The college years—a time of forging independence and distilling life goals—play a significant role in setting each student’s path, not only professionally, but also in the realm of faith.
A recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that among college graduates, Catholics who had participated in campus ministry ranked higher than their peers in all indicators of church involvement, including Mass attendance, parish registration, donations to the Church and helping the needy. The results were more than doubled for involvement in the parish and consideration of a priestly or religious vocation.
Campus ministry clearly shapes Catholics—and their Church—long after their graduation dates.
At Florida State University in Tallahassee, located in the Bible Belt in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, the Catholic Student Union is one of the largest organizations on the 41,000-student campus.
One of its graduates, Christine Lange, is now a campus minister because she believes that investing in young people will greatly benefit the Church and she wants to help others encounter God in college life. She conducts retreats, holds Bible studies, coordinates a women’s group and leads the weekly Spirit Night that draws about 175 students to a fun evening of prayer, music and fellowship.
She encourages students to attend St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral on campus; for its student liturgies, the church is typically standing-room only with 800 people.
“Mass is important because Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist and we need to have Jesus in our hearts to send Him back to campus,” she said.
Through Catholic Extension’s Young Adult Leadership Initiative, Lange received a scholarship for her recently completed master’s degree in theology. The initiative is designed to allow mission dioceses to retain their “best and brightest” young adults and prepare them for professional leadership positions in the Church.
Lauren Volkart, a senior studying environmental science and engineering, credits Lange with deepening her faith.
“She’s helped me learn the fundamental teachings of the Church, understand Christian morality and deepen my prayer life,” she said. “Seeing Christine say ‘yes’ every day has helped me to see where God is calling me in my own life.”
Brother Clinton Reed, who helps direct the Catholic Student Union, also sees Lange as a role model.
“As a woman, as a lay person, as an evangelist, she connects with people and engages them,” he said.
He added that about two-thirds of the Catholics who regularly attended Mass before college will have dropped out by November. “We need to be present to them,” he said. “When students see peers on fire, all of the sudden, it brings them into an encounter they never knew they needed. It awakens them.”
Lange agrees. “We evangelize so that students incorporate faith into all aspects of their lives, here and beyond.”
Ashley Arthur, also a campus minister and studying theology through Catholic Extension's young adult initiative said, "When you make your faith important as a college student, it lasts for the rest of your life."
Campus ministry at FSU is setting the stage for lifelong Catholics.