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College nights with the Associates of St. John Bosco help students keep the faith

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The Associates of St. John Bosco kicked off their first college night this year with pizza, fellowship and helpful tools for staying Catholic in college at St. Mark Church in Vienna June 20. 

Since the group’s founding in 2011by Father Christopher T. Vaccaro, chaplain of the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, the group has worked to help young people transition from parish life to college without leaving faith behind.

“I want them to be able to decide for themselves that they want this and that the faith is now something they have to take into their own hands.” Danielle Zuccaro

“I realized that people who go off to college and get involved in their Catholic campus ministry or Neumann center are doing half decent,” said Father Vaccaro. “But we lose people before that.”

The organization helps bridge this gap through scholarships, the summer college nights, student networking and training among the organization’s young adult volunteers.

This summer the associates have more than 60 students registered for their four college nights. The first event at St. Mark was attended by 13 rising freshmen going to a variety of colleges both in and out of state.

The night started at 7 p.m. with a panel discussion led by five college students. Their talks covered a variety of subjects such as the top five things to do on the first day of college, how to get involved in campus ministry, forming good friendships, balancing faith and education, and defending the faith.

Melissa Rossi, a George Mason University graduate and panelist, first attended a college night as a rising college freshman in 2014 and has been a volunteer ever since.

“I had gone to a lot of other college prep events offered by the university or other places but I felt like this event was the only one that really prepared me for the start of college,” said Rossi. “It touched on all aspects: academics, faith and social life.”

After the panel the students enjoyed a rock-paper-scissors ice breaker before breaking out into small groups. Over slices of pizza, they talked in more detail about how to prepare for the challenges Catholics can face in college.

“I want them to be able to decide for themselves that they want this and that the faith is now something they have to take into their own hands,” said Danielle Zuccaro, chair of the college division. “If we help one student decide to say, ‘I think I want to live out my Catholic faith in college and I want to dare to be different,’ then it has made it totally worth it.”

The associates announced one of four scholarship winners during the event. Todd Steger, a student at Franciscan University in Steubenville, was awarded $1,500 for his essay and continued service to the church through missionary work.

All the students received a complimentary “Bosco bundle” to take with them to college. The bundles included holy water, holy cards, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bible and other spiritual reading. Students were encouraged to give away a second bundle as a way to evangelize at college.

Danny Cruz, a rising freshman planning to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, came to college night after hearing good things about it from a friend. He was happy to meet so many other people who also wanted to keep the faith.

“I don’t think I will ever be completely prepared for college,” said Cruz. “I just (need) to talk to God and we will do it together.”

Registration is open for the remaining three college nights. More than 25 students are signed up for the next night July 2 at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, the associates’ newest location. They also will meet July 18 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria and July 25 at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018