Newman Connection grants help campus ministry

The college years are an exciting and rewarding time, but can also be difficult when it comes to young adults and their faith. Statistics show that up to 80 percent of Catholic students stop going to Mass while they are at college.

A new initiative in the Diocese of Charleston aims to stop that trend.

Thanks to a grant from the Catholic Extension Society, the diocese is partnering with the Newman Connection, an Illinois-based nonprofit that offers support to Catholic campus ministry and Newman Centers nationwide.

Catholic campus ministry is currently active at 21 colleges and universities in South Carolina, and strong programs are available at plenty of schools outside the state. The challenge is to connect incoming freshmen with the ministry programs.

The Newman Connection collects information from Catholic high schools and parishes around the country and helps link seniors with programs at their school of choice. In the past two years, it has put more than 100,000 students directly in touch with campus ministry, according to Matthew Zerrusen, co-founder of Newman Connection, Inc.

Information packets were sent to parishes and missions, with cards that students and their families can fill out. The cards are returned to the Newman Connection, which puts each freshman in touch with their campus ministry. Studies show that young adults respond positively when contacted by a campus minister.

Information can also be submitted online.

James Grove, diocesan director of campus ministry, said Catholic Extension Society has a history of generous grants.

“The Newman Connection gives … our Catholic campus ministers a way to contact and welcome [students] to their new faith home,” Grove said.

The Newman Connection is part of an ongoing effort encouraged by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.

“We have encouraged our youth to embrace the life and mission of the Catholic Church, yet some of our young adults are leaving the Church because they have not personally encountered Christ and His unending love,” Bishop Guglielmone wrote in a letter to parishes early in May. “We cannot sit idly by and do nothing. We must help build these personal bridges of faith with our young adults. Catholic campus ministry is our opportunity to make that needed connection.”

The statewide effort is being coordinated by Michael Acquilano, director of the South Carolina Catholic Conference, and Anne Durney, administrative assistant with the Office of Stewardship and Mission Advancement.

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Top photo, provided: Andrew Myers, left, and Hayden Tompkins, members of the Catholic Student Association at the College of Charleston, cut wood for a Habitat for Humanity home in 2016.