By Celine Klosterman
PELLA — As Kaitlyn Baetsle prepared to start her freshman year at Central College in August, her biggest fear was losing touch with the Catholic faith she’d lived out partly through a high-school youth group.
So when she discovered St. Mary Parish in Pella wanted to be in touch with local college students, she was thrilled. “It got me really excited to hear that people were interested in getting us involved.”
The Walford native has since been “adopted” by a parish family, participated in a small-group study, helped plan a Mass and attended social events through the new group C3 (Central College Catholics). The people of faith she’s met through the ministry have made her feel at home, she said.
“When you’re a freshman, away from your family, starting college is not an easy transition. It’s nice to know you can lean on someone else.”
Baetsle is one of about 110 students who signed up a few months ago to be part of C3, which expands on St. Mary’s tradition of outreach to the liberal arts college. The group formed thanks to the inspiration of Jenny Anderson, who joined St. Mary’s parish council this summer.
Anderson recognized the stress college students face when moving to a new town. “I wanted to make sure they know St. Mary’s is here and will do something for them if they need help,” she said. So she formed a parish committee to help reach out to Central College students, and set up a table publicizing C3 at an August campus fair for local organizations and businesses.
Since then, 10 to 25 students have showed up to events including a five-week DVD series and workshop on the Mass, a weeknight liturgy planned by young adults, a campfire, cookout and other socials. Most gatherings take place at St. Mary’s former church building a block from campus, but parishioners have offered transportation to Sunday Masses at the parish’s 2 ½-year-old church a few miles away. As local Catholics have done in the past, 18 families “adopted” a student to morally support and invite to events. Catholics also are sending care packages with prayer cards and other items to students in advance of final exams. Students plan to sing Christmas carols to local elderly residents, and Anderson envisions a weekend retreat this spring.
Even more college students are attending Mass at St. Mary’s this year than in years past, said Deacon Don Efinger. “When they’re on break, you really notice the empty spaces.” He noted several students are helping teach religious education classes as well.
Central College freshman Breanne Riesberg of Perry said she appreciates that C3 isn’t just a social group, but truly emphasizes Catholicism. “Everyone is very enthusiastic. It’s great getting to know each other and learning more about your faith at the same time.”
Freshman Brandon Mennenoh of Audubon said Central College has a huge campus ministry program, but he joined C3 because the group is specifically for Catholics. “The people of St. Mary’s are so supportive of the college students and have been so generous to us. It’s a great community and parish to be involved with.”