Campus ministry fuels students' growth in faith
UW-Green Bay and Oshkosh centers make church present
Second in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Joanne Flemming
|STARTING LENT: Bp. David Zubik applies ashes to the forehead of Dustin Makovsky at Ash Wednesday Mass at the UWGB Ecumenical Center. (Rick Evans photo)
Campus ministries at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh provide students with both a Catholic presence and opportunities to grow in their faith. Campus ministry is among the many programs and services funded by the annual Bishop's Appeal.
"We try to let students know that there is a Catholic presence at UWGB," said Laurie Svatek, full-time campus minister. Studies show that students who say campus ministry had a positive influence on them, say it was because of "personal contact," she said.
Joseph Rutchik, a UWO graduate student, said he was aware of the Newman Center's "presence" beginning with his freshman year because it was across the street from his dormitory. "I figured I had no excuse for skipping Mass," he said. "So I started attending and I haven't stopped since."
For Jenny Johns, a 2004 UWO graduate, that "presence" allowed her to "sit with Jesus" between classes. "I loved how the doors were open to come and go as you pleased during the day.... It was there that my faith started to explode. There was new meaning in my life. The Newman Center is where I found my faith."
For Luke Strand, now a first year seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, "the Newman Center at UW-Oshkosh was an invaluable resource for my discernment. Not only was my vocation nurtured through the relationships that I formed at the Newman Center, but it was also stimulated and brought to fruition through God's grace and loving providence which was at work in this uniquely Catholic ministry."
Students come to the Newman Center on their own terms, said Courtney Watson, UWO campus minister since November. "They feel comfortable there to ask the questions that maybe at their home parishes with parents looking on, they may not feel comfortable asking."
Svatek and Watson agree that providing "presence" is part of their jobs and that of the campus ministry chaplains. Fr. Bob Kollath serves one-third time at UWO. Fr. Tom Long is UWGB chaplain.
Watson sees herself as "someone they (the students) can come to and talk about their faith and the problems in their lives." She "helps them understand their faith and make it part of their lives."
"Part of what we do is just wanting to be there for students," Svatek said. "We chat with them about questions about their faith or crises in their lives, or just hang out with them."
Both women said their jobs involve the students' faith formation and their development as leaders.
Steve Thiele, a 2004 UWO graduate, called Fr. Kollath the most influential person on his faith journey. "He was very open to helping create a very caring Christian atmosphere. He was
always willing to try something new to help us at the college understand our faith."
The most popular campus ministry offering is Mass, Fr. Kollath said. Both UWGB and UWO have Masses at 7 p.m. Sundays. UWO also has Mass at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
UWGB ministry holds a Stewardship Sunday at the start of each semester where students are invited to become liturgical ministers for one semester, said Svatek, who trains them.
Both campus ministries have regular catechetical programs. At UWO these begin on Sunday with Alpha Omega, a praise and worship session Fr. Kollath leads after Mass; it includes a short discussion on faith. There is a scripture study on Mondays. At Tuesdays' discussions, students explore their faith in depth. Fr. Kollath said he has spoken on angels, the church's response to evolution, Pope Pius XII and authority within the church.
"Catholicism 101" on Thursdays is an introduction to the Catholic faith.
Such programs, Fr. Kollath said, help students better answer challenges from people who ask them if "they have been saved."
When students ask questions, Watson said, they are looking "at their faith from all sides and trying to make it their own. They are trying to negotiate between what their culture is saying to them and what the church is saying.
"Our culture," she continued, "says there is really no right or wrong. It's based on what you think. Whereas our faith and our church say there is right and wrong. There is truth that is outside yourself."
"The college campus experience really challenged my faith and what I believed," Thiele said. "The Newman Center had different avenues that I could explore to understand the Catholic faith and be able to defend my faith."
Svatek said college students are especially interested in justice and service. As a way to demonstrate some social justice issues, UWGB campus ministry will hold a hunger banquet during Lent, when it also will organize "simple suppers" where students use recipes from countries helped by Operation Rice Bowl.
Both campus ministries sponsor service trips. Best known is Alternative Spring Break where students have a choice of three trips: two to Virginia to work with Habitat for Humanity or Volunteers for Community and one to Kentucky to work with the Christian Appalachian Project.
Students also participate in fall and spring service retreats to the diocesan retreat house on Chambers Island.
Fifty percent of each week's collection at UWGB goes to a local charity, Svatek said. This semester the recipients are Catholic Relief Services and the American Red Cross.
In summarizing the Newman Center's influence on his faith, Rutchik said: "Now, five years after I first walked into the Newman Center, I realize that faith is a journey, and it's something that must be fed every day.... I now accept the notion that I can't know everything. True faith comes not from complete knowledge but from complete commitment. I am so happy that the Newman Center helped me realize that."
Johns, a student at a Catholic Bible school in Canada, said: "A passion for Jesus has been ignited in my heart and everyday I wake up wanting to be transformed more into the likeness of God. I have a passion to become a disciple fully alive in Christ Jesus, and for this I am eternally grateful for the spiritual feeding that the Newman Center provided for me."
Strand said the Newman Center challenged him and called him "out of myself to know the Lord in faith, to love him above all things, and to serve him for the sake of the Kingdom." That challenge led him to the seminary. UWO campus ministry, he continued, "was not something that we did, but something that we were called to by God; something which began to define our life in Christ Jesus."