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College chaplains reach across barriers

Father Matt Nagle of the Didde Catholic Campus Center continues to minister to the students of Emporia State University through the use of Zoom meetings. Chaplains at campus centers across the archdiocese are utilizing technology to stay in touch with students.

by Bobbi Rookstool
Special to The Leaven

EMPORIA — Colleges in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are working hard to stay in touch with their students — and their campus ministries are doing likewise. Ministers at Lawrence, Emporia and Topeka have all moved their outreach online as they try to live-stream Masses and make available programs they had planned for this semester.

Though Father Mitchel Zimmerman of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Father Matt Nagle of the Didde Catholic Campus Center in Emporia and Father Jonathan Dizon of the Washburn Catholic Campus Center in Topeka were all aware — at least a little in advance — of the likelihood that their colleges would be closing the doors, they were shocked and saddened when Masses were canceled across the archdiocese.

How were they to continue to bring Christ to their students?

Like so many others, the campus center chaplains now have jobs much different than what they were accustomed to. But they are all following the lead of their universities, as well as that of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, and offering the sacraments to the best of their ability.

Chaplains at St. Lawrence and Didde are still working with their students — just now remotely, and hope to end the semester as strongly as possible through social media and Zoom meetings.

Father Zimmerman and Father Nagle are also still ministering to their respective permanent communities and keeping in touch with the families who view their centers as their home church. Mass is being livestreamed for the students and the families.

The livestreams of Mass being celebrated in a familiar place seems to be of some comfort to people during this time. Father Nagle said he was surprised that families would watch him when they have the option to watch other priests with better production equipment.

Meanwhile, Patti Lyon, OFS, the director of the Washburn Center, has been working with its students to move meetings online. The centers have all kept the majority of their programming and are still offering their Bible studies — either with FOCUS missionaries or with students working to plan these meetings.

All three chaplains continue to make themselves available to their students, now keeping virtual office hours and holding group chats that allow them to stay connected.

Likewise, all three ministries are planning how they will proceed if they have to minister virtually next semester as well. Fall retreats will go on, for example, even if there are no students in the dorms — sessions will just be held through Zoom meetings, group chats and podcasts.

Things will be different, of course. But they don’t have to be worse.

 “Looking at the silver lining, you would think that even in these ‘dark times’ we should find some light in it,” said Father Dizon.

All three priests are very passionate about their work in campus ministry and are adapting their outreach as best they can.

“It’s where the future of the church is won and lost,” said Father Nagle. “We need to have a vibrant Catholic ministry to be out there evangelizing and preaching the Gospel and keeping our students Catholic and bringing others into the fold.

“I think this very important work is just made all the more challenging [by this pandemic].”

To continue the mission work they have been doing seems to be the foremost concern at this time.

Father Zimmerman agreed.

“We get to work in a very specific moment in people’s lives,” he said, “where a parish has to cover every moment.

“Why do we? For two reasons. One is that if they connect to their Catholic faith while they’re in college, the stories that result are absolutely incredible.”

But the opposite is also true.

“If students lose their faith in college the stories are absolutely catastrophic. It’s just a really critical moment,” said Father Zimmerman.

All three priests asked for support and prayers during this challenging time.

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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