Erica Rodrigues is the new director of chaplaincy at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus in the city’s east end. Photo by Michael Chen

Chaplaincy seed planted at U of T’s Scarborough campus

By 
  • January 23, 2015

TORONTO - A Catholic chaplaincy has begun at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, the last of the university’s three campuses to receive its own permanent Catholic chaplaincy.

The St. George and Mississauga campuses already have Catholic student clubs supported by chaplaincy teams. U of T’s St. George downtown campus, opened in 1827, has had its own chaplaincy, run out of the Newman Centre, since 1922. U of T’s Mississauga site, opened in 1967, has had its own chaplaincy, run out of nearby St. Joseph’s parish, since 2008.

Chaplaincy programs will take place on the Scarborough campus (UTSC), but the chaplaincy office will be based out of St. Barnabas Church nearby.

“We hope that this club will be something that is life-giving and a positive influence during their (students’) time at UTSC and on their lives,” said Erica Rodrigues, the campus’s first director of chaplaincy.

Rodrigues is a former student at UTSC, where she studied English and philosophy, and is now looking forward to supporting the Catholic students on campus. Her job officially started on Jan. 12, but she’s been meeting and planning with student executives since the week before.

“We talked about networking with other Toronto chaplaincies to set up things like regular programming, catechesis, social events, access to the sacraments, correlation with nearby parishes and community building,” she said.

Rodrigues says her long-term goal is to create a dynamic and life-giving Catholic community. She wants the chaplaincy to be “a literal faith home for students on campus where they have an environment where they feel comfortable growing in their relationship with Christ,” she said.

She will be working alongside Fr. Hansoo Park, the pastor at St. Barnabas.

Rodrigues will be available to support the students on behalf of the archdiocese while Park will assume a “priestly presence” and give sacraments.

“It is complimentary that Erica and I work for the students to grow as needed,” Park said. “You’ve got to have someone to give answers in the presence of a chaplain in a secular university.”

The timing for the new chaplaincy, Rodrigues explains, comes with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“I feel like when the archdiocese took notice of a seed that was showing good prospects, that was what gave them the impetus to want to support this group and give them whatever staff, resources and means necessary to make it into a chaplaincy,” she said.

Park said there were discussions to start a chaplaincy at UTSC a number of years ago when he was still the archdiocese’s vocations director.

“Once a month for Mass wasn’t enough for transient students. We needed some stability,” he said. “It’s very important to give that consistent presence to students who are desperately seeking answers.”

Park is confident in Rodrigues as a director of chaplaincy.

“She understands students very well,” he said. “And what kind of supports they are getting and what supports they might not be getting. She is fired up for faith, and she wants to go deeper and wants to do more.”

Park said Rodrigues started a Catholic club at UTSC during her undergraduate years and expects the chaplaincy to be strong because Rodrigues came from a place “where there was no support and she felt the need to have something.”

While Rodrigues is taking on a new role supporting students, she’s also finishing her master’s degree in divinity at Regis College on the St. George campus. But her school work is not impeding her new job.

“It’s a job that’s very mobile and it involves you to be around, just be where the students need you,” she said. “I can move my laptop to campus and work.”

Rodrigues foresees engaging a 21st-century audience on faith won’t be easy.

Facing “the skepticism towards religion that might exist in some searching young adults,” and finding ways for “motivating people, getting them excited about the faith, getting them to see holiness as a concrete way of life are ongoing challenges,” she said.

She notes that another obstacle is the chaplaincy’s infancy.

“We’re deciding what programming we want, our constitution, deciding which things we want to borrow or keep from other chaplaincies,” she said. “It’s also a matter of us allowing ourselves to be led by whatever God wants for this particular seed, this startup endeavour.”

But Rodrigues also sees the positive side.

“It’s something exciting for the students, for the diocese and exciting just to see what we can do to revitalize that Catholic community in Scarborough.”

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