When selecting a college to attend, students consider many factors – academics, athletics, campus life – before making their choice. For Lindsay Marsh, a resident of Jacksonville, having access to a Catholic church so she could participate in the weekly celebration of Mass was also of utmost importance. She found that and more in Stetson University’s Catholic Campus Ministry.
“I came to Stetson just wanting a place to go to Church, and I saw online that they gave rides to Mass,” the senior said. “I was excited about that and it was the extent of what I wanted. But then I began meeting people in Campus Ministry, and now our meetings are the highlight of my week. I have learned a lot. It has really enhanced my faith.”
Campus Ministry has been a priority of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for more than two decades. In 1982, the bishops stated that the Church seeks to “help higher education attain its lofty goal of developing a culture in which human beings can realize their full potential” (The Church of the University Pope Speaks vol 27, #3 Fall 1982: 252).
Six colleges and universities in the Diocese of Orlando are running Campus Ministry programs, heeding the words of the USCCB and helping students, faculty and staff grow in their faith.
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Daytona Beach:
For Sigmund Baretto, a junior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, college is where his Catholic faith has taken flight.
“Honestly, I’ve never been more immersed in my faith after coming and joining the Catholic Student Union,” Baretto said.
The Catholic Student Union at the school – known worldwide for its engineering and flight programs – attracts more than a hundred students for the celebration of weekly Mass and dinner program. The Catholic Student Union focuses on three key aspects: spiritual development, service projects and social interactions. Its motto is “Faith Taking Flight.”
“Just like the pilots talking to air traffic control, we need to listen to God, who is guiding us in the right direction,” said Baretto, an aerospace engineering major who hopes to be a fulltime pilot after graduation.
Baretto – born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Indian parents – said he wasn’t sure how his Catholic faith would be formed in college. By the end of his second semester, Baretto was involved in the CSU’s leadership board. His involvement has taught him important lessons.
“I had always thought that faith is separate and life is separate – you go to Church every Sunday, you are a good person, and then you have to deal with daily occurrences of life,” Baretto said. “But there is more. You live to deepen your faith, and at the end of your life, you have the eternal reward.
In addition to serving students’ faith needs, through prayer services, retreats and other educational and spiritual growth programs, the CSU helps many students in their discernment process. Father Tim Daly, chaplain at ERAU and pastor at the Basilica of St. Paul in Daytona Beach, said four students have entered the seminary in the past five years, through their home dioceses or religious communities.
Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne:
Catholic Campus Ministry at Florida Tech has been serving the university community for nearly 50 years. Society of Divine Savior Father Doug Bailey, campus minister, said the ministry offers the celebration of Mass, the sacraments, faith formation and community life. A core group of about 10 volunteers actively serve as ushers, readers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and choir members.
“Our hope is to bring Jesus Christ to the people and give them the opportunity to practice their faith,” Father Bailey said.
Closely related to the Campus Ministry is the Neumann Club, a student organization offering spiritual and social activities, including the weekly praying of the rosary, spaghetti dinners, talks and video series and game nights. Students meet monthly for Adoration and are also involved in a variety of social justice activities, such as Habitat for Humanity. Activities have attracted up to 75 students.
Matt Merlo, a graduate student from Rochester Hill, Mich., is active in both groups.
“Campus Ministry and Neumann Group provide an opportunity for those who want to grow in their faith the chance to be with like-minded people,” he said. “That helps reinforce your faith.”
Florida Southern College, Lakeland:
The weekly celebration of Sunday Mass at the Annie Pfieffer Chapel is at the center of Florida Southern College’s Catholic Campus Ministry. Father Ramon Bolatete, campus minister and parochial administrator of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lakeland, said the celebration of Mass attracts 20-60 students weekly.
The students also meet weekly for faith sharing and to discuss relevant and timely issues. On the third Monday of the month, the students join other young adults from St. Joseph Catholic Church for Theology on Tap at a local pub.
“We’ve been blessed by committed professors and students volunteering to make the FSC campus ministry a wonderful experience for others to attend on Sundays, especially as they involve themselves in the liturgical ministries and fellowship afterwards,” Father Bolatete said.
Rollins College, Winter Park:
Participating in the celebration of Mass helps keep Rollins College senior Brooke Pankau grounded.
“With all the stresses of the week, being able to come here every Sunday night keeps me sane and happy,” she said.
Joan Davison, professor of political science at Rollins College, said she and her husband, Don, coordinators of the university’s Campus Ministry, let the students lead the way in determining the direction the group takes each year.
“College is a distinct time for these young men and women,” she said. “Some people want to create a lot of expectations for young people about what they ought to be doing given their particular talents, gifts and such that they have been given in their lives. Our thought is to go where they are. Amongst them, they are at different points. You go where they are and let them lead the way.”
In addition to weekly Mass and fellowship for the university’s Catholic community, Rollins’ Campus Ministry offers students the opportunity to get together to discuss their faith and other topics. They also participate in a myriad of service projects throughout the year
“I hope and pray that the campus ministry offers the students an opportunity to remain active in their faith and to remain connected to the larger Catholic community,” said Father Richard Walsh, campus minister and pastor of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church and vicar general of the Diocese of Orlando.
Stetson University, Deland:
Students participating in Stetson University’s Campus Ministry talk about Jesus and explore their faith during weekly open forums. Ministry director Rick Grinstead shares a message, often times pertinent to current events or other timely topics, and after a brief group discussion, students break into smaller groups to explore the topic.
“My hope is that our Catholic campus ministry brings not only a Catholic identity to Stetson University, but also gives the opportunity for current and prospective students to find out what the Catholic Church truly is,” said Grinstead. “To be able to answer questions, pray with, and help them to live out their identity as a Catholic is our main goal.
“If we are not directly available in their time of need, they will search for answers to their questions elsewhere,” he continued.
Lindsay Marsh, president, said the group also strives to serve others through multiple service projects. In recent years, they have filled shoe boxes with toys for children in Third World countries as part of Operation Christmas Child and have served in nearby soup kitchens.
Students also participate in the celebration of Mass together at St. Peter Catholic Church.
University of Central Florida, Orlando:
Catholic Campus Ministry at UCF provides a faith home for students, faculty and staff at UCF. The group offers a vibrant sacramental life and spiritual formation and by engaging the community through outreach and works of service. Current programs includes celebration of Mass, retreats, socials, Bible studies, Pro-Life events, and service projects all geared toward bringing students into a deeper relationship with the Lord and those around them.
Between 100-200 students participate in the celebration of Sunday Mass, and about 80 students are involved in the weekly activities. A core group of about 20 student leaders serve their community while growing in their own faith-life.
“This is a time where students are tasting the freedom to choose who they are for the first time,” said Tony Marco, associate campus minister. “For some, that means a reaffirming of the faith that their parents brought them up in, for others it could lead them to question that faith. There are also many who are seeking truth and it is my hope that they will find a witness to the Truth when they encounter our ministry.”
“Our Campus ministry is an expression of the Church’s special desire to be present and involved in higher education because the Church has been instrumental in cultivating the intellectual life,” said Society of Precious Blood Father Ben Berinti, who was appointed as director by Bishop Noonan last June. “The Church brings to the dialogue with higher education its general mission to preach the Gospel of Christ and to help the human family achieve its final goals.”