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Campus Ministry looks to embrace Notre Dame community

| Monday, September 18, 2017

Campus Ministry seeks to nurture the faith development of both Catholic and non-Catholic students in their time at Notre Dame.

“It is our hope that a student does not go through Notre Dame without encountering the work campus ministry,” Campus Ministry communications director, Danielle Collins, said.

Campus Ministry has a hand in nearly every Catholic aspect of Notre Dame: pilgrimages and retreats, masses at both the Basilica and residence hall chapels, sacramental preparation, evangelization,multicultural ministry and outreach, various faith-sharing groups and the Anchor leadership program, Collins said. For Kayla August, the assistant director of evangelization and head of Compass Freshman Fellowship, Campus Ministry provides an opportunity to take part in people’s faith formation at a turning point in their lives.

“College is when people for the first time are taking on their faith journey for themselves,” August said. “No parents are making them go to church, no one’s checking up on them and they’re deciding who God is and how he plays a part in their lives for them and not for someone else. I love that time in life, and I wanted to be there and a part of students as they grow and cultivate that.”

As director of evangelization, August said she works with interfaith and interdenominational organizations in addition to general outreach among Catholic students and accompanying them on their faith journeys. Compass Freshmen Fellowship is one of Campus Ministry’s main initiatives to guide students in their faith formation through small group discussion and reflection, she said.

“They get to talk about God and where he’s moving in their lives in this new environment and new campus, not only where he is now but where they’re going, how he’s playing a role in where they’re developing,” August said.

Compass is one of Campus Ministry’s most popular programs, drawing over 200 students each year, Emily Greentree, a senior interning with Compass, said. Compass’s value comes from the support system it builds for freshmen entering a new, hectic environment, Greentree said.

“It was nice to have a space every week in which I could reflect on where God was in all of it,” Greentree said. “It helped me focus, thinking, ‘what am I really enjoying about Notre Dame, what do I want to be, and what am I just doing because I feel like I have to do it,’ and having God play a part in how I decided to do things freshmen year.”

Christian SantaMaria, assistant director of pilgrimages and retreats, said Campus Ministry’s role in students’ discernment of the role of faith in their lives was a major draw for his choosing to work in college ministry.

“How does that spiritual life form over four years through retreats: what are the questions when you first arrive here, what are the questions in the middle, what are the questions as you’re starting to leave, and how do we address them in places that invite people to authenticity, to being vulnerable, to being courageous, to take some risk, to actually dream big enough not just for our own dreams but big enough so that maybe God’s dreams can be recognized as well?” SantaMaria said.

In addition to the existing freshmen, multicultural, silent and senior retreats, Campus Ministry is adding a retreat for sophomores through seniors in the spring and a “busy student” retreat during Lent. The busy student retreat will provide an opportunity for students who cannot take a full weekend away from campus to get the reflection and self-discovery of a retreat through both private and communal prayer and spiritual direction.

“ … It’s a chance for us to intentionally take a time out to consider what needs to be replenished and to enter back a little more rested and nourished than we were before,” SantaMaria said.

SantaMaria said Campus Ministry runs three pilgrimages each semester, all of which are geared toward undergraduates and take 30 to 50 students. Pilgrimages, SantaMaria said, provide participants with a unique opportunity to encounter God in real life and learn to accept his role however he presents himself.

“That’s what we’re inviting people on pilgrimage to do,” SantaMaria said.

This year, the spring retreats focus on the spirituality of justice and how justice is not just an action but a form of prayer. Students will travel to El Salvador in the footsteps of Fr. Oscar Romero, who was martyred during the civil war there, to Taize, France, where they will learn about the power of prayer and to New Orleans to explore the intersection of race, culture, and Catholicism. These pilgrimages seek to bring students closer to their own spiritual realities, SantaMaria  said.

“In what ways are we challenged to stand up for the poor, in what ways are we reluctant to do so, in what ways does the spirituality of justice invite us to the gritty reality of the world, and how do we avoid that?” SantaMaria said. “All of these answers are often difficult or challenging, yet we open ourselves to receive them and what comes up in us when we ask these questions.

SantaMaria said Campus Ministry serves as a place where students can come to understand their faith and questions about that faith in an environment of love and acceptance.

“My invitation is to the students who have questions,” SantaMaria said. “This isn’t a place where everyone’s faith is figured out. We’re all trying to recognize how love invites us deeper, and we’re all trying to figure out how we say yes. That’s the journey we’re on here: recognizing love’s invitation to be authentic and trying to find ways in our own lives that authentically say yes to that.”

Campus Ministry, August said, is where the Notre Dame family is fully experienced and brought to fruition. She said she witnessed that firsthand when she moved to South Bend from New Orleans in the summer of 2016.

“We talk about Notre Dame hospitality and the Notre Dame family, and I can honestly say, being Campus Ministry here and coming from far away, that those are actualities. They’re not just concepts. I feel that this staff and this community is a family that supports me.”

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