Campus ministers working to make the faith more present

COLUMBIA—College is a tough place to be Catholic. New stresses and temptations may pull many students from their faith.

That’s when campus ministry can intervene. Men and women involved in this important effort met in Columbia Aug. 13 to discuss plans for the new school year and talk with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, who has made improving the faith’s presence on campus a priority.

The group discussed ways to strengthen their effort, said James Grove, director of campus ministry for the diocese. New initiatives include finding ways to identify and attract Catholic students on large and busy campuses, and encouraging students to learn more about what they believe through forming small “faith-sharing” groups for Scripture study and other activities.

Grove said Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming “Year of Faith,” which begins Oct. 11, offers an ideal way to help students learn more about the sacraments, Scripture, Catholic social teaching and other topics. Faith will be the central theme at the annual regional campus retreats, and the winter statewide retreat to be held at Buck Ridge Plantation near Orangeburg.

“Young adults in general have a strong sense of the importance of the Mass and adoration of the Blessed  Sacrament, and we want to show them how those go together with daily life and a long range goal in our diocese of weaving social justice ministry into our programming,” Grove said. “A quote from the Catechism says that the Eucharist commits us to the poor, and we’ll focus on how we’re challenged to show the poor that they are part of the Body of Christ.”

Grove said students will also be able to learn more about volunteer and service opportunities through the work of Marie Schaner, a College of Charleston student who now works with the Catholic Volunteer Network.

Some new faces are spreading the Gospel on campus this year. At Clemson University, new associate campus minister Jessica Rewa will work with Franciscan Father Bob Menard, chaplain director. Michael Petro is the new associate campus minister at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, and Grove hopes to fill a new part-time position for campus ministry at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

Campus ministers in general said sometimes the most important thing they can do is to simply be there for students struggling not only to keep the faith, but just to survive college’s daily challenges.

Petro said he and Oratorian Father Augustin Guzman, who celebrates Mass and acts as chaplain at Winthrop, are focused this year on providing a “ministry of presence.”

Activities at Winthrop currently include weekly Mass, Bible study and some social events, but Petro wants students to offer ideas on the direction they should take.

Each day, he spends a few hours at the student union, handing out information about the ministry and speaking with students who show up with a question or concern.

“Recently I spoke with a student about time management, and another issue we hear about is dealing with roommates,” Petro said. “It’s important to be there for the students, to recognize they have a concern and help them talk it out and maybe address it from a faith perspective. Our main goal is to let them know the Catholic Church is on campus, and we care.”