Support of Catholic Ministries Drive Keeps College Students Connected to Faith and Fellow Catholics

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By Tony DeGol
Proclaim!

Maggie Taylor hopes to make her mark on the world working at the State Department some day or maybe even spending time abroad engaged in U.S.-foreign relations.

Right now, though, she is passionate about building relationships with her fellow Catholics on the campus of Juniata College in Huntingdon, and, just as importantly, at nearby Most Holy Trinity Parish in Huntingdon.

When Taylor arrived at Juniata College last academic year, she knew being part of Catholic Campus Ministry would be key to helping her stay on fire with her faith such a long way from home and family in Minnesota.

“It was huge,” she admitted. “I wanted to introduce myself and get to know them right away. It was really nice to be able to have that connection.”

As her sophomore year winds down, it is a connection that has not disappointed.

“It really provides a safety net,” assured Taylor, who is studying International Studies and Spanish. “When I go to Mass, I feel that they want you to be there, and they’re excited to see you.”

Besides the weekly celebration of Mass, Catholic Campus Ministry at Juniata College – and other local non-Catholic universities including the University Park and Altoona campuses of Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and Lock Haven University – offers a variety of opportunities for Catholic students to engage in faith, fellowship, and service. As Catholic institutions, Saint Francis University in Loretto and Mount Aloysius College in Cresson feature vibrant campus ministry programs, as well.

Catholic Campus Ministry is one of 14 Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown ministries that are sustained through support of the annual Catholic Ministries Drive.

The 2021 campaign began earlier this month, and this year’s theme, Be a Disciple of Hope, is generating a lot of enthusiasm at parishes throughout the diocese.

In this time of pandemic and other challenges, the faithful recognize that hope is needed more than ever. Support of vital ministries through the CMD is one way to provide hope to many.

This year’s goal is $2,247,794, and every dollar raised keeps alive ministries including

Family Life, Vocations, Sacramental Preparation, Christian Initiation, Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and, as noted earlier, Campus Ministry.

Father Mark Reid, Administrator of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Huntingdon, is the Sacramental Minister for Juniata College. He believes Catholic Campus Ministry is vital in the life of college students as they face societal pressures and tough personal choices that did not exist in the past.

“To have a Catholic presence on campus is even more important now as they’re making those life decisions,” he emphasized. “I think it is very important to have that presence for them. To have a representation of God they can come to when they’re discerning these life-changing paths is vitally important.”

Ministering to college students is a personal joy for Father Reid.

“It keeps me young,” he insisted. “You get a different perspective. It challenges me to think outside of the box. A lot of times I tweak the homily I gave at my parish for the students to make sure my examples resonate with them.”

Lisa Baer feels a similar sense of satisfaction. She is in her 16th year as a campus minister at Juniata College employed by the diocese.

“Students push me to grow in my own faith,” she noted.

Baer works with students in organizing spiritual events such as praying the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, regular council meetings, and annual service projects.

“I think Catholic Campus Ministry is important to allow students to be open to explore their faith in a way they haven’t been able to do in the past,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to ask questions, to make mistakes, and to allow them to go back and say ‘I need help,’ and you can point them in the right direction. We need to be open to them and say it’s okay to make mistakes and help them.”

Taylor appreciates the support of Father Reid and Baer, and she especially cherishes opportunities to connect with the Catholic community in Huntingdon through Most Holy Trinity Parish.  In fact, she looks forward to once again volunteering at the church’s Lenten fish fry dinners.

Another goal is to continue to grow the Catholic camaraderie at Juniata.

“I want to continue encouraging people on campus to explore their faith and bring people into the Church,” Taylor added. “Everyone just needs an invitation to come to Mass.”

[Photo: Campus Ministry at Juniata College in Huntingdon (First row, left to right) Mary Oster, Aly Reardon, Ben Cunningham, McKenna Walker, Maggie Taylor, Abby Luensmann and Sarah Fader. Second row: Michael Delosh, Ryan Hughes, Isaiah Kupchinsky, Nate DaCanal, Andrew Bithell and Christian Pskowski. Third row: Lisa Baer and Father Mark Reid.]