GREEN BAY — A mission trip to Mississippi during his senior year of high school was a turning point for Collin Clark. At that moment he began to make the Catholic faith a central part of his life.
“My family would go to Sunday Mass every week and we would pray our meal prayers,” he said. “But my faith wasn’t a very personal thing. It was a part of my life, but I didn’t prioritize it — other than a list of things to check off throughout the week.”
A 2017 graduate of Notre Dame Academy, Clark participated in a spring break service trip to Canton, Miss., during his senior year. “On the trip, we worked through an organization that served people in low-income areas,” he said. “It kind of opened my eyes to what conditions people are living in and the fact they could still be very joyful.”
He also attended daily Mass.
“To live that trip with the center of faith was pretty cool,” he said. “So I started going to daily Mass (at Notre Dame Academy) and kind of understood that maybe this should be more of a priority in my life.”
Clark, 20, who will begin his senior year this fall at UW-Madison, where he is studying mechanical engineering, also credits his older sister, Emma, for helping him grow in faith.
Emma, who is four years older, also attended UW-Madison. “During her time at Madison, her sophomore year, she started to get involved in St. Paul’s University Catholic Center,” he said. “She really started to live out the Catholic faith a little more intentionally than I was used to growing up. When she would be home for breaks, her lifestyle was noticeably different. She was spending more time in prayer and she was more centered on her faith in general.”
By the time he returned from his mission trip to Mississippi, Clark had already made plans to follow in his sister’s footsteps to Madison. It was at the university where his commitment to God and his faith took hold.
“When I got to college, I didn’t know what my faith life would be like. I did not have expectations or goals,” he said. “I also didn’t know if I would tend towards the party scene. I had a vague understanding that I would be going to Sunday Mass every week.”
Emma, then a senior at UW-Madison, helped make his decision easier.
“My sister, the first week I moved in, she took me to my first Sunday Mass on campus,” he said. “Afterward she introduced me to some of her friends, to some guys who were in Phi Kappa Theta, which is the Catholic fraternity on campus.”
Clark said he found that fellow students at St. Paul’s and Phi Kappa Theta were fun to be around, but also caring.
“I had been getting close to guys who were in my dorm,” he said. “At the same time I was getting close to some people from St. Paul’s. I was really enjoying both communities. One thing I noticed was I could have fun and be joyful in both communities.
“What I noticed about the community of St. Paul’s is that they had the same amount of joy, but if they ask you ‘How are you doing?’ it wasn’t just some random conversation starter. They really meant it. They really wanted to invest in your life. I think that’s what initially drew me close to the community.”
He said it was the same experience with Phi Kappa Theta.
“At first I was not interested in joining a fraternity, but I decided to go and have fun. It was basically the same as St. Paul’s: the people cared and wanted to form lasting friendships.”
Clark was initiated into the Catholic fraternity in his freshman year. Each year his involvement increased, with leadership roles. Last spring he was elected president of Phi Kappa Theta.
“My time at UW has no doubt changed and will continue to change my life for the better,” he said.
Last month, Clark was asked to participate in “Alive Again,” a virtual youth ministry event for high school students sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay. Clark shared his personal witness story with high school students.
Kate Ruth, former youth minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, who now serves in the same role at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano, invited Clark to participate in the event. “It is so important for high school students to see young adults, especially college-aged young adults, who are living out their Catholic faith,” said Ruth.
Clark said sharing his faith with others is the next part of his journey.
“I see the act of sharing my faith as an ongoing part of my life,” he said. “So many people are waiting for someone to personally walk with them in their journey towards God, and I hope to be there when people need me.”
He said his advice to young people who feel lost, confused or alone in their faith is to make time for God.
“Whether it’s 20 minutes or two, the best thing you can do is show up,” said Clark. “God wants you to share your life with him, your successes and your struggles. Bring your questions, doubts, confusion and discomfort to prayer. We can’t expect to have a deep friendship with Jesus if we don’t share our lives with him.”