Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Campus Where Catholicism Thrives (not Marquette)

From First Things, an article by George Weigel:
Aggie Catholic Renaissance

Feb 2, 2011
George Weigel

Where can you find a Catholic chaplaincy at an institution of higher learning that’s looking to expand its church to seat 1,400, because the current 850 just isn’t enough?

South Bend, Indiana, perhaps? Well, no, actually: College Station, Texas, where the Catholic chaplaincy at Texas A&M, St. Mary’s Catholic Center, is setting a new national standard for Catholic campus ministry.

Aggie Catholicism is something to behold. Daily Mass attendance averages 175; there were closer to 300 Catholic Aggies at Mass on a weekday afternoon when I visited a few years back. Sunday Masses draw between 4,000 and 5,000 worshippers. There are 10 weekly time-slots for confessions, which are also heard all day long on Mondays. Eucharistic adoration, rosary groups, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the traditional First Friday devotion are staples of Aggie Catholicism’s devotional life.

A rich retreat program is available, and each year some 1,250 students make or staff a retreat sponsored by St. Mary’s. “Aggie Awakening,” an adaptation of Cursillo for students, is one of the cornerstones of the campus ministry; other, specially designed programs include a silent retreat and a retreat titled “Genius of Women.” In 2009-10, 200 students participated in bi-weekly spiritual direction programs, and another 70 took part in the “Samuel Group,” an exercise in Ignatian discernment that includes a commitment to curb what one campus minister describes as “unnecessary TV and Internet use.” Two thousand A&M students, not all of them Catholics, have participated in introductory sessions exploring the theology of the body, and many have continued that exploration in follow-on study groups.

Then there is service. Aggie Catholics participate in domestic and international missions, work with Habitat for Humanity, take part in a ministry to prisoners, and are involved in various pro-life activities. In fact, the 40 Days for Life program is an outgrowth of the Catholic campus ministry at Texas A&M; the national office of 40 Days is staffed by Aggie grads. The campus ministry also works with a local Life Center that helps mothers and families in difficult situations.

All this energy has had a discernible effect on vocational formation and discernment. Since 2000, the campus ministry has averaged some nine students per year entering the seminary or religious novitiates; 132 Catholic Aggies have been ordained priests or made final religious vows in the past two decades. And then there is the vocation to marriage and family, which the campus ministry takes very seriously. Aggie Catholics are also a powerful witness to the rest of Aggieland; 175 new Catholics have entered the Church the past two years through St. Mary’s RCIA program.

The Catholic renaissance at Texas A&M is staffed by two full-time priests, three part-time and semi-retired deacons, one part-time priest, three full-time lay campus ministers, three sisters from the Apostles of the Interior Life, three part-time campus ministers, and four part-time student interns. That probably strikes many campus ministers as a rather large staff. In fact, the people who lead St. Mary’s are stretched—and they began where many others are today.

Catholic campus ministry at Texas A&M is a striking example of “If you build it, they will come.” The program is unapologetically orthodox. There is no fudging the demands of the faith. And yet they come, and come, and come, because Aggie Catholicism shows the campus a dynamic orthodoxy that is not a retreat into the past but a way of seizing the future and bending it in a more humane direction. The premise that informed John Paul II’s approach to students his entire life—that young people want to be challenged to lead lives of heroic virtue, in which the search for love is the search for a pure and noble love—is the premise that guides Catholic campus ministry at College Station.

Texas A&M is a special place, culturally; in many respects, it seems to have skipped the ‘60s, such that its 21st-century life is in palpable continuity with its past. That’s a deeply Catholic cultural instinct, which St. Mary’s has seized to build a program that is a model for the entire country.
A commenter notes, sourly:
Prediction: in 50 years the American Catholic Church will be dumbfounded by the amount of time, resources and energy it spent building a system of higher education that produced....almost nothing. I exaggerate only slightly.
The fundamental virtue at A & M is that the Catholic Campus Ministry there is actually Catholic, while the Campus Ministry at Marquette is liberal/left and politically correct. At Marquette, promoting the gay agenda and demonstrating against the School of the Americas seem to be the first two priorities.

But an authentic Catholicism is attractive to young people, who may have fallen away a bit from the religion views of their parents (which might be Protestant, secular, or bland, nominal Catholicism) but are looking for meaning in their lives.

But to attract people, a Catholic ministry has to actually be Catholic. Nominally Catholic political correctness won’t hack it.

Labels: , , , ,


Anonymous scott said...

young people, who may have fallen away a bit from the religion views of their parents (which might be Protestant, secular, or bland, nominal Catholicism)

Do you have any evidence for this supposition? To my mind, young people who have "fallen away" from their parents religious views are probably doing so not because they are "bland" or "secular" but because they are too judgmental, backward and rigid. But at least I can admit it's just a guess on my part.

7:04 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...


I don't think very many parents are "judgmental, backward and rigid" these days.

Of course, you might consider people "judgmental, backward and rigid" that other people would consider merely loyal Christians.

Regardless of that, it's clear that college students are frequently looking for some spiritual grounding, and a bland politically correct religion doesn't seem to provide it.

9:51 PM  
Blogger david said...

Contrary to McAdams, I think that there is good push-and-pull between the "politically correct" administration set and the hardline "PanzerKardinal Joseph Ratzinger," set. While I don't think Marquette should be increasing faculty pay (especially this nonsense "backend" (no pun) stuff--Legally Domiciled Adults (gag me PC crap)), I also wouldn't want the campus to be holding groups for corporal mortification and adorations of "Our Lady of Medjugorje," either.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you hit the nail on the head.

David no one said anything about Medjugorje (and a great many Catholics, esp. the traditionalist ones aren't at all into that.)

For a closer to home example that Texas A and M, contrast Catholic life between MU and the Univ. of Wisconsin.

The St. Paul's center in Madison has daily Masses, some of them in Latin, daily Rosary, long lines for confessions, uses Gregorian chant in some of the liturgies, etc. The homilies are frank and address topics like moral realativism, salvation, etc.

Most kids comming to college never got any of this in their Catholic childhoods at home, they are having an encounter with stuff they had only heard about (and were often told was bad, old-fashioned, backward, ridged, judgemental etc.) Sure this may turn some people off, but it attracts others, at St. Paul's they are expericencing growth.

Kids don't want to be patronized they want to learn something.

Dave you are 100% wrong about your push-pull comments. Perhapes the biggest problem the Catholic Church has in the United States (and this probably applies to much of western Europe too) is a profound disconnect. Between an orthodox (aka hardline PanzerKardinal) leadership (moreso theology, tradition, magisterium) and an almost totally contrasting image conveyed on the front lines, at your local suburban parish or campus ministry.

If I am a liberal, as hip to social justice and political corectness as the local face of the Catholic Church may be, I would still be turned off by a religion that holds the Nicean creed (He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end) has more than enough in it to really outrage a post-modern person if they stop and think about it.

Conversly, if I am a more conservative person who finds the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger to be insightful, is inspired by the sacred art, music, and architecture cultural memory assocites with the Catholic faith, and am looking for a framework for a moral life and then wander into the nearest Cathoic Church and tell the priest I'm really intrested in learning more about all that kind of stuff, odds are you are gonna get some strange looks.

3:15 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home