St. Jerome’s Universty choir practices before Sunday Mass. Photo by Erin Jamieson

Students of varying faiths choose Catholic colleges

By  Erin Jamieson, Youth Speak News
  • January 9, 2015

WATERLOO, ONT. - Every Sunday evening, the voices of the St. Jerome’s University choir can be heard ringing from Siegried Hall, where they practice before students gather for Mass, fellowship and a break from their busy lives.

St. Jerome’s is an openly Catholic affiliate college of the University of Waterloo. Recognized for both academic excellence and its continued commitment to the community, this academic institution provides a residence to undergraduate university students. St. Jerome’s’ mission is to support the whole person. Both Catholic and non- Catholic students choose to live in this residence because of St. Jerome’s reputation as an inclusive, supportive community.

Many students, like Andrew Zettel, come to St. Jerome’s for the faith connection.

“The Catholic faith is integral to my life. Having a place where that faith can grow and I can comfortably express it was very important,” said Zettel, a second-year political science student.

Anne Csinos, a second-year student studying speech communication, found St. Jerome’s to be a home away from home, where she was encouraged and welcomed in the faith community.
“SJU has given me a place to get involved in my faith while I’m away at university,” she said. “ I love the homey-ness of it.”

But St. Jerome’s does not just appeal to Catholic students looking for a place to explore their faith. The university’s small campus, homey feel and supportive staff make it a community where all can feel welcome and supported in their school, social and spiritual lives.

Math student Josh Jegaysingham said St. Jerome’s was “the reason he chose Waterloo,” despite the fact that he isn’t Catholic. He says that without St. Jerome’s, he would not have made the kinds of friends that he did make.

“SJ has a lot of good people, really supportive. It definitely made an impact (on my overall university experience).”

Angela Manella, current don and choir director at St. Jerome’s, says she hears many students say they chose St. Jerome’s because of the community’s good vibe, regardless of their faith orientation.

“The fact the faith is not forgotten here, it gives a different vibe, even if a student isn’t practising the faith,” she said. “Students say (St. Jerome’s) has a different vibe, and maybe don’t attribute it to the faith community, but the fact that faith is not forgotten makes a difference.”

Martha Fauteux, director of campus ministry, spoke about the wide range of activities that St. Jerome’s provides, which appeals to a variety of students.

“There are groups of students coming (to campus) to explore their faith, whether Catholicism or just God more generally,” said Fauteux.

Besides Sunday Masses, campus ministry provides Bible studies, weekly meditative yoga, women’s groups and more.

Fauteux says for certain students, even if they are not practising Catholics, St. Jerome’s provides “a place to be listened to and create community.” She recalled a conversation she had a few years ago with a Muslim student who was very involved in spiritual activities at St. Jerome’s. When she asked the student why she chose a Catholic place to explore her faith, the student replied that the community at St. Jerome’s made her feel safe enough to explore and nurture her faith.

SJU is so important because it provides students with a place to nurture their spiritual lives, as well as their academic, after they’ve left home, said Fauteux.

“Growing up at home, you have your parents, and your parish, for your faith base. When you move away, SJU becomes that new base for students.”

(Jamieson, 19, is a second-year Knowledge and Integration Student at the University of Waterloo, Ont.)

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