By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Heading off to college can be one of the most exciting and challenging events in a young person’s life.
“They are used to having things taken care of for them. They aren’t used to being responsible! They are being challenged in ways they aren’t used to being challenged,” said Father Steve Witt, moderator of Clergy for the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa and administrator of St. Mary’s Parish in Iowa City. Additionally, students may not be used to the variety of cultures and different belief systems that may challenge their own.
With added freedom, students must begin making independent choices. One of those choices is whether to make faith a priority, said Father Chuck Adam, director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Campus ministries aim to help make disciples out of students, giving them a place for their faith to grow as they enter adulthood. They can help students make positive decisions.
The Newman Center aims to attract incoming freshman as soon as they arrive on campus. “It’s best to get them in early,” Fr. Witt said. During the first week of classes, Newman Center offers picnic food and ice cream at their location near the center of campus, serving about 700 people a day. Students are able to see the lounging area, which gives them a place to hang out with friends, and they can learn about the service opportunities, retreats and other programs available.
One of the first programs the Newman Center offered 30 years ago was Thursday Night Mass (TNM) and fellowship. The University of Iowa is often pegged as a “party school,” with Thursday night being one of the prime times for heavy social drinking, Fr. Witt said. TNM gave Catholic students a place to socialize and worship and it remains one of the core activities at The Newman Center.
At St. Ambrose University, students are not immune to temptation to fall away from their faith. “The same challenges students face at any other college, students face here,” said Fr. Adam. “This is an environment that will support them, but nonetheless they have to make the commitment and choose to be involved.”
The university aims to get incoming freshman off to a good start with a mandatory community service experience the day after they move in. Through this, students have been able to form friendships with other students and members of the community. These bonds can be a good source of positive encouragement, Fr. Adam said.
Throughout the year, discussion groups, service opportunities and interest groups offer students opportunities to nourish faith and foster relationships.
Because college students have varied schedules, on-campus Masses are offered several times a week at Newman Center and St. Ambrose. Some Masses are celebrated in the morning, others late in the evening.
Keeping faith strong in college may just help with the ultimate question facing college students: what kind of career to pursue after graduation. Fr. Adam said, “Often, students have found a sense of vocation through service and through their faith lives. It becomes a question of, ‘What does God want me to do?’ That’s something campus ministry can do to help with that very tough question of ‘What do I want to do with my life?’”