By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
John Flynn has a vision for the Catholic student’s life in college. It is a vision formed through his own experience as a Catholic student in college – an experience that has shaped who he is today as a committed Catholic layman.
But Flynn’s Catholic formation in college didn’t happen at Notre Dame or Georgetown or any of the fine Catholic universities in America. John Flynn had his Catholic formation at KU.
Flynn got to know Msgr. Vince Krische while he was a football player at the University of Kansas. “I got to know him real well by standing on the sidelines with him,” Flynn said. Msgr. Krische was the director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at KU, and he used these sideline talks to encourage Flynn’s involvement in his Catholic faith.
Flynn attended Mass at the St. Lawrence Center and when Msgr. Krische learned Flynn was involved in the Knights of Columbus back home in Nebraska, he asked Flynn to “help” start a college council at KU.
“I thought I would help him get it started and be done with it,” Flynn said, “and before I knew it I was the Charter Grand Knight.”
The year Flynn turned 21 he was making plans for a relaxing Spring Break, but Msgr. Krische had other plans. He was taking 15 KU and 15 K State students on a mission trip to Saltillo, Mexico, and he needed a 21-year-old to drive.
“That wasn’t my idea of a Spring Break,” Flynn said, but he eventually let his mom convince him to do it. “She said it was something I should do and that I’d never regret it.”
“It was one the absolute greatest experiences of my life,” Flynn said, “I enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it next year. It was a life-changing experience for me.”
After the second Spring Break trip, Msgr. Krische took Flynn out to dinner and “He popped the question. He said, ‘Have you ever considered being a priest?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve considered it, but I’m not planning on becoming one,’ and he said, ‘Well, we need young dynamic men like yourself in the priesthood.’
“My response was, ‘Father Vince, I think you need young dynamic laymen as well.’”
Four days later Flynn met the woman he’d marry, and three years later Msgr. Krische officiated at their wedding at the St. Lawrence Center.
“Catholic Campus Ministry was integral to my faith formation,” Flynn said, and it’s been a big part of his life since college.
For more than ten years Flynn served as Development Director at the St. Lawrence Center, increasing the Center’s annual giving program from $400,000 a year to $2.2 million and overseeing a $13 million capital campaign.
The St. Lawrence Center today is a model for Catholic Campus Ministry nationwide, and the face of Catholic Campus Ministry at secular universities itself has changed dramatically in the last 25 years, Flynn explained.
“There has been a sea-change in the strength of Catholic Campus ministry,” Flynn said. “There were very few strong programs 25 years ago. Today, there are at least 50 doing good to great.”
But much work remains to be done, Flynn explained. Throughout the United States there are 16 million students at 4,200 colleges. Of those 16 million students, 5.5 million are Catholic and fully 5 million of those Catholic students are going to secular universities.
“So the question we have to ask ourselves as a Church, is ‘What are we doing to prepare the future leaders of the Church and society?’”
The Missing Element
A good ministry program at a secular university involves a continuum, Flynn explained, “Evangelization, catechesis, sacramental life, Catholic Social Teaching and vocation discernment.”
While the St. Lawrence Center at KU, and relatively newer efforts like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary program at UMKC do well to serve this continuum, almost all of them have a missing element.
That missing element was explained to Msgr. Krische and Flynn at a meeting with Jesuit Father John Piderit. Father Piderit is the former president of Loyola University Chicago and currently runs the Catholic Education Institute, which promotes new approaches to the on-going education and formation of Catholics.
“Father Piderit said that the one aspect that we don’t have that John Henry Cardinal Newman talked about is a Catholic residential college . . . so that you can develop a Catholic community,” Flynn explained. Perhaps ironically, a proposed project near UMKC and Rockhurst University may beat KU at fulfilling this missing element.
The Domus Project
In 2004, John Flynn and his friend and colleague Peter de Keratry founded Petrus Development, which works to empower organizations to create and sustain effective fund development programs, with a focus on Catholic ministry in higher education.
Like Flynn, de Keratry had a strong positive experience with Catholic Campus Ministry. He attended Texas A & M which boasts one of the best and the largest Catholic Campus Ministry programs in the country.
