Charleston students connect with fellow Catholics


CHARLESTON  Five students from the College of Charleston joined their peers from the world over at the 2nd Annual Prince of Liechtenstein Catholic Leaders Fellowship. The conference, held in the Swiss-Franco region of Europe, brings together Catholic students and teaches them about Catholicism giving them the knowledge to effectively share their faith.

“It’s a unique educational opportunity,” said a spokesperson for COMPASS USA, the organization that awarded the scholarships. “It’s tough to beat that kind of experience.”

The College of Charleston students were among 36 nationwide who received full scholarships to attend the leadership conference. They were awarded the scholarships after going through a rigorous application process and competing with students from the likes of Harvard, Cornell and Princeton.

“It was a highly competitive application process. We had room for 36 students and had well over 100 applicants,” said the organization’s spokesperson.

Along with the completed application and photo, the students wrote two essays, sent a resume and college transcript, and received recommendations from a professor and clergy member, which were sent directly to the national office.

“The goal is to get these 36 students so inspired that they’ll go back to their campuses to make a difference, maybe doing missionary work or forming a debate society to address issues,” said the spokesperson.

COMPASS is a Catholic student service organization. Through the organization, students can meet and share ideas with their peers from around the world. Professors, clergy and other Catholic professionals may use the COMPASS network to gain ideas and insight from other members who share their common faith. COMPASS seeks to form Catholic leaders while working in conjunction with campus ministries.

During the conference, May 25 to June 18, the students took a pilgrimage to Rome where they met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Cardinal Ratzinger told us that one of the best ways to influence others was to live our lives the right way through virtuous example,” said Alex Wendel, a junior from Myrtle Beach who is one of the core leaders of the College of Charleston Catholic COMPASS Club. The cardinal encouraged the students to take the lead in bringing in a “new springtime” in the church.

Although the fellowships were full-ride scholarships, students raised some funds for their trip and the necessary expenses that came with it. College of Charleston junior Chris Collins, from the Rock Hill area, said that the trip would not have been possible if it were not for the generous support of folks from South Carolina who not only gave financial help, but also supplied much needed prayers for the trip.

The final highlight of the trip was a Mass held at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II as celebrant.

COMPASS was formed in part to answer the pope’s call to re-evangelize college life.

“Before I went to the conference I would have called myself a Catholic, but that was all. I wouldn’t go into any extra detail. Now I feel that I can have a conversation with others about my faith and not feel ashamed to share the knowledge that I gained from going to the conference,” said Stephanie Lewis, a junior from Lexington.

Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, who is a major supporter and benefactor to Roman Catholic causes and organizations, began the program two years ago. Through support from organizations like COMPASS, the conference is helping to empower Catholic students all over the world.

Raul Estrada, a 2000 graduate of the College of Charleston and student founder of Catholic campus ministry, and Nancy Schwerin contributed to this article.