Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
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campus-ministers 8578Campus ministers gather at the University of St. Joseph (USJ), West Hartford, after a Mass there April 10. From left: Sarah Gedicks, Dr. Ezequiel Menéndez and Sister of Notre Dame Kathleen Dorney, all USJ campus ministers; Servite Father Joseph Cheah, USJ campus chaplain; Deacon Terry Moran, SCSU campus chaplain; Amelia Lynch, USJ student; Father Robert Beloin, Yale University chaplain; Sandi Smith, U. Hartford campus minister; Father Michael Dolan, chaplain at Trinity College and U. Hartford, coordinator of campus ministry; Dan Mathews, campus minister of Waterbury Cluster at UCONN, NVCC and Post University; Dominican Sister Helen Kieran, campus minister at Albertus Magnus College; John Campbell, campus minister at CCSU and Trinity; and Jim Furlong, SCSU campus minister. (Photo by Jack Sheedy)

Presence. "For over a century," the National Council of Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter "Empowered by the Spirit" opens, "the Catholic campus ministry in our country, empowered by the Spirit, has been forming communities of faith which witness to the presence of the risen Christ."

The priest chaplains, lay ministers, faculty advisors and student members convince by their presence and their actions, explains John Campbell, "that God is in the equation, that God is an option and that we are who we are because of our faith in God."

Mr. Campbell serves as lay chaplain at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. He works as part of a network of college ministries coordinated by Father Michael Dolan as its director. In the Archdiocese of Hartford, 13 colleges have officially recognized campus ministries. Their missions are similar, but the nature of each campus makes each ministry unique.

Private or public college, resident or commuter campus, two-year or four-year institution – each of these factors shapes the work of the minister. Schedules change, students transfer or drop out, but most eventually graduate. These are all factors, emphasize the various ministers, that offer both challenges and opportunities.

Father Dolan considers the students’ lack of a developed interior life as the greatest challenge: they "may be smart but they lack skills for reflection because there is always something new to stimulate them or distract them from the deeper questions."

How do these ministries try to engage students in such questions? What works? "Empowered by the Spirit" describes six aspects of campus programs: Forming of the Faith Community, Appropriating the Faith, Forming the Christian Conscience, Educating for Justice, Facilitating Personal Development and Developing Leaders for the Future.

Sandi Smith, lay minister at the University of Hartford, says she found great success by offering small faith groups under a program called "Come as You Are." Retreats are organized by other campus ministers. There are also Bible studies, Scripture teas, guest speakers, film screenings and community service programs.

Perhaps most important are simple opportunities to talk. Mr. Campbell explains, "I need to be where the students are, show them that I am there for them, that they can trust me. One of the most effective things I do is set up a table in the student center lobby at CCSU twice a week from 11-1."

Ms. Smith says she has an "open door policy."

Dan Mathews, lay minister at Naugatuck Valley Community College and Post University, often finds himself engaged in a night-time conversation just when he thought his day was over.

Regardless of the activity, food doesn’t hurt, they say. Ms. Smith brought a light dinner for those who attended the first Mass celebrated when she began as lay minister at the University of Hartford, and three years later finds herself preparing and transporting dinner for up to 30 students each week.

The Sunday Masses are important on each campus, and often they attract a set of students different from those who attend a weekday Mass or a planned activity. Regardless of the activity, Mr. Mathews explains, every event must be Eucharist-centered.

One of Mr. Mathews’s students once described eucharistic adoration as "chemotherapy for the soul." And these chaplains are also ministering to souls. Within the institution, students often face a moral relativism, and outside it, a pervasive secularism. And yet, they are seeking meaning, as are many college students. In 2010, the Higher Education Research Institute released a seven-year national longitudinal study of college students’ spirituality that confirmed that spirituality – a concern with life’s big questions, a search for a sense of calm, an "ethic of caring," "charitable involvement" and an "ecumenical worldview" – increases during college, even if involvement in traditional religious practices declines for some students.

This is a time in young people’s lives when they ask the big questions about the world and their role in it.

Mr. Campbell points out, "Some talk about marriage or not wanting to get married and have kids. Some talk about careers or travel or more school. I try to help kids look at these choices through a faith lens, what is God calling you to do or be?"

Some do consider the priesthood or religious life. Father Dolan, who also is the archdiocese’s director of vocations, can guide them in exploring such a calling.

But he adds, "So few go the route of the seminary or religious life, so I look at it as I am always helping people discern their baptismal call."

Beyond college, he says, he wants them to continue to grow in their faith and to be engaged in the Church, especially to be active parishioners.

The lay chaplains praise Father Dolan for establishing a program that allows them to share ideas and resources.

He also brings his witness to the campuses he visits. Mr. Mathews explains the power of the collar, which calls students and faculty "to ponder the transcendent."

Father Dolan explains it this way: it is easy to "hate an abstract idea" but harder to hate a person. Again, the essence of what he brings and what those involved in campus ministries bring is "presence." It is what "Empowered by the Spirit" calls "a searching, believing, loving, worshiping Catholic presence on campus."

Father Dolan believes that "Catholicism works very well on campus because it combines intellect and faith." Mr. Mathews points out the continuous need to "integrate spirituality into the academic life of the campus."

James M. Gentile is a professor of English at Manchester Community College, where he is the advisor to the Newman Society.


alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.