Jack Smith at the Catholic Key blog notes a good feature from the Kansas side of the state line (a different diocese) on St Lawrence, the Catholic Community at the University of Kansas. My hope and prayer is that something of this level of campus ministry commitment will someday spread to the Missouri side of the state line. The Kansas City-St Joseph diocese has three large public universities, one in Kansas City, one north near Conception Abbey and a third under an hour’s drive east from KC. Lots of students, lots of Catholics, but not a really strong commitment to college students.
Bishop Finn’s effort, sending in young adults, recent graduates, may well have an admirable upside. But in the big picture of campus ministry, it’s an unproven strategy. Campus ministers develop peer ministers as one of many routine options for serving college students. In some ways, engaging FOCUS is an easy solution for Jack’s bishop: an inexpensive solution that keeps clergy and experienced lay ecclesial ministers in parishes or in the chancery. One might say it’s a timid gesture. Lest you think I’m singling out my former bishop for criticism, let me assure you some bishops do even less.
My current parish is my second assignment at a large public university. We are a fortunate blend I think: Iowa State undergrads and graduate students plus a few hundred resident families. This is nearly identical to my experience at Michigan State in the 90’s. At its best, we have townies and gownies working together in many aspects of faith and community. Students see role models. Parish youth have role models. Families are emphasized and we do a lot of outreach to Catholics and non-Catholics. Lots of mutual support and benefit.
I think when one admires efforts like Red Tuesday, one has to look deeper and realize these ideas don’t pop up in complete isolation. Good campus ministries, be they actual parishes, or Newman Centers, or efforts by a Catholic college’s administration share similar qualities:
– Stability. The powers-that-be make a commitment to the students over the long-term–decades.
– Leadership. When you read many of the stories of campus ministry, you are struck by the great reverence for founders and those who served for several years. While some priests and lay people can get into a rut after ten, twenty, or even fifty years, the fact is that students look to mentors and the community values the consistent, persistent people who have embraced the apostolate to students.
– Welcome. Even Catholics in college may have had unchurched experiences in high school. I’ve known many people who have rekindled their faith after having left home and community of origin.
Admiring St Lawrence at KU has to be more than a feel-good story for a feature division of a diocesan organ. If you’re going to take it seriously, you would have to listen to what the staff and students in such a place would tell you about your diocese’s and your Church’s priorities.