By Donna Poston Williams
College is an amazing time of change for many young people as they discover new freedoms, explore new ideas and seek the guidance of their peers. Unfortunately, the results are not always positive.
“Close to 70 percent of students abandon their faith during their college years,” said Kayla DiNardo, development director at the H.L. Grant Catholic Student Center at Texas State University in San Marcos. “Campus life offers plenty of distractions and … destructive behaviors. It’s important that the Catholic Church step in and point them in the right direction.”
That’s exactly the mission of the St. Paul’s School of the New Evangelization. Located in St. Paul, Minn., the school attracts college students from all over the country and teaches them how to win back fellow Catholics who have strayed from the fold. The curriculum involves 10 days of training, prayer and fellowship designed to bring about a life-changing experience. More than 100 college students attended last summer and headed for their campuses this fall, ready to spread the good news of the Gospel. Several students from the H.L. Grant Center attended the course last summer and “we’re already seeing a difference,” DiNardo said.
Texas State University has nearly 30,000 students making it the fifth largest university in the state and the 25th largest in the nation. Approximately 8,000 students are Catholic, according to DiNardo. “It’s vital that we reach more of these young people than we currently are.”
At the beginning of the fall semester, about 300 students were attending Sunday Masses, DiNardo said. “We felt these numbers were just too low. To fulfill our mission, we knew we had to attract more young Catholics into our ministry.”
“The goal of our campus ministry is simple,” she said. “It is to encourage as many young people as possible to live authentic Catholic lives, so that they will grow into strong moral adults, husbands and wives, priests and religious sisters.”
Responding to a challenge by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic ministries are striving to “influence the world through a ‘New Evangelization’ of the Catholic faith.” DiNardo sees this edict as particularly pertinent to college campus ministries, “where young people are making choices about how to live the rest of their lives,” she said.
Catholics are not typically evangelical and are often times unfamiliar and even uncomfortable with the idea. But DiNardo describes this program as different from the traditional evangelists that go out and proclaim the Gospel to non-Christians in an effort to convert them.
“This ‘New Evangelization’ movement is aimed at current Catholics, who may be taking a break from religion,” she said.
Colleen DeAndre, one of the Texas State students who attended the St. Paul’s School of New Evangelization last summer, said the goal is to encourage Catholic students to come back to the church, to get involved and to be a part of our community again.
“We’ve been trained to win over our peers through genuine friendships, to build up their knowledge of the Catholic faith and send them out to connect with other students on campus,” she said.
DeAndre said college students are often persuaded by the example of their peers.
“When you witness a friend living an authentic Catholic life, the impact is so real,” she said. “It is much more effective than just talking about God’s vision for their life. It’s crucial that we live out our faith, if we want to influence others to do the same.”
The results have been encouraging. DiNardo said weekly Mass attendance is up to around 500 students each week. “We’ve actually had to add another Mass on Sunday and now we have more students helping with the liturgy. We’re seeing better attendance for our other activities also,” she said. “We’ve been able to revive our ‘Respect Life’ organization and added Pope John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’ weekly workshops, with as many as 30 students showing up each week.”
The cost of sending one student to St. Paul’s is $1,000, so the center is looking for the funding to send more students each year.
“It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every cent. We are serious about spreading the culture. We have thousands of Catholic students on our campus who have never set foot in our center. It is our job to bring them back to their faith, and help form them into future Catholic leaders, for our parishes and our society, in teaching and in business and in every other walk of life.”
For more information about the Catholic Student Center at Texas State University, visit www.txstatecatholic.org or call (512) 392-5925.