Bishop Loverde encourages a relationship-driven approach in ministry to young

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After naming him chaplain of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries three years ago, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde told Father Bjorn C. Lundberg, "I know you can't be present at absolutely everything, but I want you to be around as much as possible - at games, concerts and shows." The bishop knows that "when you are present to students over time, relationships grow," said Father Lundberg.

This roll-up-your-sleeves, relationship-driven approach to ministry is something Bishop Loverde encourages all high school and college chaplains in the diocese to adopt. It's also a message that has helped shape flourishing campus ministries.

"The bishop shows an unbelievable priority for young souls," said Father Michael J.R. Kelly, chaplain of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax.

Along with the four diocesan high schools, George Mason University in Fairfax, Christendom College in Front Royal, Marymount University in Arlington and the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg have strong campus ministries.

George Mason Catholic Campus Ministry "may be the largest organization on campus," said Youth Apostle Father Peter W. Nassetta, the school's chaplain and the bishop's liaison for college campus ministry. He said all programs "have definitely grown under (Bishop Loverde's) leadership."

Mary Washington and Mason have increased staff and now collaborate with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a national evangelization outreach to college students. Father Nassetta said George Mason was one of the first campuses on the East Coast to host FOCUS.

Each university and high school has a full-time chaplain, "a great sign of the bishop's support for campus ministry," said Sister Bernadette McManigal, superintendent of diocesan schools. "He sees (the chaplaincy) as our chance to really form the young church."

With the support of the bishop, there is a fledgling campus ministry at Shenandoah University in Winchester. Prior to last year, organized Catholic events at the small Methodist university consisted of a carpool to nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Church for Mass.

"It's still in the transitional stage, but it's great to see it getting off the ground," said Father Stephen McGraw, head chaplain at Christendom.

Father Nassetta said the bishop's approach to nurturing the faith of students is informed by his love for young people and firsthand experience.

In 1966, less than two years after being ordained a priest, Bishop Loverde was named chaplain of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. During the late 1960s and early '70s, he had chaplaincy assignments at an all-girls Catholic high school and two colleges in Connecticut.

"The bishop always mentions at the end of Masses (on campus) that being a chaplain was one of his favorite times of his priesthood," said Father Nassetta.

Yet embracing the youth-focused ministry while the Vietnam War and sexual revolution raged was difficult at times. "There were moments that I was discouraged," acknowledged the bishop. "I didn't feel like I was making an impact."

He later realized he'd influenced numerous young lives.

"There was a young man in one of my classes who got two degrees, and one was in religion, because he was inspired by what I was saying," said the bishop. "What I felt was that I was planting seeds, and who knows where it would go. It would blossom someday, even if I never saw it."

Chaplains said they feel the bishop's support as they, too, try to plant seeds through their own efforts. "He has a wonderful way of giving us encouragement," said Father Gregory S. Thompson, chaplain of Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington.

Bishop Loverde's episcopal motto is "Encourage and Teach with Patience," and that can be seen guiding his dedication to campus ministry, said Father Lundberg. As a chaplain "you're feeding and growing and nurturing students' faith; you're in it for the long haul," he said. The bishop knows that "it's through presence and through patient teaching and encouraging - that's how you grow anything important."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015