Throughout college, students' time and energy are certainly devoted to their education—there's no escaping classes, homework, and study groups! Because college is a great time to grow not only academically but also as an individual, students find that balancing their studies with various opportunities offered through campus ministry enhances their overall university experience.
With so many possibilities to grow in faith, campus ministry can easily become a blur of opportunities if they are not pointed out and prayerfully considered. From liturgical ministry on campus and in the surrounding community to weekend retreats with classmates and extended community service trips during vacations, there is no shortage of activities to participate in!
Join the faith community
The college campus is built on the idea of community. The number of clubs, sports, organizations, and activities can be overwhelming, but don’t neglect to consider the faith community of each school. When you visit a campus, ask about the liturgical life, explore the chapels and prayer spaces, and talk to current students about what the faith life is like on a daily basis. If you are a musician, find out whether you can get involved in music ministry. Is daily Mass available? You may even want to get a schedule of Mass times to find opportunities to attend, which will help you balance a busy college schedule!
Participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is important for students seeking to build upon their faith foundation. Consider how often it is offered and whether or not it is by appointment only (check with campus ministry to find out the details). By regular participation in Reconciliation, Adoration, and other rites, students not only reflect on their own lives, but are also provided a wonderful opportunity to grow in faith and deepen their relationship with God.
Colleges are often associated with one or more religious orders, influencing the charism of campus spiritual life. Particular charisms provide different types of spiritual direction, retreats, Bible studies, and other faith formation. You may also want to consider who is available on campus as part of the greater religious community; priests, religious men and women, and laity are often an integral part of life on college campuses. Finding the right “fit” to foster your spiritual growth is important. Don’t be shy about talking to campus ministers about the faith community and how you may fit into it!
Take it further
Campus ministry can also help students integrate their academic life with their spiritual life. Weekly Bible studies led by spiritual leaders help students with a particular interest in Scripture grow in faith and knowledge as a unified body. Praise and worship, supported and encouraged by campus ministry, provide excellent opportunities for students to rejoice together in fellowship and glorify God through their musical talents. Choirs dedicated specifically to the liturgy offer students the possibility of living out their understanding of the responsibility to achieve a mature understanding of the Catholic faith.
Many students participate in ministry-sponsored lectures and seminars to strengthen their faith. Schools often bring in guest speakers to lead discussions on social, political, and moral issues. When these topics are presented in accordance with Catholic tradition and Church doctrine in an open dialogue, students develop a deeper understanding of their faith. You can check with campus ministry to find out how you can participate regularly in these types of events, as well as see who has visited campus as a guest lecturer in the past.
You can also live your faith off campus by participating in retreats, often made available to students through the work of campus ministry. Retreats offer students the opportunity to dedicate a weekend to prayer, spiritual reflection, and Scripture reading in a guided setting. They also offer spiritual enrichment by serving an educational purpose, as participants learn ways to incorporate their faith with their daily lives. Students can take leadership roles in these weekends by planning and organizing retreats and serving as spiritual leaders to their peers.
Called to serve
An integral part of campus ministry at most schools is community service. Serving the needs of others is an excellent way to put Catholic social teachings, such as the respect for life and dignity of others, into action. Community service projects range from one-time occurrences to weekly activities, and many universities plan week-long service projects. Colleges and universities provide opportunities for groups of students to sacrifice their spring breaks in order to spend a week serving underprivileged communities throughout the United States or abroad through campus ministry. These types of projects often require spiritual preparation and prayer throughout most of the academic year leading up to the trip. Service projects help students put their faith into practice and recognize the significant need for volunteerism throughout their community and the world.
Many universities also offer activities during which students commit only a few hours of time or a weekend to help others. Common opportunities at many schools include building houses with Habitat for Humanity and volunteer work at local hospitals and nursing homes. By raising awareness of social issues and taking action to promote justice, community service accomplishes a vital aspect of living a faith-filled life. Additionally, active participation in community service brings the greater Christian community of any campus or university together for a common purpose, ultimately bringing the student body, faculty, and staff even closer together.
Develop and grow
Students often find themselves discerning their vocation in life, and it is important to know how campus ministry can provide guidance through the process. Many schools hold vocation awareness fairs where you can speak one-on-one with someone who has pursued a religious call. Marriage preparation and religious counseling, paired with meaningful discussion and prayer, are also ways campus ministry can guide you through discernment.
Once you find the activities and areas where your spiritual gifts are best used, don’t hesitate to stand up and take on some responsibility. Planning Bible studies, interning with the campus ministry office, and seeking executive positions in clubs are great ways to shape and nurture leadership skills and talents. You can also get involved by helping organize events and celebrations on campus. If you are unsure of where God is calling you to serve in college, take time to seek guidance from the campus ministers, priests, and the religious men and women on campus. They are always happy and willing to help students make those very important decisions that arise during their college careers.
You should also consider expanding your experience by serving as a leader in the church off campus. Campus ministry usually has close ties to the community surrounding the college, and catechizing in area parishes is a popular activity for students. Many find that serving in the local community helps prepare them for leadership opportunities and life experiences beyond college. You can reach out to the greater community by tutoring, working with a youth group, or attending Mass at a local church as well.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by lots of schoolwork when working toward your college degree, but it is rewarding to remember to extend yourself out of your individual pursuits to share in the joy of the community. Whether it’s a movie, ice cream social, or a round table discussion, take advantage of those opportunities to expand your experience, engage in meaningful conversations, and just have fun.
No matter what your interests, it is important to learn what opportunities each school offers through campus ministry to help you grow in faith, gain knowledge and experience, and prepare to be a leader, so be sure to take full advantage of them throughout your college years!