Sam Mishler recalls his transition to the University of Minnesota four years ago as both an exciting and challenging time.
“University of Minnesota has a very dynamic environment;” said Sam, who graduated in the spring of 2022 with a degree in industrial engineering. “You’re making new friends who come from many different backgrounds. It’s very exciting, but it can cause you to question your beliefs, especially if you don’t have a place to process everything:”
For Sam and hundreds of other students each year, our campus ministries are those “places to process everything” they’re experiencing at secular universities as they attempt to grow their faith and confront challenges to their Catholic beliefs.
Our approach to provide for the pastoral needs of students and young adults reflects a key way that Jesus and the apostles grew the infant Church 2,000 years ago: through direct, one-on-one efforts.
“Our gifts are to engage people, invite them to experience the Lord and welcome them into a community of believers”, said Br. Jude Lasota, who provides pastoral direction to our young adult group, called Petros, which is entering its 10th year at St. Peter’s Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Our one-on-one work is supplemented by our community of students and young adults. They are leading and supporting one another by affirming their Catholic Christian beliefs against mounting societal pressure. It’s these peer-to-peer relationships and leadership skills to go and bear fruit that will last (John 15:16) that enable students and young adults to live mature discipleship in the Lord.
While each student is unique, we follow a simple three step path of direct, one-on-one evangelization to help them become grounded in Jesus Christ and the Church.
COME AND SEE
The initial step begins with a simple invitation for a student to come and see (John 1:39). Invitations come from either a Brother, another student or young adult, with the last two offering a powerful peer-to-peer path towards engagement in our community.
“Building trust with students is key;” said Br. Logan Murray, campus minister at the University of Minnesota, who was there during Sam’s years of involvement in our outreach. “I don’t begin by asking students about their faith. Instead, I show them I have a heart for them just like Jesus has a heart for them. I’m interested in who they are as a person and what they like to do:”
This is often the stepping stone to conversion – initial or deepening.
LEARNING THE FAITH
The next step is reconnecting students to their faith and grounding them in Christ. It’s not uncommon for students to arrive on campus without the proper Catholic religious formation. Even the most basic parts of our faith, such as praying, are not actively practiced or even well-understood by many students.
Christine Lange Dudziak counted herself among these students when she arrived at the University of Central Florida. She became involved in the university’s Catholic Center run by Josh Swallows, then a recent alum of our campus ministry at Florida State University (and now a priest).
“Coming in as a freshman, I had a prayer life, but it wasn’t deep or consistent;” said Christine.
Upon graduation, Christine interned at Florida State University’s Catholic Student Union where she learned discipleship while serving alongside the Brothers. Now in her 10th year at the Catholic Student Union, Christine serves as Women’s Director and continues to work one-on-one with students.
“Former students share with me the impact I’ve had on their lives;” said Christine. “The Brothers helped me to see that I’m a daughter of God and that my life’s mission flows from my relationship with Him.”
WHERE IS GOD LEADING ME?
Discernment and spiritual direction are the final steps in our one-on-one work. As a student’s and young adult’s faith grows, from attending Mass and retreats, participating in the sacrament of penance and attending adoration, they begin to discern questions such as: Where is God leading me? What is my vocation?
Brother Jude has seen the profound impact of these things from his years serving at Rutgers and his involvement today leading Petros.
“There’s a lot of brokenness in millennial families;” said Br. Jude. “This and other challenges can delay a young person’s development by 10 years, meaning they aren’t ready to move ahead with their lives until their late 20s or early 30s. Petros surrounds young adults in a community of believers where they are able to practice and grow their faith:”
Chris Costa, an alum of the Catholic Center at Rutgers and now a Petros leader, can attest to the graces that come from putting one’s trust in the Lord.
“I believed that my worth was dependent on academic success and reduced my identity to my performance in school;” said Chris, who graduated from Rutgers with a degree in engineering in 2016. “The Brothers challenged me to put Jesus at the center of my life and to live knowing I’m a beloved son of God. I was able to experience moments where my inner peace was not disrupted because of the realization that my identity is rooted in Him alone. So grateful for the presence of the Brothers in my faith journey.”
This article is excerpted from the Brotherhood of Hope Newsletter – Fall 2022 Issue. Used with permission.
Top photo credit: © Brotherhood of Hope.
The Brotherhood of Hope is a full member community in the Sword of the Spirit in the North American Region. They are a Catholic community of Religious Brothers who evangelize at large secular universities, and who are involved with community building in the region.