Ministers' initiatives develop lives of their own

By Amy Kotlarz/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Back to School


When St. John Fisher College’s residence halls open to freshmen students Sept. 5, the new Cardinal Virtue newspaper will be there to greet them.

The first issue of the tabloid-format monthly is being published this week by the college’s campus ministry office to publicize campus-ministry events and get students thinking about issues of faith.

"We wanted to have a publication that focused primarily on faith and spirituality, and ways of engaging those who are involved," said Deacon Tom Jewell, the campus ministry’s director of liturgy and music.

The new St. John Fisher newspaper is just one of many campus-ministry initiatives that has developed a life of its own over the last several years.

At the University of Rochester, the 6-year-old St. Sebastian Society, a group of Catholic athletes, has been so successful that the group and its prison ministry program are spreading to other colleges. Officials with Cornell University’s campus ministry also are making plans to expand a 2-year-old essay contest beyond four participating colleges.

For the past four years, students at SUNY Geneseo have traveled to the Abbey of the Genesee in nearby Piffard to discuss books with Brother Anthony Weber.

Each of these initiatives represents efforts by campus-ministry programs to find new ways of connecting with students, said Shannon Loughlin, diocesan director of young-adult and campus ministries.

Loughlin noted that students may be more willing to try new things and join new groups when they are in a group of their peers.

"The goal is to give them experiences and faith and skills that they bring back to their parish experience," Loughlin said.

The new St. John Fisher newspaper, for example, aims to get students thinking about faith and to give them journalism experience, Deacon Jewell said. Many members of the paper’s staff are communications/journalism majors.

"We are taking learning from the classroom and applying it to the paper," he said.

Several staffers have been working throughout the summer on the paper’s constitution and its first issue, which features a story on Christian novelist William P. Young -- author of The Shack -- and a public-policy update, Deacon Jewell said. Chief Managing Editor Patrick Crozier, a junior majoring in communications and political science, said the paper will draw on St. John Fisher’s Catholic heritage, but the paper will be inclusive of other faiths as well.

"We’ll have helpful topics to college students, like why faith is so important in the college years," said Crozier, a Pittsford native who attends Mass at the college and at St. Thomas More Parish, Brighton.

Like the newspaper, a drama-based campus ministry offshoot has been growing rapidly, Deacon Jewell said. The Passion Players grew out of a living Stations of the Cross performance by students about four years ago.

This fall, the players are planning "Sweet Jesus II," which will be a reprise of a successful musical showcase that also featured desserts during the performance. In the spring, the Passion Players plan to stage a liturgical performance piece called "The Feast of Life" by Marty Haugen. Once the group grows a little more, Deacon Jewell said, it plans to tackle a major religious musical production.

"It’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work," he said of the past musical performances.

Hard work and fun also are elements of an essay contest started by Father Robert S. Smith, chaplain at Cornell Catholic Community, as a way to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest in 2008. He said the idea for the Janus Essays Project came from reflections on Father Smith’s time lived and Cornell students’ time to be lived.

Contest participants, who vie for a top prize of $1,000, now include Cornell students as well as students at Fordham and Georgetown universities and the University of Rochester. The goal of the essay contest -- and of campus ministry in general -- is to engage students in genuine conversation, Father Smith said.

"Campus ministry is not so self-centered, navel-gazing," Father Smith said. "It’s about being a Catholic in the real world in which you live."

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