Thursday, February 18, 2010

Serra Club program keeps college students connected to faith

The University of Minnesota’s map didn’t identify the closest parish when freshman Aidan Breen was figuring out how to get around the Minneapolis campus last fall.

University of Minnesota freshman Aidan Breen, center, talks with friends after Mass Feb. 7 at St. Lawrence-Newman in Minneapolis. Breen said a program like College Connection for Catholics will help keep Catholics entering college grounded in their faith.
He found information about Catholic organizations at a campus activity fair. But with all the demands and distractions of adjusting to college life, he’s not surprised that other Catholic college students haven’t taken that step to practice their faith.

“You have to have a certain level of comfort to even approach the table, and it would have been real easy to just walk by and not get any information on it,” said Breen, who attends St. Lawrence-Newman in Minneapolis.

Because it’s estimated that fewer than 20 percent of Catholic college students attend Mass after their first year, Minnesota Serra clubs will be working with Catholic high schools and parishes this spring to provide college-bound graduating seniors with the information they need to get involved with the church while at college.

“We’re the bridge that’s connecting the family faith life to the college faith life,” said Judy Cozzens, chair of the College Connection for Catholics program, which hopes to reach 16,000 graduating seniors nationally during 2010. Through 300 nationwide clubs, USA Council of Serra International seeks to foster, affirm and promote vocations to ministry.

Increasing participation

CCC, which has been endorsed by bishops, including Archbishop John Nienstedt, was started seven years ago to encourage some of the 1.25 million U.S. Catholic students who graduate from high school each year to be more involved in their faith during their college years, said Cozzens, a parishioner at Holy Family in St. Louis Park and mother of Father Andrew Cozzens, a priest of the archdiocese.

A 2005 study for the U.S. bishops conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University showed that young Catholics who practiced their faith in college attended Mass more often, became leaders in their parishes and were more likely to consider a religious vocation.

“We’re trying to increase the faith participation of young people in the church, and in order to do that we have to fight for their attention, just like everybody else has to fight. We have to make sure we’re in the game,” she said.

Serrans from at least 11 Minnesota clubs will gather graduating seniors’ names, addresses and the names of colleges they plan to attend from parents, parishes and schools. Then they will send each student a packet of information about one of 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities by the end of June.

Included will be contact information for Catholic organizations such as nearby parishes, Newman Centers, campus ministry and Catholic student groups such as St. Paul’s Outreach (SPO) and Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Cozzens said.

Student information will be compiled on a database set up through National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries in West St. Paul and will be sent to the campus ministry or parish at the student’s college so they can contact students, she said.

Serrans will obtain the campus ministry information from the CCC’s website for the mailing to students. The information will not be shared with other organizations and will be deleted at the end of the year, Cozzens said.

Valuable service

Young people who are involved in their high school youth group can get lost in college and the CCC helps prevent that, said Pat Millea, youth ministry director at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, one of a few local parishes involved in the program last year. Because he works with about 120 kids in each grade, Millea can’t get information to all the graduating seniors himself.

Getting the students’ names and addresses at the beginning of the school year has helped in inviting them to SPO, said Dan Kolar, SPO chapter director at the University of Minnesota who received student names from the CCC last year.

“The sooner that we are able to inform students about the options, the more likely they are to connect and continue to practice their faith,” he said. “This program seems that it would inform both the students and the groups of each other and that initiates the conversation.”

However, because students don’t always read “snail mail,” Kolar said an e-mail address or phone number would help more than a mailing address.

Connecting on Facebook

While Serrans aren’t now collecting students’ e-mail addresses, CCC has a Facebook page, and it encourages students to connect before school starts, Cozzens said.

In the future, parents and students will be able to find the information themselves about campus ministry and Catholic organizations on college campuses on the CCC’s Web site. The sooner students get the information the better so they will consider campus ministry as they make friends and join organizations, she said.

Breen agreed that CCC information would help with getting grounded in faith.

“Just receiving something like that, and maybe if it could include sort of a kickoff event that you could attend or where you could meet people and that sort of thing, it really would have been helpful. . . . Right away, meet people who care about their faith. Right away to know where those opportunities are, definitely would be good,” he said.
Catholic Spirit

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