Meals attract college students to church life
Campus ministry provides many religious services for college youth
Seventh in a series on the annual Bishop's Appeal
By Joanne Flemming
What: Bishop's Appeal, the Green Bay Diocese's annual fund-raiser to support diocesan programs and services offered to parishes and individuals.
Where: All parishes in the diocese.
When: Right now.
How: Making a cash, check or pledge donation. Materials have been sent to homes and also are available through parishes.
Theme: Take a Step in Faith.
Target: $4.6 million.
More information: Click here.
If campus ministers in the Green Bay Diocese want to attract college students to liturgies and programs, they invite them to dinner first.
"That's a major principle," laughed Fr. Doug LeCaptain, Catholic chaplain at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Ecumenical Center. "Feed them, and they will come."
The truth of his statement can be seen in the Ecumenical Center's "Dinner for $1." Held on the first Monday of the month, it can attract as many as 150 students, said Katie Johnson, Ecumenical Center executive director.
Students are asked to sign up before, she explained. The cut-off is 125, but she knows more than that will show up. The entrée may be taco casserole or lasagna with faculty contributing bread, salad and desserts.
The dinner brings in students, gives them a "good social time," said Fr. LeCaptain, and introduces them to the Ecumenical Center and its programs. The priest added that he tries to be there to interact with the students.
At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, some 500 students may seek out the Newman Center during the "study break and prayer week" held twice a year during finals, said Karen Cuttill, campus minister.
Then the building is open 24 hours a day. Members of the Newman Center Community and nearby St. Peter Parish bring in food, Cuttill said. The students can come, take a break from studies and have dinner. Some find the lounges convenient places for naps.
Recently, the Newman Center started a program similar to UWGB's called "Dinner for Two." Students can purchase a dinner for $2, which Cuttill and student helpers cook. Fifteen attended the first, and 30, the second.
Once these meals accomplish their purpose of bringing students in, the young people realize the Ecumenical and Newman Centers will take care of their spiritual needs as well. Both receive funding from the annual Bishop's Appeal.
"We're the only place on campus with the ability to have a sense of spirituality," said Johnson.
The main emphasis then, said Fr. LeCaptian, is "providing them with a good Catholic Mass." He celebrates the liturgy at 7:30 p.m. every Sunday at UWGB, or, as he put it, on "the students' schedule. They don't get up early Sunday morning."
Providing them with a "good" Mass, he said, means aiming his homily at them, and involving them as servers and lectors and in other ministries. There is also a musical group.
Fr. Bob Kollath, UWO Newman Center chaplain director, celebrates two Masses at the Newman Center and three at St. Peter, where he is also pastor. The church is only a couple blocks from the campus.
Both chaplains hold office hours at their respective centers. Cuttill said Fr. Kollath is there one-third time. Fr. LeCaptain said he tries to be at the Ecumenical Center Thursday afternoon and evening and before and after Sunday Mass.
He also keeps in contact with students through weekly e-mails sent Thursdays and Fridays to keep the students updated on news and programs at the Ecumenical Center. He said he uses the e-mails instead of bulletins.
Fr. LeCaptain described "some" of his presence at the Ecumenical Center as "just hanging out and being there." Fr. Kollath agreed. Both chaplains said students tend to just drop in and ask to see them.
They said anything can be on the young people's minds. Fr. Kollath said they may just need "a kind ear to listen." They may ask for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or need to interview someone for a communications class.
The students come with different levels of faith and with lots of questions, the two priests, Johnson and Cuttill said.
Many, said Fr. Kollath, are "in the process of making their parents' faith their faith in college. They have to appropriate the faith for themselves."
While the centers office a variety of programs, the retreats and service opportunities seem to be especially popular. Both offer work retreats to Chambers Island and college-age TECs (Teens Encounter Christ). Because Johnson and Fr. LeCaptain both like to cycle, they offer a "bike retreat" to Washington Island off Door County at the beginning of the school year. About 20 students participated in the last one, Johnson said.
She and Cuttill commented on the success of the "Busy Persons' Retreats" at the centers. "Let me just scream how successful that was," said Johnson, who added UWGB just completed its second one.
The purpose of this retreat, the women said, is to show students how to pray even when they are very busy. Cuttill noted that "if you take 5-10 minutes in the morning to center yourself in prayer, the rest of the day is just so much more relaxed."
The retreat lasts four days. On each day, each participant has a half-hour conference with a retreat director and then spends half an hour in prayer. The retreat may open with Mass and end with a program, dinner or discussion.
In comments after the retreat, Johnson said, students have wished the retreat could be held all semester long.
Cuttill said the Newman Center offers regular Daily Quiet Time as a program for students.
Among the service opportunities offered are "alternative spring breaks" where students can spend that week working on projects elsewhere in the state and country, said Cuttill and Johnson.
The UWO Center also sponsors Project Christmas during Advent, said Cuttill, when students collect supplies for Oshkosh's Labor of Love House, a shelter for pregnant women.
Campus ministry is not without challenges, the two chaplains said. Both said that it was difficult to find time to spend with students because the two priests have other jobs. Fr. LeCaptain is the diocese's vocations director. Besides being pastor at St. Peter, Fr. Kollath is campus ministry director for the diocese.
He said that campus ministers also serve students at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, St. Norbert College in De Pere and the UW Center in Manitowoc County. Lawrence University students in Appleton are served through the parishes.
Fr. Kollath and Cuttill said the Newman Center faces a further challenge in that it is up for sale, possibly to the University. This will affect future programming.
Johnson, Cuttill and Fr. LeCaptain emphasized how the Bishop's Appeal helps support campus ministry's programming and staffing.
"We could not keep our doors open unless we had the generosity of the Bishop's Appeal," Johnson said.