Campus ministries inspire students to continue their faith journeys

By Deacon Dan Leetch, Bishop’s Pastoral Associate for Institutional Ministries
There are five major college or university campuses in the vast area of the Diocese of Pueblo.  These are Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, with an enrollment of over 9,500 students; CSUPueblo, with an enrollment of about 4,500; Ft. Lewis College in Durango, with an enrollment of about 4,100, Adams State University, with an enrollment of about 3,300, and Western Colorado State University in Gunnison, with an enrollment of about 2,100.

Each of these campuses has a campus minister assigned to aid students in continuing their practice of the Catholic faith as they work their way through college life.  They are supported through the Diocesan Ministry Fund and a Catholic Extension Grant, as well as smaller private donations.

At each campus we strive to incorporate the six aspects of Catholic Campus Ministry as outlined in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document Empowered by the Spirit.  This document represents the capstone of the development that has taken place in Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) in the past 100+ years, beginning with a petition from 300 Catholic students at the University of Wisconsin to their bishop to provide ministry to them in 1906.  Fr. Henry Hengell was appointed by Archbishop Sebastian Messmer and the history of CCM at non-Catholic universities and colleges began.

In today’s CCM, each minister has the following goals:

1)    Forming the Faith Community
2)    Appropriating the faith
3)    Forming the Christian Conscience
4)    Educating for Justice
5)    Facilitating Personal Development
6)    Developing Leaders for the Future.

During each school year, our campus ministers join forces with the students themselves to develop a meaningful outreach to the campus to accomplish these goals.  Student leaders at each campus join with the campus minister to deliver retreats, evenings of reflection and prayer, Bible studies, instruction in the faith, opportunities for service to parishes and in social welfare situations, weekly Mass, social activities and outings, prayer pilgrimages, and other activities.  Each campus minister is charged with maintaining a “ministry of presence” on the campus, meaning that he or she spends time at campus sporting and cultural events, eats lunch in the cafeteria, walks the campus grounds regularly, and meets and greets students in all these situations.  This ‘presence’ allows the students to become familiar with the campus minster, often sparking personal one-on-one meetings concerning faith life or acclimating to college life in general.  This welcoming presence invites students to see their faith as more than just ‘going to Church on Sunday’ and it becomes an important integrated part of their daily lives.

Each Spring, our campus ministries plan, prepare for, educate toward, and engage in an Alternative Spring Break (ASB).  This is an opportunity for students to engage in a week of direct service to improve the lives of folks who are less fortunate than themselves; to put the principles of Catholic Social Teaching into action.  Last year we had groups go to El Salvador, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Mexicali.  Each trip was preceded by ‘education for Justice’ sessions that focused on the problems in the location that they were heading to, fundraising to cover the cost of the events, planning for the direct action that would be undertaken, and lots of prayer.  Our spring breakers helped in soup kitchens, cooperative clothes closets, shelters for single pregnant mothers, worked in micro-enterprises along the USA/Mexico border, poured cement for sidewalks at an elementary school, construction projects in the 9th Ward in New Orleans, and met and prayed with the people who live in each of these situations daily.  For many students this is an experience that is life-changing, for others it is a way to re-connect with their Catholic faith by helping others.  For some students it is the beginning of a lifelong commitment to the Church as a priest, sister or brother.  For all who participate it is a deeply profound experience. Over 40 students from our campuses participated in an ASB last academic year, with many more involved in pre-trip planning and education.

Our year ends with the student leadership attending the Campus Ministry Leadership Institute (CMLI).  This past year
 CMLI was held in San Antonio.  Groups of student leaders from all five of our campuses gather together with students from over 15 other college campus ministries to share in this weeklong training experience.  The learning and sharing that happens at CMLI enriches the planning and ministry at all of our campuses.

Another highlight is our combined campus retreat.  In the Fall of each year all five campuses gather together at a retreat center and enjoy a weekend retreat, planned and presented by the students themselves.  They meet other Catholic college students and engage in prayer and reflection, fun activities, and an opportunity to celebrate the Mass and sacraments.  This past year Fr. Michael Chrisman, the director of vocations, was our retreat chaplain, and he is scheduled to provide this service again this year.

Campus Ministry is alive and well in the Diocese of Pueblo.  We are deeply grateful for the generous support of the Diocesan Ministry Fund and Catholic Extension, without which this ministry would be impossible.  For all of you who support the DMF, we extend a heartfelt “Thank you.”  If you have a student at any of the five colleges in our diocese, please have them get in touch with their campus minister.  It is a contact they will not regret making as they go through their college experience.

CMU Grand Junction          Hunter Darrouzet
CSUPueblo                       Dcn Ben Davis    
Ft. Lewis College               Wivina Vigil        
Adams State Univ              Shirley Atencio  
Western Colorado State     Cathy Virtue