Father Mark Nillo, right, and CCM members pose for a photo with the “You Make a Difference” certificate that was awarded to the CCM by Monmouth University. Courtesy photo
Father Mark Nillo, right, and CCM members pose for a photo with the “You Make a Difference” certificate that was awarded to the CCM by Monmouth University. Courtesy photo
" We have kept the CCM alive and going by reaching out to our students. "
A nice surprise.”

That was the response given by Father Mark Nillo, Catholic chaplain at Monmouth University when it was learned that the university’s Catholic Campus Ministry had received a special award.

The Long Branch-based university acknowledged the CCM with the “You Make a Difference” certificate as a way to recognize on-campus clubs and organizations that had remained active during the global pandemic impacting the 2020-2021 academic year.

“This means we have kept the CCM alive and going by reaching out to our students,” said Father Nillo, citing a lengthy list of measures which included inviting students to Masses that were either livestreamed or celebrated in-person in area churches when the university could not hold on-campus Masses.

Father Nillo noted that St. Michael Parish, Long Branch, where he serves as parochial vicar, readily opened its doors to the college students who were invited to attend the 7 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings.

“We have always had our Sunday night Mass at 7 p.m. at the Catholic Center, and since St. Michael’s also has a 7 p.m. Mass on Sundays we thought it was a good fit for our students,” Father Nillo said, noting that an important benefit of having students come to the parish was the opportunity to see each other in-person.

“The community of MU students was there, only in a different place,” Father Nillo said.

As the school year progressed, Father Nillo was pleased at how the relationship between the Catholic Campus Ministry and St. Michael Parish continued to evolve, noting that at the end of the school year the parish hosted a baccalaureate Mass for all graduating CCM seniors.

Other ways the campus ministry had reached out to the students, according to Father Nillo and Cristina D’Averso-Collins, the university’s director of the Catholic Campus Ministry, included the launching of “The Catholic Hawks” podcast and “Zoom Speakers.

“The podcast was launched mainly because Cristina and I thought it would be the safest, most relevant and useful platform to reach out to our students during the last year,” Father Nillo said. “We have published at least four episodes on our website and the current one can be accessed at https://monmouthcatholic.org/thecatholichawks.

D’Averso added that she and the students had weekly online gatherings for Lectio Divina in addition to holding virtual speakers during the year.

“Due to the virtual format, we were afforded opportunities to have the students engaged with widely-known speakers” such as Jason Evert, Dr. Edward Sri and Emily Wilson.

In terms of ministry in general, D’Averso-Collins added that the presence of an organization of faith is important at all times but, most particularly, in trying times like those of last year.

“Thee were students who reached out to me privately seeking help in managing their feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression,” she said. “They were deeply grateful for any support and consistently expressed their desire to be able to meet once again in person. For them, time apart from one another served to emphasize the importance of our CCM community which is very tight-knit and familial.”

Father Nillo said the surprise of the award included how the honor became known to the CCM community.

He explained that the certificate was “discovered” in early October after student and CCM member, David Fasolino, picked up a folder in the university’s photocopy room and found an envelope inside with the certificate for MU’s Catholic Campus Ministry.

“David, and all of us at MU-CCM, realized upon reading the text in the certificate that the recognition was for the previous academic year Spring 2020-Spring 2021,” Father Nillo said, sharing that while the CCM had not been notified by the university, “it was a nice surprise.”

After commenting on how fitting it was for the CCM to be awarded a certificate, Fasolino, a history and secondary education major, shared a bit about his CCM experience.

“As a college student, faith has always been important to me, not just in the bad times but in the good times as well,” he said, noting how important it was for him to practice his faith while in college, and that his membership in CCM was something he found to be lifechanging.

“Starting college as a lonely freshman and knowing no one at Monmouth, CCM has helped me find a great group of friends who all love God,” Fasolino said, telling of how important it is for him to read Scripture, pray daily each morning when he wakes up and before he goes to sleep at night and share the Gospel as best as possible with others.

“It was the best decision ever,” to join the CCM, Fasolino said, “and I thank God each day to be a part of this group.”