The first time I knocked on a homeless man’s box, I was around the corner from Grand Central Station in New York City on a cold winter day. I had dropped campus ministry students off to give out sandwiches and drinks to homeless people in the area. He was a middle-aged man who looked like he just came home from a hard day at work. He thanked me as I handed him the lunch, and I opened one for myself. We ate together on the sidewalk. He was perfectly polite, and we talked about where I was from, where he was from, what we were doing in the city, and what was new in sports. After about 25 minutes our lunch came to an end. Then he said simply, “This was really nice. I hope God blesses you for it.” I told him I hoped God blessed him too. And that was it.
As I drove around and picked the students up, they all had their own stories to tell. Some had wonderful experiences, some were disappointing, some uneventful. But the students and I have learned important things over the years doing this: We get as much from the experience as the people we serve. The is the heart of Catholic campus ministry, affecting change in others and ourselves. Read on to learn more about this incredible opportunity you can find in your Catholic college education.
The mission of a Catholic college education
Catholic colleges like my institution, Molloy University, have a purpose that goes beyond a good education and training for a career. Those goals are critical in the life of any student and in the life of any college. But a Catholic education is always rooted in Jesus Christ—even when a student may not realize it. This isn’t really surprising when we consider all the other good works Catholic institutions do because they are following in the footsteps of the Lord. A patient rushed to a Catholic hospital is likely unaware of the Christian mission that built and sustains the medical care they receive, but it is the foundation of the hospital, nonetheless.
In fact, the very idea of a university was created by the Catholic Church in medieval Europe. They did this with the basic belief that all knowledge—all truth—comes from God. So the study of all knowledge leads back to God. That is the heart of a Catholic education. Campus ministry and chaplain offices are public and direct signs of the Christian purpose of a Catholic college. Students tend to be absorbed in schoolwork, sports, and friends, which are all important, wonderful aspects of life. But they aren’t and shouldn’t be all of life. Our obligations to God and to others are also a vital part of a happy, balanced life.
A look inside campus ministry
Our campus ministry tries to help students live out their faith and find that balance in their lives. As Saint Paul said of himself, we must be all things to all people.
- For people going through a crisis or mourning the death of a loved one, we are there to comfort and help them through hard times.
- For those who need food or clothes, we gather the things they need as far as we are able.
- For students who want to give to others—whether to the homeless, children struggling in school, or the elderly—we bring them to where they can best be of service.
- And for those who want to deepen their faith in God, we join with them as fellow pilgrims on the journey.
Daily Mass is the most fundamental and important way we worship God and strengthen our faith. It’s so simple that it’s often taken for granted, even forgotten. But we find that many who are suffering, serving others, or seeking God are often drawn to Mass eventually. It is unlike nearly any other experience in our everyday lives.
Finding faith in the unexpected
We also find unexpected opportunities spring up from the faith of our students. Years ago, we had a student named Vanessa who wanted to have a blessing of the animals at Mass on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in October. We had the Mass outdoors at our Grotto and statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a beautiful day. Employees, students, and family members brought their dogs and cats to campus, and it was a wonderful Mass filled with joy and laughter. Vanessa graduated that May, but the next year people clamored for the Blessing of the Animals again. It had become something special. We have done it for many years now, and it brings people together in a way different from other events. Vanessa started with a simple idea born out of love and affection, and it has lived on beautifully long after her graduation. Many people have enjoyed this Mass without knowing Vanessa or knowing that she started it all. That is a symbol of what campus ministries and the Christian life itself is: planting so that another person may reap.
Campus ministry, and Catholic education in general, lives and thrives by the students and faculty who put their faith and energy. The homeless man in the cardboard box and Vanessa and her love of God and animals showed me how true this is. Once this way of living your faith is firmly rooted in your life, life itself becomes richer than we can possibly imagine.
If this is the kind of environment you’d like for your college education, start exploring schools with our featured Catholic college profiles.