Student campus ministers promoting the Newman Centre by giving away hot beverages and talking to passer-bys.

Newman Centre takes ministry to the streets

  • February 22, 2015

TORONTO - On a large campus like the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, it can be hard for students to feel a sense of community. So the Newman Centre’s Student Campus Ministry (SCM) team is going out to let Catholic students on campus know it is there for them.

“There are about 18,000 Catholics on campus. Not all of those people know that the Newman Centre exists,” said Erin Kinsella, associate director of campus ministry at the Newman Centre. “Part of their responsibility (as student campus ministers) is determining the different ways to go out to students.”

Last semester, the SCM team went to busy locations on campus for about two hours each week to seek out students and spark up conversations. They called this initiative “Take a Prayer, Leave a Prayer.” In exchange for a student’s prayer intention, the student ministers gave them candy and a small passage of Scripture.

“It does allow us to get into really good spiritual conversations,” said Lisa Caballero, a student campus minister at Newman Centre. “I remember this one guy and he asked us why are you doing this. At first, he was super skeptical, wondering what we would get out of it… He didn’t even have an idea of how you could form an intention.”

The student, Caballero said, was in the music program. So she and other ministers helped him write an intention, praying to be inspired by the next music piece he works on.

“We got to talk with him and at the end, he said, ‘Yeah, I think I will check out the Newman Centre,’ and we made a connection that way,” said Caballero.

Caballero is studying biology and chemistry at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She moved into the Newman Centre at the beginning of this school year and is enjoying the ministry program and being a part of the Newman community.

“Through the program, student ministers learn concrete skills in evangelization, gain a deepening prayer life and what it means to serve,” said Kinsella.

During this winter and spring semester, the SCM team is running two outreach projects. One team is setting up a booth weekly at the corner outside the centre at St. George Street and Hoskin Avenue, giving away hot beverages and striking up conversations with passers-by.

Caballero and another student minister, Conchita Mary D’Souza, are working on a video series for their next outreach project. One video has a Valentine’s Day theme.

“We were out on the street asking people what love is,” said Caballero. “We’re hoping to include their answers in the video and then share a little catechesis on what the Church teaches us about love.”

Students chosen for the campus ministry program are required to commit 12 to 15 hours of ministry each week. A maximum of 10 students move in to the Newman Centre for a spring/summer or fall/winter term. Student ministers are also called to participate in the community through liturgy and outreach.

“It’s always a struggle. We’re always thinking about what is the best way for us to build these relationships with people when we first meet them,” said Caballero. “It’s really great when we have people that come on their own… but I think sometimes people need a personal invitation just to know that they are welcome. By going out, it kind of shows that we are taking the first step.”

The residency program was created in 1994 by Fr. Thomas Rosica when he led the Newman Centre. Although the focus of the program has evolved over the years, Kinsella said the idea of instilling values of service and evangelization hasn’t changed.

Fr. Patrick O’Dea was the Newman Centre chaplain from 2000 to 2009. Taking over the position from Rosica, he and Fr. Patrick Douglas developed the comprehensive application process to the SCM program.

O’Dea said that it is a sign of the residency program’s success that many alumni are still connected to God. He still receives letters from many of the students.

“One of the fun things about the program is that people actually meet and marry one another,” he said. “I must’ve done a couple of weddings for people involved in the program. I’m doing one this summer. I’ve baptized children for these couples. There have been seminarians and priests, as well.”

Applications for the student ministry program opened on Feb. 16. The campus ministry team is accepting applications from students age 18 to 35 attending a post-secondary education in the Greater Toronto Area. Kinsella said they are looking for students who are established in their prayer life, practising Catholics, organized, responsible and manage their time well.

“They don’t have to have it all,” said Kinsella. “We’re looking for open hearts and the desire to grow closer to God.”
To apply, e-mail

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