but especially in the very person of Christ.
Life as a Northeastern University student presents unique challenges to finding community. The school's highly-acclaimed co-op program places students in full-time employment positions for six months every year, beginning when they are sophomores. It's great for learning and career preparation, but the rotating schedule can make it tough for students to find a steady sense of community. Enter the Catholic Center at Northeastern University (CCNU).
Located just off campus, the four-floor brownstone appears to provide ample space for activities. But don't be fooled: during Wednesday night "NU Life" meetings, you'll often find the crowd of students overflowing out the door and up the steps from the large first-floor gathering area. The weekly event makes use of social activities, informative talks, and small-group sharing in order to offer "Good News you can use." Its popularity is a testament to the connection students feel to the Center and to one another. Even when co-op placements keep students away from campus during class hours, the Catholic Center enables them to maintain relationships and a sense of belonging. "When students get up and talk about what's special about this place," says Br. Sam Gunn, BH, the director of the CCNU, "they just keep saying, 'Community, community, community.'"
Through men's and women's groups, homeless outreach, Bible studies, social gatherings, liturgies, one-on-one conversations, and many other activities, students learn to care for one another. "If students connected to the Catholic Center are not doing well, they aren't likely to fall through the cracks," Br. Sam notes. "The students have created a real network of care."
Members of the Brotherhood of Hope run the CCNU, and their model is to empower the students. Br. Sam explains, "The students are super-talented and leadership-oriented. We facilitate events, but the students do the heavy-lifting." For example, students lead a weekend retreat each semester. They also lead Bible studies, mentored by full-time post-graduate interns who help organize events and build relationships with students.
Although the Center is constantly abuzz with meetings or events, the essence of community-building is not the structured activities but the personal caring and authenticity that is demonstrated. As Br. Sam notes, "If you have an agenda, the students will see right through you. You have to be honestly concerned for their well-being. If you have anything else, they'll call you on it. And that's a good thing." By fostering such honest concern for one another, the Catholic Center at Northeastern University is helping students find real community at the CCNU. In such an atmosphere of lived Catholicism, says Br. Sam, "Students really come to love the Church and the faith."
At a school as diverse as Tufts University, it can be difficult to carve out a comfortable niche for Catholic students without isolating them from the wider community. Lynn Cooper, the Catholic Chaplain, is turning this challenge into something beautiful. "I've been reflecting on the image of a mosaic to describe campus ministry here at Tufts," she says. It is an image that is appropriate on multiple levels.
In the realm of the university as a whole, Catholic chaplaincy is housed within the larger Interfaith Center, which emphasizes collaborative programming between faith groups. As Cooper says, "'Interfaith' has to be more than just all of us chaplains sharing a building. We want to model an interfaith appreciation by our actions." The goal is to foster cooperative attitudes and skills in students as well. For example, a student committee made up of representatives of various faith-based organizations ensures that the students themselves gain experience in interreligious communication.
The mosaic image applies within the Catholic community as well, and the Sunday evening Mass is a perfect example. The Eucharist draws together students from different Catholic backgrounds and of different nationalities. The beauty is that students meet who otherwise might be unlikely to encounter one another; the challenge is that each person is most comfortable with the way Mass is celebrated in his or her own culture. Cooper's task is to help all students feel at home in the sacred space of the shared liturgy, finding a bond of connection without pretending that everyone is the same.
One concrete way that Catholic chaplaincy helps students live in this tension between the individual and the community is through preparing lectors. By forming students to proclaim the Word of God at Mass, Cooper helps them to take personal ownership of their own faith. Cooper says, "I'm so excited when students say, 'I had been scared in the past, but now I want to be a lector.'" In the process, students grow in an understanding of their own authenticity, but also an understanding of what it means to be an authentic Catholic community. Says Cooper, "Each student lectors differently and adds his or her own personality and voice. The best way to understand who we are as a community is to hear each other's voices."
For Cooper, the community is not just those who come to her. Essential to the work of campus ministry is reaching out to meet students where they are. That means being involved in the life of the wider campus. Cooper regularly attends lectures and events, especially when she knows a student who is involved in organizing or performing. "Students need to see your face," she says. "You can't just be in the office. You need to get out and dispel the myths about who chaplaincy is for." At Tufts, Catholic campus ministry is making sure that all students understand the valuable place they each hold in the mosaic of the Church and the wider world.
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.
Wellesley College may have an all-female student population, but that doesn't mean it lacks diversity. Indeed, as Sr. Nancy Corcoran, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, notes, the presence of international students and the variety of faith traditions is one of the strengths of the college. She explains that as the Catholic chaplain, "I tell the students, 'Go meet someone from a different country or with a different religious background from you. Take advantage of this treasure you have on campus!'"
The school's commitment to meeting the needs of students from a variety of faiths is evident in its Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which brings together almost a dozen staff and chaplains representing a spectrum of traditions. The result is a cooperative environment in which staff and students of many faiths come together to plan events like Flower Sunday (a fall celebration of friendship and welcome dating back to 1875), and the spring Baccalaureate Ritual.
"The great thing about our office," Sr. Nancy says, "is that we have a strong sense of being a collaborative interfaith community, but we always speak from our own traditions. We don't feel the need to pretend that we're all the same." This productive tension is seen in the Multifaith Center, which contains larger open spaces that are shared for a variety of spiritual activities, as well as smaller prayer, meditation, and study rooms that are conducive to particular traditions. For Sr. Nancy, it's about building community with other religions and spiritualities while also working hard to ensure that Catholic students have the resources needed to deepen their own Catholic faith.
During Sr. Nancy's tenure at Wellesley, Sunday Mass attendance has grown large enough that they have moved into the campus's main chapel for worship. Once a year there is a teaching Mass that helps students gain a deeper understanding of what they are participating in at liturgy, and Sr. Nancy also runs a confirmation program for those who want to complete their sacramental initiation into the Church.
The college is especially committed to empowering its students to be strong thinkers and leaders. Sr. Nancy brings this same approach to campus ministry, encouraging the young women she works with to engage the issues that they find meaningful. The "Faith and Feminism" luncheon series, for instance, invites students of all religious backgrounds to bring their own questions and stories of what it means to be a woman in a faith community. Sr. Nancy finds that allowing participants to set the agenda results in the students having a deeper openness to conversation and a greater sense that questions of faith are indeed relevant to their lives.
Much of the campus ministry work at Wellesley involves being a compassionate and wise presence to students who are looking for comfort or advice. Among the many joys and struggles they bring to her, Sr. Nancy notes that questions of gender and sexual identity can be a particular source of growth but also uncertainty and vulnerability for students. Her listening ear provides support for processing relationship and sexuality questions in a healthy manner, and thereby helps the Church to live out its call to be a safe space for those who find themselves struggling for whatever reason.
As the welcoming presence of Catholicism on campus, Sr. Nancy is ensuring that the young women of Wellesley are rooted in a living Catholic tradition as they step openly into a multifaith world.