Student group thrives even without their own space

CHARLESTON — At the College of Charleston, the campus ministry is a youth group without a home.

Don’t misunderstand. The students aren’t holding meetings in the street. Father Henry Kulah, administrator of St. Patrick Church, graciously opened his doors to the group, but it is only a temporary solution.

“Father Henry is a wonderful host and is happy to have the students there,” said Jane LaMarche, Ph.D., director of campus ministry at the college and for the Diocese of Charleston.

But they are only guests, and as such, are limited in their activities.

For one thing, the Catholic Student Association no longer has access to a kitchen. This puts a crimp in their once-a-week community dinner night where the students cook and serve for their peers. LaMarche said she has made pasta at home and brought it to the gathering, and they have ordered pizza, but these meals lack the camaraderie that comes from cooking together.

Also, the youth group is unable to host faith and fellowship meetings with their peers, or hold ice cream socials.

LaMarche said the students are grateful to Father Kulah and the church and plan to show their appreciation by doing custodial work around the premises. But the youth worry that a lack of personal accommodations will hurt the vibrancy of the group.

Close to 120 students attend Mass each Sunday, with 40 to 50 remaining for campus ministry, LaMarche said. At a recent meeting, they had 30 participants.

“College kids need their own space and their own furniture where they can lounge, eat and socialize,” she said.

And even though they’re worried, they aren’t complaining.

“It’s given us the opportunity to be creative,” LaMarche said.

Instead of throwing their annual non-alcoholic Halloween bash, the students went trick-or-canning and collected food for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

They have also started a loose change collection at Mass for Lowcountry Orphan Relief.

They couldn’t bake cookies for the residents of Franke Home at Seaside this year, so they made origami Christmas trees.

LaMarche said they still have a packed agenda full of social service, and she hopes the students will remain active and understanding until they find their own space.

John L. Barker, diocesan chief financial officer, said finding a home for the youth group is a major decision that will probably require the auspices of a bishop.

“It’s going to take a new bishop to organize all the needs of the diocese,” Barker said.

Or a major donor.

The campus youth group was forced to vacate their former building on the college campus because of an intense mold problem and mild asbestos.

But life goes on.

During their Christmas party Dec. 7, CSA co-presidents Jon Roebuck and Jessica Sisco took a break from singing Christmas carols to discuss their hopes for the group in an interview.

Sisco, 20, is a senior from Columbia who is studying biochemistry and Spanish. As a member of the leadership team, she hopes the group can increase their numbers on campus. She said students who normally attend Mass with their families may feel alone going to a church where people are often much older and no one speaks to them.

Young adults at CSA, however, can find community and inspiration.

“People can grow spirituality while they are away from home,” she said. “We want them to feel like they belong.”

Roebuck, 22, is also a senior from Columbia and is studying business. He is a convert and has been involved in CSA leadership for two years, almost as long as he has been a Catholic.

“I just wanted to be a part of a Catholic organization and have a way for kids to get together,” he said.

The value of having the faith group at the College of Charleston, according to Roebuck, is the students share common views in a place where their faith is not normally reinforced. Even better is that it is done in a variety of positive social outlets.

CSA has activities such as women’s and men’s Bible studies and charitable dances. A recent dance fund-raiser held for the Daughters of St. Paul garnered $1,000 for the order’s capital campaign to help repair their building.

“The fact that we are not necessarily the majority religion on campus, having this group to come to helps you delve more into your faith and get to know God better through this and each other,” Roebuck said.

Also, they participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Thursdays at the Daughters’ chapel on King Street.

“Sometimes we have two people, sometimes 10,” he said.

In Bible studies they discuss Scripture and issues affecting college students. Roebuck said they talk about challenges to their faith.

“There are all these things that as Christians and Catholics we are not supposed to do,” he said. “This gives us something else to do.”

Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this story.