Molly Tiemeyer embraces Lent on the Lindenwood University campus in St. Charles because the Catholic Student Center there helps students build up their faith, share it more and encounter Christ on a daily basis.
Lent inspires her and other students to strive to be better Catholics, Tiemeyer said. When a student gives up things for Lent or doesn’t eat meat, for example, others on campus ask why and often are inspired. She’s seen some continue to ask questions about the faith and eventually take part in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. “It’s just from watching what our students are doing and why we’re so close to Christ,” the senior business major from Houston said.
The center “is a good place to be,” she said, “everyone does a good job of encountering people where they’re at and leading by example.”
Students on college campuses across the archdiocese are contending with isolation as a result of restrictions of on-campus activities due to COVID-19. But there’s relief — Catholic campus ministries in the archdiocese are helping students lean on their faith and a Catholic community to ensure they not alone, especially during Lent.
At the Catholic Student Center at Lindenwood, Thomas Berra puts the task into simple terms: “We try to bring them into a community of loving followers of Christ.”
Masses are not being celebrated in the campus chapel due to the pandemic. Students are attending Mass at St. Peter Church in St. Charles. Events such as faith nights are being held at the student center and virtually.
A campus family
Lenten activities on the Maryville University campus in Chesterfield have helped senior physical therapy student Hannah Pike grow in her faith.
Besides weekly events offered at the Newman Center in the past, students who’ve met there have attended fish fries at nearby parishes, an adoration service at Incarnate Word Church and other events to experience Lent together. “It’s a nice feeling to have a faith community,” Pike said. “It provided a campus family to go out into the community and attend some Catholic events.”
This year, Pike attended a virtual pre-Lent retreat with a talk by Father Noah Waldman, Newman Center chaplain, and a presentation from the archdiocese’s Office of Natural Family Planning, “The Beauty of Eve,” for college-age women.
“We’ve had to do everything online” due to COVID-19 precautions, Pike said. Students view Mass livestreamed from Father Waldman’s parish, St. Martin of Tours in Lemay.
“He’s doing a really good job and working real hard trying to keep involvement in the Newman Center and Catholics on campus,” Pike said.
Maryville is a small campus with many commuters, but in the past three years, Father Waldman has built a solid Newman community with visits to campus about four days a week for events and Mass. “He got me introduced to going to daily Mass, which is really cool,” Pike said. “He does a Bible study and coffee breaks with Father — he’ll talk about being Catholic, catching up with the members of the Newman Center, just building a Catholic community on campus. It’s done online now.”
Pike, who attends Sacred Heart Parish in Effingham, Illinois, has found a lot of Catholics on campus. On Ash Wednesday in the past “it’s not uncommon to see people with ashes on their forehead,” Pike observed. “Father offers an Ash Wednesday service, and a lot of people get them there.”
Another physical therapy student at Maryville, Bruce Ha from St. Mary Parish in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, said Ash Wednesday provides unity on campus among Catholic students.
“Especially in this pandemic, faith is being challenged a lot,” he said. “You don’t get as much community. But with what Father Noah is trying to do, it’s really helping.”
This year, the Newman Center is making available Alleluia boxes of goodies, sacramentals and prayer cards as an Alleluia to celebrate the Easter season as a way of enhancing any student’s spiritual lives.
Lots of support
Gabriela Keator, a senior at Saint Louis University serving an internship in the campus ministry
, said “I love being on a Jesuit, Catholic campus during Lent because there’s this sense of support from staff,
faculty and peers. It’s not uncommon to hear the question, ‘What are you doing for Lent this year?’ So we’re really able to lean into that community.”
During Lent, the campus ministry installs a version of the Stations of the Cross written by students that tie into social justice issues — death penalty, abortion, immigration and labor rights, for example. Last year, students rewrote the reflections in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other human suffering to pray remotely, and a similar tie-in will be done this year as well.
“It’s not unusual for students to pray there in small groups,” Keator said.
Masses at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church are often packed with young people during Lent, she added, though that’s different this year because of social distancing required due to COVID-19. Doing things virtually provides the same passion but the context is a different yet well-functioning alternative, she acknowledged.
The campus ministry’s Journey small-group and faith-sharing program also created and distributed a devotional written by members of the SLU community reflecting on readings for the day and the theme of “How Am I Following Jesus Into the Desert During This Lenten Season.”
It’s a student-run project “and gives back to the community that has given us so much,” said Keator, a Massachusetts native and sociology major.
Campus ministry also is hosting one or two days of reflection during Lent for students gathering as a group in a socially distanced manner to engage in communal prayer and faith sharing. Social media images will be distributed based on a theme of “Fast From/Feast On” such as fast from gossip/feast on community.
God is among us
At the Catholic Student Center at Washington University, “We seize upon Lent to give a lot of options for our students, knowing that it’s a time when they too are looking to do a little bit more with their spiritual life,” said Troy Woytek, director of ministry.
The Catholic Student Center is offering a series with a social justice theme and another that is a study of Catholicism and Lenten reflections written by students. Students have input in picking the topics of
the series. In-person events follow the university’s guidelines because of COVID-19 restrictions. “Everybody knows right now how important community and gathering is because we’ve lost that to some degree,” he said.
The center’s approach to the pandemic is “what does this make possible,” ways to point out that God is among us rather than on what’s been taken away.
Mass attendance typically increases in Lent as students desire to connect more with their faith. Ash Wednesday in some ways is “like a coming-out party,” Woytek said, with so many students showing up for Mass. That, abstaining from meat, giving up something or adding something during Lent leads to conversations about personal spiritual practices in particular and Catholicism in general that otherwise wouldn’t have the rest of the year.
The university administration is supportive of people’s religious affiliation, but the culture may keep religion at bay because of the fear of offending someone or because academics is sometimes hostile to religion. “Oftentimes our students find it really difficult to be known as a Catholic,” Woytek said. “For some, to reveal that is a tough thing to do because of the worry of being judged. On Ash Wednesday though, all these Catholics suddenly are walking around with ashes on their head and it’s a very visible sign that ‘This is my faith.’”
A campus ministry program also serves students at Fontbonne University, and Newman Centers are at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and at several community colleges. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides support to the centers on nonCatholic college campuses.
>> Into the Desert
Students at Saint Louis University’s campus ministry are writing Lenten reflections for distribution on campus. A constant theme is “Being People for and with Others.” The reflections contain that sentiment as stated by Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle, “that we are all intricately woven together and we are called to reach out to those on the margins til the margins cease to exist. We’re called to use our privilege to dismantle systems of oppression,” said campus ministry intern Gabriela Keator.
It’s a theme across the board, “seeing that our campus is so committed to justice, recognizing that faith and justice are inherently intertwined. You can tell that this community takes its oath to be a Jesuit, Catholic campus seriously,” Keator said.
A passage from Luke 5 is being used in the Lenten day of reflection, when Jesus invites the Levites, the Pharisees and tax collectors to the banquet table, looking at how He is welcoming marginalized people and how we can welcome people. SLU’s campus minister Susanne Chawszczewski said “Lent this year in particular is a way to bring our entire community together, Catholic and nonCatholic as we go back to what we have sacrificed as a SLU community. Our motto this year is ‘One SLU.’ In the context of how we’re supporting each other, making room for the other and fasting from racism and ageism and all the different social problems upon us, we’re feasting on the thought of bringing all of us together at the table as a community. That has a meaning in Lent, taking those sacrifices as a community together and moving forward as we await in the hope of the Resurrection at the end of Lent.”