By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2020
ATLANTA— Loaded down with backpacks carrying books and laptops, college students arrived on campus this month to begin the second semester of the school year.
Sundays are reserved for catching up on reading assignments and other schoolwork for most students. But for some, Sundays also include visiting campus chapels for Mass and engaging with other students in Catholic campus ministry, also known as Newman Centers.
Named after St. John Henry Newman, canonized last October, Newman Centers are Catholic ministry centers at non-Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world.
There are eight Newman Centers serving 12 college campuses in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Most of them have their own chapel and gathering space, with two campus ministries being directly supported by a parish. At Newman Centers, Catholic students share their faith with others, make lifelong friends and may even find their future spouses.
“I just love the students,” said Christine Martineck, office manager for the Georgia Tech Newman Center in Atlanta for nearly six years.
They know a lot about their faith and are passionate about it, she said.
Sara Jensen, a Georgia Tech student and vice president of its Catholic campus ministry, said college ministry is “so important because it meets students at such an impactful time in their lives.”
“It is so amazing that campus ministry is there to let students take ownership of their faith lives and empower them to serve others and the church,” said Jensen, a third-year business major.
Last fall, the Office of Formation and Discipleship collaborated with The Georgia Bulletin on a survey for young adults in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Of the more than 100 young adults that participated ages 18-21, over 87% attend Mass 3-5 times per month, more than 40% are involved in a liturgical ministry and more than half are involved in religious education.
“These students amaze me with their discipline to schoolwork and other activities, devotion to our Lord and increasing desire for conversion,” said Molly Kate Clavenna, campus minister for the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. “I enjoy helping to form and direct a community of missionary disciples who desire a relationship with the Lord and to glorify God in their life.”
Many involvement opportunities
Newman centers provide many options for students to be involved in their faith. In addition to weekly Masses and adoration, programming usually includes social events, men and women group discussions, Bible study, retreats and service opportunities.
The Newman Center at Georgia College and State University (GCSU) in Milledgeville is a parish ministry of Sacred Heart Church, less than a mile away from the college campus. For the College Mass on Sunday evenings, students serve in various liturgical ministries.
“I want the students to take leadership” of campus ministry, said Deacon Cesar Basilo, campus minister at GCSU since 2002. He enjoys “being a part of the lives of these young people.”
Leadership experience is also available in campus ministry. At Emory University, students can apply to be on a peer board that plans weekly student events, a monthly social and a service project for each semester. The University of North Georgia (UNG) has a student leadership team whose members “receive formation and offer student servant leadership to the community,” said Clavenna.
Creating a safe space
The Campus Ministry at the University of West Georgia (UWG) is working toward building a gathering space. With a successful #iGiveCatholic campaign, the Newman Center is gaining more support from students and parishes.
“We really felt strongly that we had to do something,” said Norma Rothschadl, campus minister for the University of West Georgia since August of last year. “We really want it to happen for our kids.”
“College is often seen as a time for individuals to come into adulthood,” explained Michael Zauche, campus minister at Emory University for more than seven years.
From freshmen to senior year, you come into seeing the world in a certain way, said Zauche. This leads to many students struggling with faith.
It can be challenging to have conversations, especially with students who have made their mind up already, he noted. However, the ministry tries to find a way to create a safe space for questions and concerns.
“We don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about it,” he said. “We want those conversions to happen.”
While the college experience brings its sets of challenges, Newman Centers help to support students.
“It’s just such a difficult time in their lives,” said Rothschadl. It’s about being present for students and sharing God’s message, she said.
Students struggling with their faith and needing support are encouraged to reach out.
“Be bold and brave and show up to a campus ministry event,” said Clavenna. “Ask for help from your peers, seek mentorship and discipleship, and be authentically you.”
Jensen said being part of the Catholic Center at Georgia Tech has been one of the “greatest blessings” of her life.
“Being surrounded by others my age pursuing Christ has inspired me to grow in my faith and love others more intentionally and fully,” she said.
This story is the second in a series focusing on various aspects of young adults in the Catholic Church.