10/10/2011 8:58:00 AM Factoring faith into the college equation
Catholic Sentinel photo by Josh Noem
College senior Zack Imfeld answers questions during a campus tour for prospective students visiting the University of Portland.
As a high school senior, Zack Imfeld thought he wanted to go to film school. He was involved in his Los Angeles school’s television studio, he enjoyed working with film in his free time, and his dad worked for Warner Brothers.
“Plus, it sounded good when I told girls I wanted to make movies,” he said.
At the start of his senior hear, when Imfeld composed a list of universities he wanted to attend, universities with strong programs in film stood at the top. His list shifted, however, into his senior year
“My dad told me to find a job that would make me happy,” he said. “Film was something I enjoyed and was good at, but I grew so much from my high school youth group and I wanted to continue that growth at the next level. I knew that being involved in campus ministry was going to make me happy and become a better person.”
Once he shifted his priorities and began looking for a college that would support his faith life, the University of Portland climbed from eighth on his list to the top three. “The more I dug into UP, the more it felt right,” he said.
On his campus visit, he got the feeling that the school would be a place to form him into the person he want to become.
Four years later, Imfeld is starting his senior year at UP as student body president and as a lead coordinator for the campus ministry’s flagship retreat program.
This fall, high school juniors and seniors across the nation will begin to prioritize their own college lists and set out on fall road-trips for campus visits. Catholic campus ministers are encouraging families to let faith play a role in those decisions as it did for Imfeld.
“Parents could talk to students about how their own faith deepened in college and the importance of grounding their academics in a holy lifestyle based on the practice of their faith,” according to Father Martin Moran, executive director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. “When they make a visit to campus, families should locate the Catholic campus ministry center serving that college or university.”
A Catholic college will likely have a campus ministry office as part of the institution’s service to its students. At a non-Catholic institution, the Catholic community will most likely be gathered at a Newman Center.
Newman Centers were inspired by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, who encouraged societies for Catholic students attending secular universities. There are about 1,500 of the diocesan-sponsored campus ministry centers. “A Newman Center is the Church’s outreach on that campus,” said Father Moran.
When visiting a non-Catholic institution, students should be direct about wanting to see the Newman Center, perhaps even calling ahead to make an appointment, according to Marcel LeJeune, a campus minister at Texas A&M.
An admissions tour at a state university could easily neglect to mention campus ministry resources. Admissions counselors at public schools cannot inquire about a student’s faith background, so students should be proactive about identifying themselves to campus ministers, he said.
“Before getting to campus, come up with a gameplan for how to get involved,” LeJeune said. “If you want to keep your faith, you have to put work into it. You have to make good decisions, even before you arrive on campus.”
There are four hallmarks of a good campus ministry according Mary Deeley, pastoral associate at the Sheil Center, which serves Northwestern University in Chicago.
“First, look for a variety of vibrant opportunities for worship and liturgy,” she said. Prospective students could attend a weekend Mass during their visit to get a feel for the faith community.
Second, evaluate the ministry center for the way it fosters community life among students. “Do Catholic students regularly get together for fellowship? Is there a culture where you can talk about your faith? Is that welcome on campus?” asked Deeley, “Find a place where you can talk with other Catholic students.”
Third, ask “is there a culture of service and care for others in the community and outside of it?” said Deeley. An orientation to serving others and the world is a sign of a healthy faith community.
Lastly, look for “a culture of discernment and scholarship,” said Deeley. Scholarship is the reason students attend college, and a good campus ministry will help students integrate their faith with the important questions they tackle in the classroom. Students need to be able to speak about who they are and where they are going, she said, and God should be part of that discernment.
Making God’s voice clear to students is a crucial task for campus ministers because students face the task of making their faith their own during their college years, Deeley said. This faith is “not the faith of their parents, nor is it their faith when they were confirmed at (age) 13. They must be able to respond to the mature, adult call to holiness. Campus ministry should be a bridge to that.”
For a complete listing of campus ministry centers and Newman Centers, see the Catholic Campus Ministry Association website at www.ccmanet.org, or call CCMA at 888-714-6631.