College Connection: Serrans expand outreach to college students

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — This fall, thousands of incoming college freshman will experience one of the greatest transitions of their lives: The Big Disconnect.

Goodbye to life with Mom and Dad.

Hello to life as an independent young adult.

Too often, one of the things that gets “disconnected” or lost in the breathless rush is their Catholic faith, and members of the Serra Clubs of the archdiocese want to do something about that.

This year SerraUSA — an organization dedicated to fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life — is expanding its College Connection program. This national program, now in its second year, seeks to link incoming college freshmen with a local parish or nearby Catholic college ministry.

There are four Serra Clubs in the archdiocese: one each in Kansas City, Kan., Johnson County, Topeka and Lawrence.

By far, the most important reason for hooking a young college student up with the campus ministry program at his or her college or university is in order to foster the individual’s faith. But there are other reasons, too.

Involvement in campus ministry produces many benefits to individuals and the church as a whole, according to a March 2002 report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, D.C.

CARA found that campus ministry participants were more likely to attend Mass regularly, to be involved in religious activities outside of Mass, and to donate money to the church. They were also more likely to encourage someone to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Young men were more likely to give consideration to becoming a priest or Brother.

Last year saw the inaugural launch of the College Connection program, and Serra Club members sent more than 15,000 information packets to college-bound freshmen, as well as rosters of the new students’ names to the relevant campus ministry programs.

This year, the Serrans are making an even greater push, according to Bill McHale, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park, and the KCK Serra Club.

Last spring, archdiocesan Serrans sent College Connection letters to some 700 high school graduates, the vast majority of whom were graduates of Catholic high schools.

“This led [archdiocesan Serrans] to be awarded a certificate of excellence in promoting the College Connection program in 2009,” said McHale.

This year, local Serrans plan to expand their reach beyond the Catholic schools to include public high schools as well, and send out approximately 1,200 three-page information packages.

“Approximately 70 percent of the college students who go to [the] seminary came from public schools,” said McHale. “That’s one of the reasons we are concentrating on the public school system.”

Research from CARA indicates that if campus ministries could reach just 10 percent more of the approximately five million Catholic college students on campus each year, that would translate into 500,000 committed Catholic leaders entering their parishes over a four-year period, according to McHale.

In addition to spearheading the effort for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, McHale is responsible for overseeing the College Connection in a four-state area comprised of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as coordinating the 12 other area directors.

Serrans work with Catholic high schools and parish vocation committees to build a database of graduating high school seniors who will attend college the coming fall. Once a student has selected the college or university he or she will attend, a letter will be generated that will provide information about Catholic campus ministries at the college and nearby parishes.

“There are three types of letters that will be sent out,” said McHale. “There is a ‘generic’ letter, a letter that can be personalized with an extra paragraph, and a third letter [that can be sent] by the pastor, vocations director or bishop.”

Serrans will also apply a personal touch, when possible, and will hand-deliver them at baccalaureates and graduation ceremonies.

Serrans are not relying entirely on the high school contact, however, and instead are working the system from both ends. Not only will incoming freshmen receive information about the campus ministries, but the campus ministries are given the information they need to identify and contact incoming Catholic freshmen. Serrans will also collaborate with the National Evangelization Teams ministry in its efforts to provide follow-up after the students arrive on campus.

“We think the NET group will be very instrumental in helping us implement this thing and help us track it,” said McHale.

The College Connection program has the strong support of Kathy O’Hara, superintendent of archdiocesan schools; Father Mitchel Zimmerman, archdiocesan director of vocations; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

“I feel the Catholic College Connection program is one way Serrans can help increase the number of future [seminary] candidates on a yearly basis,” said Archbishop Naumann in a Jan. 14 letter to pastors. “It will also help with my goal to ordain an average of four priests annually in order to . . . better care for the needs of the people of the archdiocese.”

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