By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 29, 2010
On a warm Thursday afternoon, Catholic students at Kennesaw State University casually strolled into the Catholic Center to the aroma of “arroz con pollo,” a chicken dish being prepared for lunch by campus minister Chris Dehner.
The students arrived at the house-turned-ministry center to celebrate Mass with chaplain Father Joseph Morris and have lunch with their fellow Catholics on campus.
It was a tradition started by the previous chaplain, Conventual Franciscan Father Linus DeSantis, and one that has blossomed since his time there.
Dehner remembers coming to Mass and lunch when he was a student at KSU a few years back. Now currently working on a master’s degree at Georgia State University, Atlanta, Dehner has returned to his college stomping grounds to help current KSU students feel welcomed and encouraged to express their faith.
Father Joseph Morris, Chaplain
Catholic Center at Kennesaw State University
3487 Campus Loop Road, NW
Daily Mass: 12:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday
Weekends: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
“Father (Morris) has done a great job of expanding on what Father Linus started here, which is a strong family life atmosphere,” said Dehner as he washed and dried the salad that would soon be consumed by nearly 20 students.
Coming together regularly for Mass and a meal “really fosters a sense of family for our group,” he said.
Like a family, all of the students who come to the Catholic Center are very different. But they gather as a family united in faith, whether they are Georgia locals or Northern transplants, studying the humanities or the sciences.
“Everybody’s different, but we’re the same faith,” said Brian McNavish, co-vice president of the KSU campus ministry. “This place provides knowledge and experience of our faith. Talking and sharing with each other is important.”
Some students chatted about their classes before Mass, while others worked or casually browsed the Internet on their laptops or helped put the final touches on the meal. Around 12:30 p.m. the students filed into the chapel for daily Mass.
Father Morris celebrated the Mass in a calm and peaceful manner and even included the students in an interactive homily, something he presents once every week. Posing questions to the group, he leads them in a discussion during these homilies and uses a different way to engage them in the Mass. Students eagerly participated and also provided their own prayer intentions during the prayers of the faithful that followed.
After Mass, the students grabbed a plate and dug into the freshly prepared lunch served family style. Most sat outside at a long picnic table on the deck, chatting and laughing as the sun peeked through the trees above. It was easy to see these students had become close friends.
“All my friends on campus, I’ve met here,” said Kristin Kuettel, a sophomore studying early education. She likes the atmosphere of the Catholic Center and even comes there outside of official events just to hang out or get her schoolwork done.
“Everyone is so friendly and supportive,” she said. “I really feel like this is where my faith has been built up.”
While some have come to the Catholic Center seeking that community, others, like Eric Doyle, come across it in different ways. Doyle, who moved to Georgia from Illinois in 2008, remembers preparing to submit his personal health records when he accidentally found himself in the Catholic Center instead of next door at the health clinic where he needed to be.
“I found this place in January by accident,” said Doyle. “Now I see these people more than anyone else since I moved to Georgia. I found a real sense of family here.”
Both Doyle and Kuettel said they hang out with their Catholic Center friends outside of the center’s activities but note how it is nice to also share time as a faith community.
“As different as we are, we all have the same faith,” said Doyle.
Daily Mass is just one of many facets that create the casual and comfortable nature of the KSU Catholic Center. On Tuesdays, the house hosts “Spirit & Truth,” which invites students and alumni to “worship Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, study church teachings and sacred Scripture, and celebrate Catholic traditions.” The evening usually ends with a trip to a local restaurant for fellowship and more discussion.
On Thursdays, the center hosts “Textures,” a meeting that focuses on studying the Scriptures and uses prayer based on the Lectio Divina. An 8:30 p.m. Mass is also held at the center on Sunday nights, the latest Sunday Mass in the archdiocese.
Catholic Center staff and members are active on campus and plan to become more involved with the other faith groups at KSU. Currently they are working with the Hillel Center, a group for Jewish students at KSU, to build a replica of the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave located under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
“We want to engage in more interfaith activities,” said Doyle. “It helps us to understand other faiths and our own.”
Father Morris said he has seen the group grow and blossom over the two years he has been serving as chaplain at KSU. He feels the size of the group, with an average of about 20 students coming for lunch and Mass each day and others coming to the center’s various spiritual activities, facilitates the kind of atmosphere they want to create.
“We want it to be familiar and comfortable, a place where the students can express their faith.” said Father Morris.
This is part of a continuing series on Catholic campus ministries. For more information visit www.thecatholiccenteratksu.com