As college freshmen struggle to balance faith and other priorities—and even contemplate opting out of their Catholic faith altogether—campus ministries and other Catholic organizations are working to bridge the faith gap between high school and college by inviting more students to live their faith through the sacraments, relationships, activities, prayer groups, and even a TV show.
The need for strong ministries is clear. A recent study by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) indicates that during the freshman year students make friendships and join the organizations they’ll be part of for their whole college career, according to Judy Cozzens, chairwoman of the USA Council of Serra International’s program College Connection for Catholics.
Besides helping students grow in faith by involvement in a Christian community, a goal of campus ministry is to offer a better alternative to negative activities, said Brother Joe Donovan, a member of the Brotherhood of Hope community and a Catholic chaplain at Northeastern University in Boston. It’s one of four ministries the Brotherhood of Hope operates on campuses in the eastern United States. Attendance at Mass and programs continues to increase every year, possibly because of outreach efforts, he said.
Freshmen are experiencing a new kind of freedom for the first time, and many students stop practicing their faith, said Gordy DeMarais, founder and executive of St. Paul’s Outreach, adding that only 15 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds attend Mass every Sunday. “It is the case that if freshmen don’t get connected with a strong set of relationships and strong Catholic involvement, then after a year chances are pretty high that they’ll be abandoning the practice of faith in adult life,” he said. St. Paul’s Outreach also offers student households—homes where students live and share faith together.
Reaching out to freshmen and helping them get or stay connected to their faith through relationships with other students involved in the ministry is a primary goal of the Brotherhood of Hope’s work, as is encouraging students to move into leadership, Brother Joe said. In addition to welcoming events, prayer meetings, and liturgies, Brother Joe sometimes recommends that freshmen watch segments of the Brotherhood’s TV show Hope on Campus.