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Campus ministry helps college students rediscover faith

By Christine Williams Pilot Correspondent
Posted: 5/22/2009

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Father Richard F. Clancy, archdiocesan director for Campus Ministry, leads the praying of the Rosary at the International Rosary Procession on the MIT Campus in Cambridge May 13. Pilot photo/ Courtesy Campus Ministry Office

BRAINTREE -- With more than 250,000 college students, the Archdiocese of Boston has a “particular responsibility” in bringing the presence of the Catholic Church to campus, said Father Richard F. Clancy, head of the Office of Campus Ministry.

The archdiocese coordinates programs on 21 campuses. This ministry aims to reach out to the students, evangelize and make the sacraments available. It is important for the Church to be a companion to young adults who are at, “a questioning place in their lives,” he added.

In fact, many young people have rejected the faith of their upbringing by the time of their college graduation. A recent report, “Faith in Flux,” found that nearly half of Americans have changed religious affiliations at some point with the vast majority making the switch before the age of 24. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the report April 27.

“We hear a lot about the students who go to college and lose their faith or stop practicing their faith. We don’t hear enough about the students who either discover their faith or encounter Christ in a deeper way,” said Father Clancy. “You can’t will it to happen, but it happens a lot.”

Lena Campagna, a recent graduate of Emerson College, said that she has always been involved in her faith but that the support she received from Emerson’s Catholic ministry changed her life.

“The people there were so welcoming,” she said. “It kept my faith really strong throughout college.”

Father Clancy added that most often it is the witness of other students that causes college conversions. When young people are confident in sharing their faith with others, their enthusiasm is contagious, and when they have the support of others, they are better equipped to go against the “values headwind” that can be found in our culture today, he said.

The Church needs to be there to answer young Catholics’ questions, especially because the faith may be challenged by their peers and in their classrooms, he added.

Kelley McCabe, who just finished her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said she needed answers before receiving her confirmation this year. Her Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults group met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and led her to a deeper understanding of her faith.

“I grew up in a Catholic family, but there were little questions I needed to know before I went into confirmation,” she said. “They clarified certain things.”

Kelley’s father, Neil McCabe, writes for The Pilot and is currently serving in the military in Iraq.

Students who participate in campus ministry often form a parish-like community, said Father Clancy. They serve as lectors, musicians, retreat organizers and pastoral council members. The members of these communities attend Mass, adoration, Bible study, rosary, social events and service trips. Some receive confirmation, First Communion or baptism.

Father Clancy said the archdiocese works hard to support a “distinct presence” on each campus.

The available resources differ from campus to campus. Some have multiple ministers while others have one part-time person. The archdiocese owns buildings on a few campuses while at others the Catholic group must book rooms at the school. Still others have an association with a local parish, he said.

Sadly, the available resources have dropped everywhere in the past 15 years. There are fewer priests in full-time campus ministry. Now many campuses have one layperson who often works part-time, he said.

Clancy added that the budget cuts over the past few years are not unique to ministry to college campuses. Many ministries run by the archdiocese have weathered downsizing.

The Office of Campus Ministry supports individual campus ministries by helping them find resources, especially where there is no priest assigned. They hold monthly meetings and promote collaboration between schools. Sometimes this leads to running joint retreats or service trips, he said.

Kristelle Angelli, a campus minister who serves part time at MIT and part time at Emerson, said that while there are many challenges in campus ministry, she sees great hope.

“The students who are involved are inspiring and give themselves so completely to God,” she said.

Father Clancy agreed, “We are right in the front lines with the students. It’s a great privilege to work with them, to learn from them and to share faith together.”