This week, Nick Labrie takes Leaven readers inside his ministry as the campus minister for the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas.
Q. What is your name, title and where do you minister?
A. My name is Nick Labrie and I serve as the campus minister for the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas.
Q. Please describe what you do.
A. My primary focus is running GoodCo. GoodCo (short for Good Company) is the outreach and evangelical arm of St. Lawrence, aiming to provide a first step for students (Christian or otherwise) into a community and experience of faith. I coordinate a team of 60 students to create and host environments for students to engage with the St. Lawrence Community and engage questions of faith.
For example, we host Trivia Night and Open Mic Night events, which draw hundreds of students who might never otherwise set foot in a Catholic church. Taking advantage of the foot traffic from the dorms, we run a free pop-up coffee shop (Slow Drip) from our center, inviting students in for a free coffee and engaging them in conversation. Our monthly RISE Night serves as an entry point into conversations of faith. Over 125 students join us each month to engage in relevant questions of faith in the context of good community. In the course of the conversation, we weave in the Gospel message and invite them into an encounter with God in prayer through eucharistic adoration and praise and worship.
Q. How would you describe how your role fits into the larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. Jesus’ last command to the church before his ascension was to “Go and make disciples” (see Mt 28:19). At a secular campus of 25,000 students, this means we cannot be content to just care for the students who show up to campus already passionate about their Catholic faith (though we do that well, too). It means we actively engage a population that is largely indifferent, distrusting or even antagonistic toward the church and create pathways to build trust and ultimately share faith.
Q. Is this what you set out to do in life? If not, what road led you to this place?
A. Not initially! I left college after my junior year to get some perspective on what I wanted to do with my life. I had floated between five majors in three years without any real direction. I spent that year away as a full-time missionary serving with Life Teen. It was in formation there that we read “Redemptoris Missio” (“Mission of the Redeemer”), an encyclical by St. John Paul II. In it, he outlined the necessity of evangelization. That encyclical opened my eyes to the missionary nature of the church and launched me into full-time ministry. I decided to finish my degree in theology to spend my life living the evangelical mission of the church.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your job?
A. Probably that there is a large focus on non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics. While St. Lawrence definitely has staff and resources focused on students already journeying with Jesus, we put a lot of focus on reaching the large number of students that are not engaged in any active faith.
Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?
A. We desire GoodCo to be a home for anyone and everyone. While our student team is largely composed of passionate Catholics, our active ministry seeks to engage lapsed Catholics, non-Catholics and those who might be indifferent or even antagonistic toward faith.
Q. What do you wish everybody knew about your ministry?
A. That evangelization is not solely the duty of priests, missionaries or ministry staff members. It’s their duty, too. As St. John Paul II says in “Mission of the Redeemer”: “No believer in Christ, no institution of the church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
The statistics of former Catholics walking away from faith are staggering. Even beyond those who have left the faith, so many people are indifferent, dismissive or even antagonistic toward the church. I think this is often due to either a misunderstanding of the teachings of the church or having had poor encounters with Catholics or the church. Society knows us more for what we’re opposed to than what we are for.
Q. Why does the world need more of what you’re offering, especially now?
At GoodCo, we want students to know that we are for them. We care about their lives, their stories and their real struggles. By focusing on authentic friendship before differences in beliefs, we are finding that people become intrigued and begin to ask questions that open the doors for faith sharing. The world needs Jesus, and I’m convinced that we are not going to introduce people to him via programs, but in the context of true friendship.
Q. What have you learned about people in this job?
A. People want to be known. Even on a campus with thousands of students, so many people feel isolated and lonely. So many people are hungry for real friendships.
Q. What have you learned about yourself?
A. I’ve learned that evangelization is not about good programs but good friendships and conversations. I can tend to be task-oriented and focus on the details, but God has taught me to slow down and focus on relationships with those around me.
Q. How has it changed the way you view your identity as a Catholic?
A. My work in evangelization has changed the way my wife and I minister outside of formal ministry settings. We’ve grown more aware of the fact that God desires us to partner with him in drawing people to himself. When we meet people at coffee shops, taking our kids to the playground or anywhere else, we make an effort to say hello and introduce ourselves. We’ve gained a lot of great friends this way and God has even paved the way for us to share faith in a lot of these friendships.
Nick Labrie has been married to his wife Paeter for five years and they have three children — John Mark, 4; Éowyn, 2; and June, 3 months. Nick and his family are registered and active members of the St. Lawrence Center outside of his formal ministry.