By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Erica attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. She attended Mass with her family, rarely missing a Sunday. Now she is headed to the University of Missouri-Columbia, her first time really away from home and parents.
Steven, a high school classmate of Erica’s, has enrolled at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph. He is looking forward to lazy weekends of study and partying with his friends.
Erica and Steven are like more than 1 million Catholic freshmen entering non-Catholic public and private universities every year. The question is, will their faith deepen as the years pass, or will they become part of the 85 percent of practicing Catholics who become fallen away by their senior year?
Not if the Serra Clubs can help.
The U.S. Council of Serra International offers a program to help Catholic students deepen their faith. The College Connection for Catholics was piloted in 2007 in 10 dioceses across the country, beginning in Lima, OH. The program connects incoming freshmen and transfer students with a local Catholic presence on and off campus.
Gary Davis, a past president of Serra USA, and the late Serra chairman, Dick Stolly, worked with Serra USA’s vocation committee to develop the program in 1999. A study on campus ministry, compiled for the USCCB by the Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in 2003, concluded that if active participation in Catholic campus ministry increased by 10 percent among the more than 5 million Catholic college students across the country, it would add approximately 500,000 practicing Catholics to dioceses nationwide, and increase future parish leadership and vocations.
Another CARA study concluded that young Catholics who practiced their faith in college attended Mass more frequently, became leaders in their parishes and were more likely to consider a religious vocation. It has also been found that college freshmen are likely to make their “best” friends during their first few weeks on campus, as well as join the organizations they will belong to during their college years.
More than 1.2 million Catholic students enter college each year. Ninety percent of them attend a secular campus where it is difficult for Catholic ministries to reach them without knowing who they are. Members of Serra Clubs coordinate with their local Catholic high schools and parishes to obtain the names of graduating seniors and provide them with information about the Catholic presence at their college of choice. The clubs also provide Catholic campus ministry officials with these students’ names and information, so they can invite them to Catholic events and liturgies.
In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the College Connections for Catholics team met with the Catholic Schools Superintendent, Dr. Dan Peters, and Jon Schaffhausen, Diocesan Director of Youth Ministry, for approval to expand from two Catholic High Schools and one parish served in 2010 to all Diocesan High Schools and parishes through youth ministers in 2011. Homer Radford coordinates the committee.
Radford said the program is now active in all four Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan high schools as well as Rockhurst High School. Radford said O’Hara Campus Ministry Director Mary Pat Storms and St. Pius X principal Joe Monachino were instrumental in the development of the program at their high schools.
The Serra Clubs were able to obtain grants to further develop and fund the College Connections for Catholics program, and, in 2010, obtained a grant for $7,300 from Our Sunday Visitor to launch a new website. The website, www.collegeconnectionsforcatholics.org, has received positive responses from students, campus ministers, and diocesan officials for its effectiveness in reaching this age group. More than 1,100 colleges and universities participate in the program.
“We reached 11,000 students in the U.S. last year,” Radford said. “It’s just a toe in the water, but it is a toe in the water.”
He added that the Serra Clubs had learned that it is important to reach students early, in the first few weeks of college, or they may lose them.
Currently, Mark LeCluyse, president of the Southeast Kansas City Serra Club, directs the College Connection program at Archbishop O’Hara. John Lusero of St. Therese north Parish, is in charge of Bishop LeBlond and St. Pius X. Larry Freeman coordinates the Rockhurst High School CCC program, and Rob Stark coordinates the program at St. Mary’s.
The College Connection for Catholics has generated positive responses from students, campus ministers and diocesan officials for its effectiveness in reaching this critical age group that is most likely to leave the faith. Over 10,000 Catholic High School graduates received information packets on Campus Ministry or a parish in the city where they plan to attend college where they can continue to grow in their faith.
Radford said that in the end, the program’s goal is to help Catholic college students deepen their faith, which may result in them making better choices in spouses and be open to God’s call for what He wants them to do with their lives.
Students interested in receiving information regarding Campus Ministry or parishes near the college they plan to attend must log onto college connections for Catholics interactive web page before July 10 for their names to be entered into the mailing lists. For more information, visit www.collegeconnectionsforcatholics.org or contact Homer Radford (816) 560-2992.