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Bishop’s Lenten Appeal helps expand Catholic campus ministry in Fredericksburg

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A spring breeze gently blew through the branches of a willow tree in front of a white home on a quiet residential street in Fredericksburg March 21. For years, the house had witnessed hundreds of University of Mary Washington students seek the sacraments through the faith community of the Catholic campus ministry at the neighboring St. John Bosco Center. Thanks to contributions from the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal, the house now joins the center as a place to foster the faith in young people. Fittingly, the house was dubbed the St. Dominic Savio House. 


St. Dominic Savio —a student of St. John Bosco, who strove to put holiness first in life — died at age 14  while studying for the priesthood.


With Dominic as a patron, University of Mary Washington Chaplain Father Christopher T. Vaccaro hopes that holiness will be the first desire for the university students.


From the outside, St. Dominic Savio House looks unchanged save for a curved concrete path that connects to the St. John Bosco Center parking lot. “We can almost call it the ‘Bosco block,’ ” Father Vaccaro said.


Inside, the house was renovated to include the library, chaplain’s residence and a spacious community room with a kitchen. The campus ministry is using the space for Bible studies and weekly RCIA meetings. 


The 1,300-square-foot house came just in time to meet the social distancing needs of the campus ministry during the pandemic. 


“Our participation numbers are down 30 percent and that’s because a lot of students are taking gap years or 100 percent remote classes and not living on campus,” said Father Vaccaro. “But the Catholics who have returned to campus have thankfully returned to Mass. Having the extra space in the St. Dominic Savio House has been a blessing and we are very grateful to the Bishop for his support.”


Bishop Michael F. Burbidge toured the house when he came to bless the space March 21. 


During the visit, he reaffirmed the diocese’s support of campus ministries and has made it a top priority for the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal. 


“The Bishop's Lenten Appeal really does support us,” said Father Vaccaro. “Our Sunday congregation is exclusively students who do not have much money. The BLA gives us 95 percent of our budget, which covers salary and ministry costs. The diocese paid for the house and the renovation and will pay for the upkeep of the buildings.”


After the blessing, Bishop Burbidge celebrated Mass with students at the center. During his homily, he encouraged the students to make this Holy Week the holiest week they have ever had. 


“We need that this year,” said Bishop Burbidge. “We have been through a lot. Meditate on what Jesus did for us in his hour. He took up his cross, suffered and died for us so that you may be ever convinced of his great love for you. And come to understand why he gave us that example. Because it’s only by death that we find life. If you are willing to live that way you will help others to see Jesus.” 


Kassock is a freelancer in Fredericksburg.

The Bishop’s Lenten Appeal funds Catholic campus ministries.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021