By Eileen Connelly, OSU
Their college years can be both rewarding and challenging for young adults amid studying, work, and social activities as they mature personally and spiritually. Catholic campus ministry is there to offer a sense of community and support along the way in the faith-filled hands of Fr. Jacob Willig at the Catholic Newman Center at Miami University; Father Tim Fahey at Wright State University; and Fathers Ethan Moore and Christopher Komoroski at St. Monica St. George Parish Newman Center, which serves the University of Cincinnati.
Father Willig has been serving as head chaplain at Miami University since last July, and because he’s new to the role, he has been trying to keep things “somewhat simple,” focusing on the sacraments, community, and formation, while actively engaging the students and empowering them to evangelize. A holy hour is held every morning, with Mass and confession every afternoon. Father Willig estimates between 30 to 40 students attend daily Mass, and approximately 160 come to liturgy on the weekend. Sixty or so young people come to the weekly free dinner that is offered. Around 100 students are involved in Bible studies conducted by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) or their peers. More than 30 young men attended a retreat in the fall, and a similar event for women is planned soon. Father Dan Schmitmeyer, Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, gives weekly talks on discernment at all three campuses that are well attended, Fr. Willig said.
“When I arrived here, our student ministry team was already organized, so that was a blessing,” Father Willig said. “There is a lot of fruit here, and I want to invest in that to encourage the students to get more involved as they grow in their faith. We want to make the sacraments and opportunities for formation and evangelization as accessible as possible.”
One example of their evangelization efforts is Night Fever, conducted over several evenings last semester. “There’s a big party culture here and we’re located right down the street from the bars,” Father Willig explained. “So we had students out on the street inviting other students on their way to the bars to come in for adoration, to pray, and light a candle. They were rejected a lot, but they loved hosting it and that kind of evangelization.”
The most rewarding aspect of Father Willig’s ministry is witnessing the impact of campus ministry on students and how they grow in their faith. He recalled one student, a current senior, who hadn’t been confirmed as a teenager and missed several campus meetings saying he just didn’t have time. Father Willig encouraged him, and before long, the young man was inviting his friends to attend Mass and he participated in a mission trip. “Seeing his growth was great,” Father Willig said. “It shows me how the Lord is at work here.”
The Lord is also at work in his ministry, according to Wayne Topp, managing director of Young Adult Evangelization and College Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This was especially evident, said Topp, at the recent SEEK conference, run by FOCUS and held Feb. 4-6 In Nashville. More than 230 students from the Archdiocese attended the three-day event, which included fellowship with their peers, talks, and sessions with dynamic speakers, practical training sessions, and of course, plenty of time with Christ through Mass, adoration, confession, and prayer.
“The goal of the conference is to engage with students who are kind of on the fringe of belief, those who are saying, ‘I’m going to take my first real step of following Jesus as His disciple. I want to live my life for Jesus and want to know more,’” Topp explained.
“The great thing about SEEK is that most of the students were invited by someone at their college, in particular the FOCUS team missionaries who work with them,” he said. “They’ll continue to meet with the students on campus and continue to walk with them as they consider the great thing that Jesus is inviting them to and how they will respond.”
Topp expressed his gratitude for funding from the Catholic Ministries Appeal, which provides support for FOCUS. “I want to give a truly heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of the donors who make it possible for students to be involved in a life of faith on campus,” he said. “We all know that young Catholics are falling away from the church in kind of rapid succession. We can’t allow that to happen. When we talk about faith and renewal of the Catholic Church, the impetus for that will come from our youth and young adults. We need to continue to bring their faith and energy into it.”
Referencing Romans 10:17, Father Willig noted that “faith comes through hearing,” and said, “I’m thankful that I’ve been sent here to be a voice of Good News on campus. The subsidies that we receive from donors help make our faith more accessible and appealing to students. I’m very grateful to the donors that help us carry on the good work of Jesus Christ. I’m humbled by their generosity and their prayers.”