In partnership with Entertainment Properties Trust of Kansas City, Flynn and de Keratry created Domus: Communities in Faith in order to fulfill the vision of creating Catholic student housing communities to serve students at secular universities.
Earlier this year, they engaged Brailsford & Dunlavy, a respected program management and facility planning firm with expertise in colleges and student housing, to perform a market and feasibility study for a Catholic student housing community on the property of the former St. Francis Xavier School on Troost Ave. in Kansas City. The study found sufficient demand to move forward with a 370 bed project.
The current proposed project designed by Tri-North Builders of Wisconsin includes 363 beds in 116 apartments of varying size and configuration with 127 parking spaces.
The ground floor of the housing community would include a multi-purpose room for the use of St. Francis Xavier Parish, office space for campus ministers and resident assistants and a chapel. The top four floors of apartments would include six to eight break-out rooms for campus ministry activities.
Cost of the project would be between $19-21 million to be financed entirely by bonds to be paid back with rent revenue.
Based on the feasibility study and other projections, the Diocesan Finance Council and Consultors have agreed to provide the property for the project to go forward. The project still awaits approval of the City Planning Commission which will hold a hearing June 19.
Increasing the fruitfulness of Campus Ministry at UMKC
Sending FOCUS missionaries to UMKC was one of Bishop Finn’s first initiatives as Bishop of Kansas City – St. Joseph according to Greg Doring, Great Plains Regional Director for FOCUS. Of the 15,000 students at UMKC, about 3-4 thousand are Catholic. Before FOCUS arrived in 2006 there had been no Catholic Campus ministry for several years, Doring said.
FOCUS was founded by Curtis Martin and his wife Michaelann in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. Responding to Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new evangelization,” FOCUS “meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.”
Their model has proven a tremendous success. While FOCUS started with four missionaries to one campus 12 years ago, this Fall they will be sending 350 trained missionaries to 75 campuses across the country.
FOCUS missionaries work in teams of four and engage in what Doring calls “bare-handed evangelization.” The missionaries go on campus and “start conversations with random students and see what the Holy Spirit does.”
Missionaries might get conversations going with a provocative question that gets students to talk about faith, such as, “Why is Tim Tebow so polarizing?” or, “Why is it so hard to live your Christian faith on a college campus?”
“Our approach is not high-pressure, but it’s definitely proactive,” Doring said.
If there is interest, the conversation might be followed up with an invitation to an event or a Bible study. FOCUS missionaries hold sixteen Bible studies a week for UMKC students, along with some students from Rockhurst, and about four to ten attend each.
The typical FOCUS missionary has just graduated college Most have participated in FOCUS themselves at college and are ready to make a two-year commitment as a missionary, Doring explained.
Missionaries undergo an intensive five-week training program at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. “Coincidently,” Doring said, “one reason we’re at U of I is because they have a fantastic Catholic housing community.”
Being a missionary is about discipleship, Doring said. “We disciple the students. A missionary is like a spiritual big brother/sister,” he said. “We challenge them to lead a fuller Christian life.”
“We are a multi-generational ministry,” Doring said. A student who is discipled by a ministry then may in turn become the student leader of a bible study and disciple their peers.
Beyond the number of students who participate and are formed through FOCUS programs, their success can also be seen in vocations to religious life. This year alone, a graduating UMKC male student is going to discern with the Dominicans in St. Louis; a Sophomore KC Art Institute woman who participates in FOCUS activities is entering the Servidoras religious order in Washington, D.C; and, a UMKC graduating Senior will be studying for the priesthood of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
FOCUS analyses factors that have an effect on the fruitfulness of their program and have identified two hindrances at UMKC. First, UMKC is very much a commuter campus, and “the more residential, the more access and success missionaries have,” Doring said.
Secondly, FOCUS missionaries don’t have access to a physical facility at or near UMKC. There is no Newman Center and the missionaries frequently have to hold meetings at their apartment further away on Meyer Blvd.
The Domus project, Doring said, “In one move, fixes both of those issues. We’ll have a place to congregate and to build real community. It will be a real game-changer for FOCUS and for Catholic Campus Ministry in Kansas City.”