An important part of college life – whether the student stays at home or goes off to live in a different city or state – should not only be what classes to take or where to live, but should include where the student will be continuing to practice their Catholic faith.The transition between high school and college is critical when it comes to continuing to practice the Catholic faith. It’s easy to get caught up with all the new and exciting things at college campuses.
As a solution, many colleges and universities around the country have active Catholic Student Centers and with active participation at student centers come more vocation opportunities.
St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University is a great example of how a strong campus ministry can create a successful vocations program.
St. Mary Catholic Center serves Texas A&M University and Blinn College. Marcel LeJeune has been the assistant director of campus ministry there since 2006.
“We’ve built a culture of vocational discernment here,” LeJeune said. “We encourage our students to really go through the process of discerning what God’s call is for each one of them individually. And that they each need to do that to be able to understand it’s not just a decision I make on my own but this is something that God has given to me. It’s a gift.”
Through the years more than 130 who have come through the doors of St. Mary have gone on to vocations in the priesthood. Currently about 50 are in formation.
But it took time to build to this, LeJeune said. About 20 years ago St. Mary was not the thriving campus ministry it is today. Then fulltime staff was hired who were dynamic leaders, money was invested in the programs, and the ministry began to thrive – with the result of increased vocations to the priesthood and lay leaders going into the world “with a Catholic view and understanding of who they are as children of God,” LeJeune said.
Campus ministry is in Lejeune’s blood. Born in Beaumont, LeJeune attended St. Anthony Cathedral School until eighth grade. During this time his father was one of the early directors of campus ministry at Lamar.
LeJeune also worked in campus ministry at Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the program is much smaller.
“We worked with what we had at Texas Tech. First of all you have good strong leaders,” LeJeune said.
“Campus ministry is not just an optional thing in the background, but one of the most important ministries that we have in our church, because this is a time when the students are open to learning about who they are, about what God is calling them to. Open to learning about their faith and growing in prayer,” he said.
It’s the same spirit of leadership and faith that continues to grow the Catholic Student Center at Lamar University.
Father Shane Baxter, director of campus ministry and director of vocations, is excited about what’s going on at the Student Center.
After being in the position for three years he is seeing growth.
“We are building up numbers here at the Student Center. This year we’ve seen about twice as many students in the center and at Mass,” Father Baxter said.
And as the St. Mary Catholic Center has proven, with a good center comes more vocations.
Father Baxter has recruited four seminarians for the fall. When he began as vocations director three years ago there were no seminarians.
“I think if you have a strong campus ministry you’ll get vocations out of it just naturally,” Father Baxter said. “If they’re practicing their faith they’ll be more open to hearing God’s call if they’re being called.”
The jump in attendance at the Center can be attributed to the many activities planned for the students each semester. One of the newest is the RCIA for Catholics, held twice monthly.
“We meet and discuss different subjects in the faith they want to talk about,” Father Baxter said, adding that the program will continue throughout the summer.
An upcoming activity will be the college ACTS retreat in August. Other activities include Holy Hour, service activities and social gatherings such as parties for Christmas, Halloween, Superbowl and of course the welcome back gathering when the semester begins in August.
Even though more activities were scheduled this past year, the students are wanting more – a Bible study is being planned to begin in the fall after students went to Father Baxter and Liz Puglia, campus minister, and asked for it.
With the growth of more students at the center has also brought the need for expansion. As part of the diocese’s “Together for God’s Good Work” Capital Campaign, $1 million is allocated for the student center. Part of those funds will soon be put to use when work begins this summer on a new chapel and remodeling starts on some of the existing center. No major renovation has been made to the center in 30 years.
To learn more about the Capital Campaign and to make a gift, visit http://www.dioceseofbmt.org.