Strong Catholic chaplaincies can attract new students to universities. CNS photo/Lisa Johnston

Faith on campus a recruiting asset

By  Vincent Mastromatteo, Youth Speak News
  • October 17, 2014

TORONTO - As due dates for university applications are fast approaching, many Catholic students are taking time to consider faith before making any final decisions.

For Catholic high school students, there’s more to look forward to than studying. In universities, campus chaplaincies and faith-based clubs help Catholic students to keep active in faith as well as in their studies.

“I’ve thought of (chaplaincies) as a potential way to keep my faith a part of school,” said Andrew Sinka, a senior high school student at Brebeuf College School now looking into universities. Sinka is considering applying to the University of Toronto and Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, both of which have a Catholic chaplaincy.

“I would consider it a useful thing to be a part of, to talk to people about faith would always be helpful in our daily lives,” he said.

Across Canada, there are more than 75 schools associated with the Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry, a national association of campus ministries. Eleven Catholic universities are members of the Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), which evangelizes students to become future Catholic leaders. Catholic clubs can also exist on campuses through nearby parishes, making it easy for Catholic students to get involved. Ryerson Catholics, for example, is based out of St. Michael’s Cathedral just steps away from Ryerson University. The university also has a CCO ministry.

“(When applying) I wanted a full university experience, which would nourish both my intellectual and spiritual life,” said Darren Pereira, a second-year student at the University of Toronto. “I knew that faith was a critical aspect of my life and that, if I was going to spend four years at a university, I would need the support of a Catholic community to help me grow fully as a person.”

Pereira graduated from Brebeuf College School in 2013. He took the Newman Centre chaplaincy on U of T’s downtown campus into consideration when applying to university. As one of Newman’s active participants, he credits it with helping him adapt to university.

“In my first year, it was very easy to feel isolated when transitioning from high school… but Newman Centre provided a home on campus for me, great company and amazing friends included.”

Campus chaplaincies give students the chance to take part in social events, receive the sacraments and attend adorations, all with their Catholic peers. There are also retreats and Masses, much like in Catholic high school ministries. The Newman Centre hosts everything from retreats to board game nights. Right next to the centre is St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, where students and faculty drop by for daily Mass.

“We aim to offer a well-rounded variety of activities, all with the aim of helping students to encounter Jesus and to grow deeper in their faith,” said Erin Kinsella, the Newman Centre’s associate director of campus outreach.

Since university is a formative time for students, chaplaincies can help provide a sense of growth.

“Faith and reason are both important to nurture,” said Kinsella, “and the two can be supported well through university chaplaincies. We can offer well rounded formation that both helps students to maintain their faith and to become strong Catholic leaders.”

Chaplaincies can also help Catholic students preserve and maintain their faith. According to Kinsella, “Upwards of 80 per cent of students who enter university Catholic will stop practising their faith during university years, and chaplaincies can be a very effective means to reverse this trend.”

Joining chaplaincies is the chance to develop faith and friendships, especially for new students. However, it is an opportunity that some students miss.

“There are many (first-year students) who don’t know we’re available to them,” said Kinsella. “Our aim is to change that by having a constant presence not only in the Newman Centre itself, but all around the whole downtown campus.”

Applying to or entering university can be stressful, which can make students forget the importance of their faith life.

“Although academics are important, your relationship with Christ is most important,” said Pereira. “No matter what trials may come in university, if you make Christ the centre of it all, everything will fall into place as He desires for you.”

(Mastromatteo, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto.) 

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