GREEN BAY — If you’ve ever wondered who tomorrow’s parish leaders will be in the Diocese of Green Bay, Sr. Laura Zelten has news for you: she’s already met some of them as members of the Phoenix Catholic Student Organization at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“I would say they are (already) leaders in the church,” said the Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, who serves as advisor to Phoenix Catholic.
In 2017, a report titled “A National Study on Catholic Campus Ministry,” prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by the secretariat of Catholic Education, concluded the following:
- “Campus ministry prepares students for a lifetime relationship with Jesus and to give witness.”
- “Campus ministry prepares students to be compassionate to the marginalized and live a just life.”
“Our ministry must center on people, for we are forming men and women to be people that reflect Christ to each other and to the world,” it added.
“That’s it in a nutshell, that’s what we are all about,” agreed Sr. Laura, who is grateful to all those who support campus ministry by contributing to the annual Bishop’s Appeal.
Faith and friendship
The week begins on Sunday afternoons with the women’s and men’s group meetings. The sacrament of reconciliation is available at 6 p.m. with Fr. Matthew Faucett, sacramental minister for Phoenix Catholic, followed by Mass at 7 p.m.
Phoenix Catholic has about 200 current members in the student-led organization. Name a day of the week and there’s an opportunity to join fellow students in faith and friendship.
Eucharistic adoration is held Mondays, Bible study on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, selected students participate in the Reach More Leadership Group. There is also a sacrament preparation class.
On Thursday, the popular dinner and social night is led by students three times a month. Sr. Laura hosts the meal one Thursday each month, such as her Feb. 10 “cooking class” where she taught making omelets and pancakes.
One Saturday each month is “Service Day” when Phoenix Catholic members do a service project.
Nick Efferson, a former UW-Green Bay student, became music coordinator for Phoenix Catholic in fall 2021. He leads the choir for Sunday Mass which is attended by 30 to 60 students each week.
“The way I think about (Phoenix Catholic) is we’re looking at 18- to 22-years-olds and, at that time, moving on from their parents’ house and finding their passion, their love of life… it can be a very formative time for a lot of young adults,” he said.
On Jan. 30, Bishop David Ricken celebrated Mass for 110 students and family members. “Bishop had an amazing homily on what we are called to do as disciples,” said Efferson.
Prior to Mass, Bishop Ricken met with Phoenix Catholic leaders for 45 minutes. “What the bishop heard from them is that they are a community and want to grow,” said Sr. Laura, who has done campus ministry and vocation work for 20 years, six of them with Phoenix Catholic.
“It’s a true joy to be out there,” said Fr. Faucett, who is “Fr. Matt” to students. This is his second year as sacramental minister for Phoenix Catholic.
”It’s been a blessing I think on a couple different counts,” he said. “The most immediate one is being involved in the lives of the students, seeing them grow, seeing them have a real spiritual depth while they’re in college.” The second blessing: “There’s a great amount of hope,” he said. “These are students that are going to come back to the diocese.”
Fr. Faucett, 29, is also parochial vicar at St. Mary and St. Francis parishes in De Pere. “I often find myself in two worlds,” he said, in parish ministry and with Phoenix Catholic. For people who prefer to make financial donations to their parish and not to the Bishop’s Appeal, he suggested to consider the importance of the “investment” the diocese is making in students, such as those in Phoenix Catholic, who “come back, wanting to be engaged in their home parishes,” he said.
“I think the reason I have faith in that next generation is because I’ve seen them grapple with difficult realities (the last two years through COVID) and still seek the truth, … just like it’s been going for 2,000 years,” he said.
Personal invitation is the best way to “advertise our ministry,” said Sr. Laura. Students also learn about Phoenix Catholic through social media, posters, sidewalk chalk announcements and at “SmorgOrg,” the UW-Green Bay student organizations’ fair held each semester.
At the January SmorgOrg, Phoenix Catholic members handed out roses. “I’ll order like 16 dozen roses. … We just want people to know they’re special,” said Sr. Laura. The event coincides with pro-life week, and the gifts of roses remind students that “you are precious,” she added.
Sr. Laura reaches out to some students even before they arrive on campus. She contacts guidance counselors at the diocese’s Catholic high schools to deliver Phoenix Catholic “Survival Kits” for graduating seniors planning to attend UW-Green Bay. Kits include a Phoenix Catholic T-shirt and backpack button, program information and prayer card.
Once they are members, opportunities are offered to grow spiritually and in service to others.
Fr. Faucett, Sr. Laura and retreat leader Sandy Murphy provided spiritual guidance at the Phoenix Catholic’s sixth annual silent retreat Feb. 11-13 at Camp Tekakwitha in Shawano.
“Finding the beauty in the stillness of silence and connecting yourself with nature and God” was its purpose, said Sr. Laura. Students were able to attend for just $10 each.
For the second year, Phoenix Catholic members will be in Milwaukee for their “alternative spring break,” volunteering March 16-19 at the Riverwest Food Pantry at St. Casimir Church. “It just moves their hearts. It’s a really important experience,” said Sr. Laura. “They get out of their own environment and culture.”
Many of the relationships forged by Phoenix Catholic don’t end with graduation, said Sr. Laura. She’s seen four couples marry. Two current seminarians are past Phoenix Catholic members and one man is discerning priesthood. Two women have joined religious communities.
“A number of our students in the summer are counselors at Camp Tekakwitha,” she said. “Many of them end up teaching in the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Green Bay.”
Sr. Laura recently received a call from a Phoenix Catholic alumnus who now teaches at St. John the Baptist School in Howard asking Sr. Laura and the Sisters of St. Francis to offer a vocation presentation for the school which their community founded in the 1800s. Another alumnus called Sr. Laura from Florida. “‘I just need to talk with you,’” she said the young woman told her.
“My students know that I pray for them every day and my religious community prays for them every day,” she said.