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Keeping the Catholic Faith on a College Campus During a Pandemic

Keeping the Catholic Faith on a College Campus During a Pandemic

Written By: Jo Zink of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish

The statistics are real, and many parents could share the heartbreak they feel over their adult children who have left the Catholic faith. The world in general is hostile to faith, and college campuses across the country are particularly so. That environment combined with these young adults experiencing more choices and freedom than they’ve ever had are a toxic formula to any kind of faith life.

The good news is that not all is lost and our students aren’t destined to lose their faith when they go away to college. As a matter of fact, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA) provides funding for Catholic campus ministry at our major public universities: University of Cincinnati (UC), Miami University, and Wright State University.

Parishioner, Judi Zink has experienced first-hand the rich opportunity and invitation to grow in faith that Catholic campus ministry has to offer as she navigated her freshman year at UC during the pandemic.  Not only was she facing the culture shock of living on campus in downtown Cincinnati, but she also had to navigate the typical first year experiences virtually—classes, clubs, etc.  Judi is an introvert, but even introverts need friends and connection—a challenge for a freshman living on campus in a pandemic.

Catholic Bearcats (UC’s Catholic campus ministry) was the one in-person activity that Judi could look forward to.  “I don’t think I would have made it through the year without it,” she says of the ministry.  It became a place of refuge amid the stresses of school and Covid.  Judi has come a long way from the new, awkward freshman who knew no one last fall to the incoming sophomore with a core group of solid and faithful Catholic friends.

Fr. Ethan More is the chaplain for the Catholic Bearcats and pastor at St. Monica St. George, the Newman center for UC.  Fr. Christopher Komoroski (Fr. “Komo”) assists Fr. Ethan.  They are a good balance to each other.  Fr. Ethan is known for his “antics”, while Fr. Komo has a more stealth, ninja-like approach to ministry.  It also helps that he looks about the same age as the college students he serves.  One of Fr. Ethan’s memorable antics was his staying on the roof during a frigid Giving Tuesday until their fundraising goal was accomplished.  Judi related another time at a Bearcat night when Fr. Ethan and several students sang to “Party in the USA” and, “He hit all the high notes!”  But it was Fr. Komo remembering her name a week after they had met, that sealed the deal.  Judi rarely missed a Bearcat night after that.  Both priests show both the absolute fun and joy as well as the relational and personal aspects students can experience in living their faith.

Every Thursday the students come together for Bearcat Nights which includes Mass at 5:30 followed by fun and fellowship at the Catholic Center.  They are served what Judi describes as a delicious dinner prepared by volunteers followed by games, talks, and social time.  Much of the community building is facilitated by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries and the men and women of St. Paul’s Outreach (SPO).  Of course, Fr. Ethan and Fr. Komo enjoy this time with students as well.  Additional monthly men’s and women’s nights are offered to provide an opportunity for fun, social time and several Bible study groups are available as well.

One of the biggest initiatives FOCUS leads is the SEEK conference—a weekend power-packed retreat with talks led by national speakers. Judi describes this weekend conference as life-changing. “It answered a lot of questions I had and a few I didn’t know I had.”  She also made many memories with her fellow Catholic Bearcats as they maneuvered venues in downtown Cincinnati, shared in small group discussions, and tried to find dining during Covid downtown.

When asked what she is looking forward to in this coming school year, Judi says she’d like to be to some freshmen what the SPO women were for her–a friendly connection in a sea of strangers until they become friends.

For information about local College Campus Ministries, you can check out the following websites:

University of Cincinnati: www.catholicbearcat.com
Miami University: www.stmox.org/campus-ministry
Wright State University: www.raidercatholics.com