Chaplaincies help first-years keep the faith

  • September 6, 2013

First-year students have descended on universities and colleges to begin the new school year, and Catholic campus chaplaincies are ready to keep them engaged in the faith.

Erin Kinsella believes there are three main challenges that the start of a student’s university career poses to staying active in the faith. Kinsella, the new associate director of Campus Ministry at the Newman Centre on the University of Toronto downtown campus, said the first challenge is combatting moral relativism.

“Catholic students need to be able to ground themselves first and foremost in Christ... in order to filter through the plethora of ideas and theories they come in contact with,” she said.

“There is also simply the challenge of time. New demands are placed on students, and it’s often difficult to juggle schedules and remain faithful to prayer, Mass attendance, sacraments, community, etc.”

Then there is sustaining a sense of community to aid in strengthening faith.

“It’s difficult on such a large campus to find that community with other Catholic students,” she said.

Oriana Bertucci, director of Catholic Chaplaincy at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said the transition to university life can be daunting to some because of all the changes a student encounters. It might be their first time living away from home, class sizes are much larger than high school and professors provide less oversight than secondary school teachers.

“University offers so many different activities outside of the academic realm and students are faced with many choices,” said Bertucci. “A faith community can be a place of belonging, of acceptance, of growth for students. It’s our goal as the Catholic Campus Ministry to offer opportunities for students to stay involved and grow in their faith, despite the balancing act of first-year life.”

In London, Ont., the chaplaincy at the King’s University College at Western University prides itself on being inclusive, said campus minister Maija Wilson.

“It’s making sure students feel they have a place wherever they are in their faith.”

When other campus organizations, staff and faculty are unavailable on the Labour Day Monday as many students moved in, the chaplaincy was available.

“We’re some of the first people they get to see.”

The chaplaincy at Brescia College, the Catholic women’s university at Western, welcomed students on moving day, ready to introduce them to transitional programs such as Choose to Journey, which focuses on personal growth and faith.

“I think it’s a time of a lot of questioning and trying to figure out who you are and how you fit into the larger context of the world,” said Catherinanne George, director of Campus Ministry at Brescia.

To keep first-year students engaged in the Catholic community, Kinsella and the Newman Centre have a series of events planned, including a welcoming barbecue, and will be present and visible to students during Orientation Week, Clubs Day and the St. George Street Festival.

“At Newman, we have a beautiful space and community that can offer fellowship, sacraments, prayer with formation, opportunities for service, hang out/study space and more,” said Kinsella. “But often there are Catholic students on campus who haven’t heard about us.”

There will also be a student boat cruise in September. And the centre plans on having 700 Frosh Packs available for students, which will include prayer cards, a rosary, information about Newman and Newman events.

“Our aim is to let as many students as possible know who we are and what we can offer, and to make sure that they know they have a Catholic home on campus,” Kinsella said.

She adds that the centre will promote peer ministry.

“We want to help students develop an interior life that infuses the world around them with the love of Christ and draws them into His life, and the life of His Body, the Church.”

At Ryerson, Catholic Christian Outreach will be running weekly small group faith studies to allow for faith sharing and reflection on Scripture, Bertucci said.

The Ryerson chaplaincy also attends a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game as a way to help out-of-town and international students to become acquainted with each other.

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