Campus ministry ignited his faith

James Block says ministry presence at UWGB has led to many opportunities

GREEN BAY — When James Block arrived on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in the fall of 2014, he sought information about campus ministry to simply learn about when and where he could attend Mass on weekends. Turns out he found much more.

Block, a music education major from Merrill, became involved in the Newman Club during his first year at the university. Now, in his final semester, he looks back fondly on his faith opportunities and experiences through campus ministry.

Your Catholic Neighbor: James Block (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I’m very happy I got involved,” he said. “We are still very much growing. It’s cool to see and be able to assist. The Newman Center is a very close-knit community and very welcoming.”

Block credits the many people who guided him in his faith during his college years, including Michael Poradek, who was campus minister during his first year, and Franciscan Sr. Laura Zelten, current Catholic campus minister at UW-Green Bay. He is also thankful for the examples of the sacramental ministers, Frs. Ryan Starks, Scott Valentyn and Michael Thiel.

During his first two years on campus, Block was also part of a Catholic men’s group led by Andy Wareham, a Spiritus team member at the time.

“He was also a good role model for me,” said Block. “We are working on getting (a men’s group) started again. There wasn’t a leader for three years. We just received funding from the Knights of Columbus in Allouez to start a new men’s program.”

The Newman Club and the men’s group provided support for Block during an extremely difficult time during his second year in Green Bay. His father, Jim, died in September of 2015.

“They really helped me,” he said. “If I needed anything, they were always right there. Fr. Ryan (Starks) was here at the time. He was very caring and compassionate.”

Block gives back by sharing his musical talents. He is a member of the music ministry team for liturgies at UW-Green Bay. Mass is celebrated at 7 p.m. on Sundays and 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. Heather Roberts, music coordinator, plays the piano and sings. Block accompanies her on guitar. In addition to Mass, they also provide music for eucharistic adoration.

“Trumpet is my primary (instrument), but I play guitar for Mass. I am more or less self-taught. I had one semester of lessons here at the university,” he explained.

“My title is ‘student liturgical choir accompanist.’  That’s a long term for saying that I play guitar and help out at Mass,” he added with a laugh. “It’s helped me to learn more about the liturgy.”

A retreat at the diocese’s Camp Tekakwitha in Shawano through campus ministry led Block to summer experiences that have also helped him grow in his faith. While en route to the Seek 2017 Conference in San Antonio he discovered an opening for a position at the camp. His retreat experience peaked his interest.

“Sr. Laura was right behind me,” he said. “I was talking with a friend about it. Sr. Laura said that if I was interested in applying that she would give me a good reference. I wasn’t sure if that was what God was calling me to do at that moment. I figured that I would apply and, if I get in, it’s God’s will. Camp Tek has done a lot for me spiritually. It’s a very special place in our diocese. I was blessed to be there for a couple summers.”

Block, who served as a counselor at Camp Tekakwitha was unexpectedly reunited with some campers while doing practicum work at Aldo Leopold School in Green Bay when he heard some students singing a camp song.

“We use camp counselor names,” he explained. “My name was ‘Radar.’ They were excited to actually find out my real name. It was pretty funny.”

Block has lived at the St. Jude House in Green Bay for the last two years. He was invited to live in community at the house by Riley Garbe, who also served as a role model for Block at UW-Green Bay.

“We have six guys there right now,” said Block. “A couple of us are students. Some are graduates. Some are at points of transition in their lives. Riley had a formation night at the house. He asked anyone who was interested to come. Three of us who came ended up staying there. It’s only about a 15-minute drive to campus, depending on how fast I drive that day.”

Block, who will graduate in May, is currently student teaching. He hopes to find a position at a school in the Fox Valley. His mother, Karen, lives in Merrill, but his grandmother, Ruth Coenen, and extended family live in Kaukauna. Wherever he settles, Block plans to get involved with a Catholic young adult group. He is also open to continuing in music ministry.

‘My favorite worship song is ‘Thy Will,’” he said. “It’s a reminder that it’s God’s will not our will. That can be a hard concept at times.”


Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: James Block

Parish: St. Francis Xavier, Merrill; Phoenix Catholic/Catholic Campus Ministry, UW-Green Bay

Age: 23

Favorite saint: Christopher

Words to live by: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go” (Jos 1:9).