IMPELMAN: Forming disciples on the college campus

November 8, 2022

(CNS photo)

All across the country right now, high school seniors are spending hours filling out college applications. Many of them are answering essay questions about why they want to attend a particular college. Some may be attracted to a university’s academic offerings, while others might think their dream college has a good party scene. Probably very few are writing about the university’s Catholic student center.

College is an important time in a young adult’s life. Those years are pivotal for many people and often shape the rest of their lives. Whether they are considering going somewhere local for college or somewhere across the world, the opportunities available to those young adults to practice their Catholic faith can have a profound impact on their present and future faith lives.

In our Archdiocese, we believe it is important to create environments where Catholic college students can find community, encounter Christ in prayer and the Sacraments, and be formed as disciples of Jesus. We also seek to evangelize the entire academic community at our university campuses and invite others into the joy, fulfillment and truth of living the Gospel.

Many years ago, I attended Rice University as an undergraduate. I was blessed to be served by wonderful Catholic campus ministers who faithfully witnessed the Gospel and provided me with multiple opportunities through which to practice my Catholic faith. They encouraged me to learn how to serve others through peer ministry and service to my community.

In fact, when another student and I suggested a new idea for a small group, they supported us in developing that vision. During my senior year in college, I started Freshman Fellowship, an opportunity for incoming Rice freshmen to gather for faith-sharing and fellowship. I and three other upperclassmen facilitated weekly meetings to encourage Catholic freshmen in their faith as they adjusted to college life.

Recently, I had the opportunity to join the staff at the Rice Catholic Student Center as a new campus minister. Not only was it exciting to become a campus minister at a university I attended myself, but it was also a blessing to learn that Freshman Fellowship continues to be a part of the ministry here.

Year after year, upper-level students have stepped up to lead the small group to help incoming first-year students grow in their faith life. This group is an important resource for Catholic freshmen because many other things compete for a young adult’s attention during their first year in college. Providing a nurturing community of like-minded freshmen helps them stay connected to their Catholic faith and encourages them to become better disciples of Jesus.

No matter your current age or situation, you can play an important role in our ministry to support Catholic college students. First, we ask for your prayers for these young adults during such an important period of their lives. Please pray for them as they transition from high school to college — pray that they can find a Catholic community within their university environment and that they take advantage of the opportunities available to strengthen their faith. We also ask for your prayers for those of us who minister to them.

These young adults are the future of our Catholic Church, and we ask for prayers for wisdom as we seek to evangelize this generation. Second, we ask that you support our efforts by contributing to the 2022 Diocesan Services Fund. This year, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo has chosen to highlight the Archdiocese’s Office of Young Adults and Campus Ministry. Our Catholic Student Center at Rice University, along with other student centers throughout the Archdiocese, is supported by this fund.

Finally, if you happen to be a high school student or the parent of a high school student currently applying to colleges, I encourage you to consider and look into the Catholic resources available at their dream college. Is there a Catholic student center nearby the university? Where are the closest places available for them to attend Mass? Are there Catholic campus ministry services available at that particular university?

College is not only about classes and parties, but it also should be a time when young adults have the resources available to them to live out their Catholic faith and grow in their spiritual lives. These years often not only shape their future careers but also impact their faith lives for years to come. 

Mary Impelman serves as a campus minister at the Rice University Catholic Student Center.