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Catholic campus ministry going strong at Shenandoah University

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For many years, Catholic students at Shenandoah University in Winchester didn’t have a priest on campus to celebrate Mass on Sundays. Some students would catch a ride across town to Sacred Heart Church or gather on campus for fellowship, reading Scripture together and sharing a meal. 

“It’s hard to maintain your faith without community on a college campus. We want to create a place for students to come and feel known and loved and supported,” said Samantha Libasci, president of the small Catholic campus ministry at Shenandoah, which operates as a student club.

Today, the diocese provides Mass on campus at Goodson Chapel. Father Ramon Dominguez, a Youth Apostles priest from McLean, has been driving to Shenandoah to celebrate Mass at 6:45 p.m., after hearing confessions, said Kevin Bohli, executive director of the Office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministries, which was expanded two years ago to include campus ministries. 

“We wanted to be able to provide Mass for every student who goes to college within the boundaries of our diocese,” Bohli said. “So many young people fall away from the faith during the college years. This is a prime time for us to be providing fellowship and sacraments to keep them involved in their faith.” 

The four other residential campuses in the diocese, Christendom College in Front Royal, George Mason University in Fairfax, Marymount University in Arlington and the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, all have robust campus ministries, Bohli said. The ministries at George Mason and the University of Mary Washington are run by the diocese, while at the two Catholic schools, Christendom and Marymount, campus ministers are hired by the school, he said. The diocese also is working to create Catholic student clubs on each of the Northern Virginia Community College campuses, he added. 

Libasci said students like the Sunday evening Mass time.  “It’s the last Mass in the area,” she said. Some community members and students who aren’t Catholic come too; Father Dominguez is preparing one student to enter the church, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Members of the student group also have attended state and national conferences together. 

Bohli said Cindy Martin, pastoral assistant at Christendom College in Front Royal, has been instrumental in growing Shenandoah’s campus ministry. Martin used to drive a group of students to Sacred Heart every Sunday; one of those, James O’Reilly, was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Richmond in June.

The ministry maintains a list of about 100 students; about 30 attend each weekend, Libasci said. She added that since fall classes began Aug. 24, the group has been adhering to Shenandoah’s COVID-19 policies, wearing masks and placing seats 6 feet apart in the chapel. Names of students present are tracked in case they need to be contacted later. For now, singing is limited to the cantor to reduce the risk of airborne virus transmission, she said. 

“We started off so small and every year we get bigger,” Libasci said. “We’re really thankful for the diocese’s support, for Father and Cindy and all the students who help.” 

Find out more

Get more information on the diocesan campus ministries website,  arlingtondiocese.org/catholic-campus-ministry

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020