by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The difference between an incoming college freshman being active in his or her faith may come down to what happens in the first 48 hours.
“Curtis Martin (founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) said in the past [that] it was important to engage a student within six weeks of their arrival on campus,” said Father Steve Beseau, director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
“If you didn’t get them in the first six weeks, you wouldn’t get them,” he continued. “They would be approached by some other group.
“That number is now 48 hours.”
What Catholic college campus ministries need is an edge, a way to contact incoming Catholic freshmen before they get to campus.
Fortunately, they have just such an edge in the College Connection for Catholics, an initiative of Serra International. Serra is an apostolate of Catholic laypeople who support and promote vocations.
The St. Lawrence Center has been working with Serra Clubs in the archdiocese for the past three years to attract students just starting college. In this joint effort, Catholic high schools and parishes are contacted to obtain the names and addresses of graduating high school seniors. These incoming college freshmen are then sent a packet of information about St. Lawrence Center’s social and religious activities.
It appears to be working.
“Every year we have something called ‘Beach ’n’ Boulevard,’” said Father Beseau. “All the groups on campus get tables [on the sidewalk in front of Wescoe Hall.]”
“All the new students come,” he continued. “We had a number of students come [to our table] and we told them about our cookout on the first night before classes, and many of them said, ‘Oh yes, we already got the invitation.’”
But the St. Lawrence Center and the Serra Clubs would like to expand their collaboration even further, said Matt Kemnitz, director of formation at the St. Lawrence Center.
A committee of Serrans and St. Lawrence staff has been formed to brainstorm ways of reaching Catholic high school students even earlier, said Kemnitz. Early outreach activities could include parish visits, tours of the St. Lawrence Center, and summer social activities. They also want to explore how the Catholic College Connection can support Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s efforts to promote vocations.
“It’s both looking at how to increase vocations and how to involve and keep students active in their [faith] during their college years by reaching them early on,” said Kemnitz.
The partnership has the full support of the archbishop.
“I am grateful for the Serra Clubs’ Catholic College Connection program, which is helping to link more Catholic students at the University of Kansas with the excellent programs and resources of the St. Lawrence Center,” said the archbishop.
“Connecting more Catholic college students at KU with the vibrant St. Lawrence is one of the most practical and effective ways to create an environment that will foster more vocations to the priesthood in the archdiocese,” he added.
The Serrans plan to expand the College Connection program.
“The other big sector is the [Catholic] public school kids,” said Bill McHale, school coordinator for the Serra Club of Kansas City, Kan. “That’s why we’re trying to [establish] parish vocation committees. We’re trying to reach the kids graduating from public schools.”
Approximately five million Catholic youths enter college each year, said McHale. If only five percent of those students decided to pursue a vocation as a priest or religious, it would have a tremendous impact on the church.