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Archives Campus ministry: More than Mass and pizza

Sept. 4, 2019

With the Bishop’s Fund Appeal now underway, the North Country Catholic will be highlighting some of the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Fund.

Deacon Rich Burns
Coordinator of Campus Ministry

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Campus Ministry?” Many of us of a certain age will recall our ownCampus Ministry fun times in a Newman Club, inevitably involving pizza and prayer. However, Campus Ministry is so much more than that, and it is a ministry as diverse as the Diocese is wide.

The North Country is home to 10 college campuses that welcome students from across the state, across the country, and increasingly, around the world. There are three community colleges, four SUNY campuses, and three private schools. From liberal arts to music and theatre, forestry to technology and engineering, about 23,000 students pursue diverse courses of study in two-year, four-year and graduate programs in our great educational institutions.

There are four Campus Ministers serving in the Diocese: Mary Skillan in Plattsburgh (SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College); Conner Cummings in Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University); Amanda Conklin in Canton (SUNY Canton and St Lawrence University); and Sister Juliana Raymond in Watertown (Jefferson Community College). Their ministry is funded in large part by the annual Bishop’s Fund appeal. The campuses of Paul Smith’s College, North Country Community College, and the NYS Ranger School at Wanakena do not currently have a Campus Minister present.

Campus Ministry is busy throughout the academic year with familiar activities for the students: snacks after Mass, Newman Club dinners that provide home-cooked meals and fellowship, bible study nights, and Eucharistic Adoration. There are hikes, bonfires and barbecues, the required blessing of the brains and bags of goodies for study breaks before finals. Newman Club gives students a chance to socialize in a safe environment and discuss the challenge of living a Catholic faith in a world increasingly hostile to believers.

However, Campus Ministry is not just about activities with the students, otherwise it could be called “Student Ministry!” Our Campus Ministers engage with the entire college community where they serve, providing a distinctly Catholic presence on campus through their “tabling” at information fairs, engagement with the interfaith community on campus and providing invocations and benedictions at major events like commencement. Office hours often provide opportunities to answer questions from non-Catholics about the Church and our faith. Sometimes Campus Ministry is just about providing ad-hoc assistance to a non-traditional student at a community college when no other options are available. Sometimes it’s jumping into action when the tragedy of an untimely death strikes the campus community to provide an organized opportunity to mourn.

Our Campus Ministers are engaged in the dialogue on campus about current social justice issues and providing a Catholic perspective to the conversation. They have worked with other faith groups to organize events to combat racism on campus and welcome international students.

The high points of the year are when college students from across the North Country get together for intercollegiate events. In the fall, students are invited to attend a retreat at Camp Guggenheim, an opportunity for prayer and reflection in the beauty of the Adirondacks. For the past several years, a group of college students from our Diocese has made the long trip to Washington, DC for the annual March for Life to display their support for the unborn. There is also often an event during the spring semester, either a retreat or workshop. Other events are more spontaneous, such as when Canton and Potsdam students connect for Eucharistic Adoration with Praise and Worship music.

Campus Ministry is challenged by today’s culture of relativism, and the increasingly secular environment on campus. Often there is much talk about “inclusion” on campus, but Catholic teaching is viewed with hostility by the administration and other students. Recent scandals in the Church have had an impact on the perceived authority of the Church’s positions on moral questions. An increasing number of today’s young people identify with no organized religion or are professed atheists. Catholic students need to be strengthened in their faith, get solid answers to their questions, and be given the space to discern what God is calling them to do with their lives after college. Catholic Campus Ministry provides the encouragement, the education, and the environment to allow them to grow into great Catholic adults.

Campus Ministry could not exist without generous support from the annual Bishop’s Fund appeal, which provides the funding for the Campus Ministers and much of the programming throughout the year. On behalf of all the Campus Ministers and the students across the Diocese, I’d like to express heartfelt thanks for your prayers and your financial support!

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