By Tony DeGol
When Rachel Hall arrived at Saint Francis University, she did not really engage in the campus ministry scene. As time passed, classes became increasingly challenging, and her stress level increased.
“I had no one to talk to or go to for help or to pray with,” recalled Hall, a graduate of Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown and parishioner at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown.
That is when she gave Campus Ministry a shot.
“I feel it has taken over my life,” admitted the sophomore. “My advice to my peers would be to definitely get involved on campus with your faith because it will help you through everything. It has helped me through all of my schooling so far. I feel that all my successes are because I pray and ask Jesus to help me and ask God to help me to get through this week, this exam, things like that.”
As a bonus, Hall has made great friends and found a supportive community.
Countless other Catholic students at colleges and universities throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown have enjoyed similar experiences through their involvement in campus ministry.
That success was celebrated during the annual commissioning of campus ministers by Bishop Mark L. Bartchak during a Mass on September 18 at Saint Francis University’s Immaculate Conception Chapel.
“The persons that you interact with in Catholic Campus Ministry are not only looking to get a college diploma, they are searching for the Truth,” reminded the Bishop in his homily. “The Truth is a real person. The Truth is the person of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Mark urged the ministers to ask God to help them truly listen to the questions of students who will seek their guidance.
“Be prepared to assist them in their search by constantly seeking God’s love and wisdom at every moment,” he continued. “Encourage each other not to avoid learning and growing in your awareness and understanding of the Word of God who became flesh in order to reveal the mystery of God’s kingdom. Stay close to the Lord Jesus who comes so close to us at this altar.”
The diocese sponsors campus ministry programs at the non-Catholic schools in the eight-county region: Juniata College, Lock Haven University, Penn State Altoona, Penn State University, and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Mount Aloysius College and Saint Francis University also offer campus ministry opportunities.
Most campus ministry teams include a priest who celebrates Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation on campus, an adult ministry leader, and volunteer student leaders.
Throughout the academic year, each program offers various faith enrichment opportunities for the students, in addition to Mass.
Besides keeping students rooted in their Catholic faith, Monsignor Michael Becker, Diocesan Coordinator of Campus Ministry, explained another benefit of campus ministry.
“It gives some students the opportunity to minister to other students,” he noted. “Peer to peer ministry is an important dimension of campus ministry. It’s not just the campus minister or the priest. It is students ministering to students in helping them stay strong in their faith.”
Hannah Labar is the President of Catholic campus ministry at UPJ.
Campus Ministry is a great way to make friends and begin a good path, she said.
“Even if you’re not looking right away to establish a relationship with Jesus, you can meet people that have similar stories and backgrounds, and they can help you reach that relationship with Jesus, they can help bring you to Mass or bring you to all of our events,” Labar mentioned.
For Corrin Dagostin, campus ministry is a place for her to be herself.
“I don’t have to pretend and put up a façade around other people, and I can express my faith the way I have been raised to do so,” the Mount Aloysius student said. “It’s just an extremely nice feeling that I get to know that my faith is also being expressed with other people throughout the college and community.”
[Photo: Bishop Mark L. Bartchak commissioned those engaged in campus ministry at colleges and universities throughout the diocese during a Mass at Saint Francis University. Pictured (first row, left to right): Rachel Hall, Saint Francis University; LaDonna McCrary, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; Hannah Labar, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; Corrin Dagostin, Mount Aloysius College; Becca Labar, Mount Aloysius College, Amy Kanich, Mount Aloysius College, and Lisa Baer, Juniata College. Second row: Reverend David Griffin, OSB, Penn State University; Lisa Georgiana, Saint Francis University; Kevin Hoppel, Saint Francis University; Patrick Sprigler, Saint Francis University; Monsignor Michael Becker, Diocesan Coordinator of Campus Ministry; and Father Peter Lyons, TOR, Saint Francis University. Third row: Reverend Kevin Queally, TOR, Saint Francis University; Reverend Christopher Dobson, TOR, Saint Francis University; Reverend James Puglis, TOR, Saint Francis University; Bishop Mark; Reverend Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, President of Saint Francis University; Father Jason Wooleyhan, TOR, Saint Francis University; and Brother Matthew Simons, TOR, Saint Francis University.]