Story by David Karas | Correspondent
Whether it is a shared faith, a sense of fellowship and support, or a refuge from the challenges associated with coursework and potentially negative influences, young men and women attending colleges across the Diocese of Trenton turn to campus ministries to keep the faith during their collegiate pursuits.
“College pulls you in so many different directions, and now more than ever, there are so many pressures on young adults to be more like the world,” said Emily Beyer, president of the Catholic campus ministry in Monmouth University, West Long Branch. “Campus ministry gave me strength to be strong in my faith and who I am while in the world.”
Now a senior chemistry major, Beyer looks back to campus ministry as a “constant” in her college days and an important source of stability.
“Being part of the campus ministry has challenged me in more ways than I could have imagined but has blessed me beyond measure,” said the member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant. “It has had such an impact on my life that as I head to graduate school, I am looking to get involved in the campus ministry there as well.”
Having been involved in faith-based groups throughout high school, the idea of campus ministry resonated with Beyer when a friend on the track team planted the idea. She has now been the ministry’s president for three years and enjoys participating in events with fellow Catholics on campus.
“Seeing other young adults on fire with their faith, especially those who are giving their life and time to serve the Lord in missions,” she said, “really encouraged me to live my faith.”
Students similar to Beyer say they have integrated faith into their college experiences thanks to campus ministries supported by clergy and lay leaders from the Diocese of Trenton.
Michael Shea, president of Rider University’s Catholic campus ministry in Lawrenceville, is a senior majoring in global supply chain studies with a minor in sustainability. The White Plains, New York, native has been involved in the program since his freshman year and became president in early 2017.
“It helped me grow in my faith, and I learned more about myself from it,” he said, noting that being part of the faith community on campus has also provided support through various challenges in his personal and family life – including having open-heart surgery at an early age, being attacked by a dog as a child, working through his parents’ divorce and witnessing several bad accidents.
“I have seen stuff that the average person does not see or experience,” he said, noting one recent example of how he intervened in what could have been a fatal heroin overdose.
Faith, Shea said, has provided support and stability through those moments, and he points to campus ministry as an opportunity to keep the faith and share in faith-based fellowship while young people are away at school. With men’s and women’s groups, a co-ed group and service opportunities, such programming is diverse and welcoming.
“I would recommend for other people my age to consider campus ministry,” he said, adding that some members of the Rider program “come weekly because they enjoy the conversation, friendships and they are growing in their faith, too.”
Shannon Averill, vice president of Monmouth’s Catholic campus ministry and a senior studying nursing, has been involved since she was a freshman. Whether it has been through attending Masses, sharing meals or providing service to the community, the experience has been fulfilling and supportive.
“It has given me a support system away from home and a strength I never fully knew of until joining and becoming involved in the Catholic campus ministry,” she said. “College is not an easy time, and transitioning can be scary. Many people lose their faith and look for other ways to find happiness, but often become lost and are seeking for a place like the campus ministry.”
She credits the experience with helping her find a sense of purpose and joy throughout her college years.
“The center has a warm, homey feel, where students living on campus can get away from the hectic dorm life,” she said. “The programs and events keep your eyes and heart open to the most important things in life and allows you to listen to what God is calling you to be.”