By Claire Riggan
Originally from a small town in Iowa, I decided to continue my education at Chaminade University of Honolulu. I fell in love with the school and the Island of Oahu where I met and became friends with people of different cultures from all over the world.
Chaminade is a Catholic-Marianist institution and, honestly, I didn’t know what that meant until I got involved with Mystical Rose Oratory, the place of worship on campus, during the second semester of my freshman year. Attending a Catholic church was very new to me. I grew up going to a Methodist church in Oxford until high school when my family switched to a nondenominational church.
Most of my friends growing up were Catholic and I have a lot of family members who are devoted Catholics. But I didn’t think that one day my faith would lead me to where I am today — a now proud, faithful Catholic. All it took was that one Mass for me to realize how much I wanted to further enhance my relationship with God.
I began attending every Sunday morning Mass with a couple of friends and began praying more. Overall, my spiritual life was going in a direction that I didn’t want to change.
One day, my friends told me about a student-led retreat through Chaminade’s campus ministry called the Awakening Retreat. I’d never been on a retreat, but by the grace of God decided to take the weekend off and go. It was one of the best decisions of my Chaminade experience. There was a sense of vulnerability that I had never experienced before; it was beautiful.
A year and a half later, I am in a retreat leadership position. Knowing that I’m in the position to encourage others on their spiritual journey is a rewarding and beautiful thing.
Chaminade and its campus ministry have opened many doors for me. I have been selected to attend an immersion trip next month in Los Angeles where two of my campus ministers will be doing nonprofit work on Skid Row. I found my passion for giving back to the community when I started participating in “Feed the Hungry,” a program involving students and campus ministry participants who go to a homeless shelter and serve food. It has really given me a sense of community.
I’ve also seen how Chaminade instills its Marianist values around campus. Marianist Lay Communities get together weekly to discuss social justice issues, Marianist values and more. I signed up with some ministry friends and we made our own MLC group. Marianists are devoted to Mary and place a huge emphasis on community and equality. At the same time, I was going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class. This has given me a sense of community, justice and some wisdom about how I can spread God’s word every day.
Last October, after some soul-searching and an amazing Awakening Retreat weekend, I officially decided to join the Catholic Church. I was confirmed in the Mystical Rose Oratory on March 31 during the Easter Vigil along with a few classmates. Being in a place of worship surrounded by friends, family and a community supporting me as I made my commitment to the Catholic Church was one of the most blessed moments of my life. I owe it to God for all of the blessings he has given me throughout my life.
So many people are responsible for me taking this step in my life: my two sponsors, Mica Mariano and Savannah Delos Santos, who first asked me to join them at Mass; my campus ministers at Chaminade who instilled in me what it means to be a person of Christ and spread that light every day; and my great-grandmother Rita Jenn of Hills, Iowa, who is the most devoted Catholic I know. She truly inspired me on this journey, and my parents, who taught me that no matter what is happening in life, God is here and he is listening.
I’m excited to see where the rest of my spiritual journey will take me as I continue to worship God through my Catholic-Marianist values.
(Claire Marie Riggan’s great-grandmother Rita Jenn and grandmother Eileen Jenn Falls are members of St. Joseph Parish in Hills.)