Students from the University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier on retreat at the St. Ignatius Deemerton Retreat Centre. Photo courtesy of Ania Krysciak

Chaplain combats ‘radical secularization’ of university campus

By 
  • February 9, 2014

As the Catholic chaplain at two secular universities Ania Krysciak believes organizing retreats for students with no religious affiliation is critical for their spiritual formation.

“On secular universities it is this radical secularization that they are encountering all the time,” Krysciak said. “If you don’t have a Catholic presence then they come to form their world and their identity without that Christian presence, and as soon as they graduate those students go on thinking that God is not a part of their life.” Krysciak is the chaplain for the University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier University in Kitchener, Ont.

“If they haven’t learned to incorporate their faith into their daily lives then that is going to be an extremely difficult thing to do later. But if you get that attachment made in university while they are studying ... then that makes it so much easier for them.”

Krysciak said the reason faith life becomes harder to form after university is because secular universities and colleges groom students to think critically about everything, including religion.

“It develops a form of looking at the world ... they say it is called critical thinking,” she said.

“It is a false sense of understanding the world if faith is excluded from that experience because faith is central to a persons understanding of who they are and how to relate with God, with the world around them (and) with other people.”

That’s why Krysciak has been annually taking groups of students from both campuses to the St. Ignatius Deemerton Retreat Centre near Walkerton, Ont.

“What attracted us to the facility from the beginning is the fact that it is kind of in this remote location,” said Krysciak, who took about 40 students there last month. “The neat thing about that is that you don’t get distracted with all the modern conveniences that you have here in the city. It just feels out of the way and you can really concentrate on your faith and concentrate on Christ and grow in your relationship with Christ and one another.”

What makes these retreats increasingly more important, according to Krysciak, is that despite many students coming from Catholic schools to the campuses she spiritually looks after, fewer and fewer freshmen arrive with a pre-established faith life.

“The university students in their busy, busy lives often don’t have a real sense of prayer time,” she said. “Most of the time they don’t even have that established in their daily routine, a time of prayer, and so they need something like this where they can retreat from the world and fully immerse themselves in a place of prayer.”

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