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Reimagining campus ministry

First slide

For the first time in years, maybe since the tradition started more than a decade ago, the Catholic Campus Ministry’s new student Luau at George Mason University in Fairfax was canceled. The popular fall event that annually drew thousands of students, rain or shine, to play yard games, eat from the buffet and meet the campus ministry staff was called off due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Most of our events had to be reimagined,” said Father Joseph Farrell, who became the new director of campus ministry at the university last summer.

Campus regulations and restrictions on the size of gatherings continued to change, limiting the ministry’s ability to plan and host events, so part of the reimagining for Father Farrell and his staff included finding ways to meet students where they are. In some cases, that meant walking around campus and meeting them outdoors, one on one.

“(Students are) so hungry for conversation and interaction,” said Father Farrell, who said seeing student volunteers and staff reaching out individually to others is “like seeing Christ go after the lost sheep.

Another area the staff has tapped into is the digital one — a sphere their intended audience is well-versed in. The ministry invested in technology including a new video camera, studio lights and sound mixing equipment, to put on “appealing productions,” said Father Farrell, “so we can seamlessly reach the students at home.” Both student volunteers and professional staff assist in livestreaming Masses and events such as “Thursday Night Streams” featuring different speakers.

One tradition that’s been refashioned to include both online and one-on-one components is an annual weekend retreat held at the start of the spring semester. This year, the retreat, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, was converted to a five-week, individually guided format for Lent.

There will be a series of talks on five consecutive Saturdays leading up to Holy Saturday that students can join in person or via livestream. The talks will offer instruction on how to do the meditations, which students will do on their own during the week using their copies of the Spiritual Exercises and booklets with meditations and resources provided by the ministry. Each week, the students can elect for a one-on-one meeting with a staffer to discuss their prayers and experiences.

The topics of the talks cover God’s plan in creating humans, sin and reconciliation, Christ’s Passion and resurrection, and the hope of heaven.

“I've seen so much fruit from this retreat over the past 14 years, so many conversions and students who encounter the Lord in a really deep and life-changing way, and I didn't want to give up on the retreat entirely,” said John More, campus minister of liturgy. “We brainstormed as a staff and came up with the model we're going to use during Lent.”

The new format also allows more people to attend the retreat. “Since we're not going away, we're able to open the retreat up to the local community of people who come to Mass at the chapel and support us so generously,” said More. “We're excited to be able to offer this to them in gratitude for all their support.”

With all the adjustments to life on campus, one thing that hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm of the students.

“There is so much potential. There’s so much energy with young people,” said Father Farrell.

“You can see that young people sort of intuitively give themselves because they’re looking to the future,” he said. “You really feel as a college chaplain that you’re shaping the future.”

Bartlett can be reached at Meghan.Bartlett@catholicherald.com.

Find out more

"Spiritual Exercises Lenten Retreat," will be held Saturdays, Feb. 27-April 3, 9 a.m. Gmuccm.org/packages.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021