Jill Tabit

At school, I peek into the room with all the chatter. Grouped at round, small tables kids eagerly play with brightly colored tinker toy construction sets. Some of them have looks of serious concentration on their faces, others giggle and play with their new creations. This isn't Kindergarten - it's the Campus Ministry Leadership Institute, or CMLI, and the “kids” are college-age students. A facilitator at the front of the room is conducting a creative exercise in teamwork and what I call "curve ball dynamics.”

A group of students work on their team exercise.
A group of students work on their team exercise.

Twenty-five teams of college students from around the country gathered here at the University of San Diego to participate in this four-day workshop to collaborate and hone their skills in all things campus ministry. Catholic Extension supports this event under their Strategic Initiative umbrella. Partnering with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Extension proactively builds up under-resourced communities by offering young campus ministry leaders in mission dioceses a chance to attend this dynamic workshop. It’s a solid investment in the vibrancy of our Church’s future.

The team building exercise I witnessed had campus ministry students build structures that are simultaneously functional, creative and fun! Prizes await those who most closely meet the criteria. Throughout the exercise unexpected interruptions continually forced the groups to adjust their strategies and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. What at first appeared juvenile playtime is a complex, well-designed exercise to train these young adults skills and strategies that transfer to the real world. Based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (or HBDI), the "whole brain thinking" approach identifies strengths and weakness of each team member, thereby improving their ability to communicate, solve problems, and implement initiatives.

Next, these young adults move into two adjacent rooms and work on a predetermined project they’ll take back to their colleges in the fall. A pastoral letter issued by the USCCB: "Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future" guides them. It details six aspects of campus ministry inherent in the mission of the Church. A great majority of the groups, nearly half, have based their projects on welcoming new students to campus ministry, or “forming the faith community”. Those vulnerable students in their first weeks and months of college life crave a sense of belonging, many being away from home for the first time. Can there be better place to ground them in those rough waters of college than campus ministry? Social gatherings, retreats, masses, and other activities serve to welcome the newcomers into the fold of their Catholic family on campus.

Campus ministry teams work on their projects that they'll impliment in the upcoming school-year.
Campus ministry teams work on their projects that they'll impliment in the upcoming school-year.

I had an opportunity to briefly interact with a few of the students and get a glimpse of their personal stories. Constrained by time, Ester made the difficult decision to choose involvement in campus ministry at her college in New Mexico over her beloved Latin Dance classes. Bubbly and compassionate, Terrin from Colorado wants to teach elementary school. Blake envisions himself coaching basketball some day. They all have a deep commitment to their Catholic faith and are passionate about providing a warm welcoming home for Catholics in their respective colleges. None of them would be here without the support of Catholic Extension.

I witnessed merely a sliver of the collaboration that occurs at CMLI. But that small window gave me a peek into this amazing opportunity for growth for these young leaders. The CMLI facilitates organizational, creative, leadership, and spiritual growth, providing tools for our Church leaders in training.

Rumor has it that young people aren't invested in the Church. These young people are! They give me hope for the future of our Church. They are our future. Let's keep supporting them in their enthusiastic efforts to solidly grow our faith tradition for generations to come!

- Jill Tabit, Catholic Extension Mission Committee Member