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COLLEGES-FAITH Dec-2-2009 (950 words) Roundup. With photos. xxxn

On and off campus, programs help students keep ties to Catholic faith

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Whether they attend Catholic, private or public colleges, Catholic students can face challenges to their faith in the new environment of campus life.

But a variety of programs on and off campus are working to remind students of their Catholic roots and helping to make their college experience not only a time of academic growth, but of spiritual growth as well.

More than 100 college students who are parishioners at St. James Church in Setauket, N.Y., receive twice-yearly reminders "that your parish family loves you and is thinking of you," according to Mary Arasi, who has been running the program for 15 years.

The reminder comes in the form of a care package that includes homemade baked goods, a copy of the local town newspaper, an assortment of candy and other snacks, a religious article and a handwritten note signed, "God bless you, your St. James parish family."

This fall 117 students received the care packages. "We had 36 bakers making baked goods all week," Arasi said. Another 40 volunteers assembled the boxes, which were then placed near the altar at Sunday Mass to be picked up and mailed by parish families.

"It's something the whole parish is behind, and the kids remember getting them," she added. "And if one of these boxes gets to one of these kids on a bad day and is able to brighten it, it's all worth it."

Some college students find spiritual support through on-campus Knights of Columbus councils or other Catholic programs.

Some 75 students belong to Knights of Columbus Council 11949 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., including 20 who joined this year.

"It's nice to have good relationships with people who have the same beliefs and desires as me," said Paul Shovelain, a St. Thomas senior who is grand knight of the St. Thomas council.

The council holds food drives, coat drives and fundraisers throughout the school year, and recently paid for the construction of a memorial to the unborn as a tribute to aborted children and a public witness against abortion, Shovelain said.

Not all St. Thomas students are Catholic and not everyone agrees with the council's memorial to the unborn, Shovelain said. "But we are a Catholic university and we want to promote Catholic values," he said.

At private Syracuse University in New York, however, the Knights' Blessed Mother Marianne Cope Council 14260 is struggling for membership.

The official membership for the council is around 40, but that includes members from a group the Syracuse University council is trying to help get started at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit-run school also located in Syracuse.

Events sponsored by the council since the school year began have included after-Mass brunches, a barbecue and pizza dinners, a retreat, trips to an amusement park and to the state fair, pumpkin and apple picking, a monthly lecture series and a haunted house.

But the event that garnered the most attention -- with five potential new members approaching Darien Clark, grand knight of the Syracuse University council -- was a Mass celebrated by Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham during the university's Family Weekend.

"Just the fact that he was there, we were able to capitalize on that to get our name out there," Clark said.

Publicity has been a problem because the Knights of Columbus council, which admits only Catholic men, is not recognized by the university because it is considered discriminatory. Because it is not recognized, the council can't advertise on campus.

According to Michael Brewer, college council coordinator for the Knights of Columbus, there are 160 college councils throughout the U.S., with the oldest, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, scheduled to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

For some Catholic campus groups, the main focus is service. Twenty-one students from Catholic Campus Ministry at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., are headed to Belize during their winter break Jan. 10-18.

While there, they will mentor students at Mount Carmel High School, offering after-school activities and sharing their faith stories, and will build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

"The people of Belize are not only in physical need, but they are also in spiritual need," said Joe Dujmovic, an Adelphi junior who is going on the trip. "This mission trip is vital because it gives us the opportunity to use our gifts and talents to not simply help those who are suffering, but to also lead them closer to Christ."

Students from six historically black colleges and universities come together at Lyke House, the Catholic center at the Atlanta University Center that recently marked its 10th anniversary. Named for the late Atlanta Archbishop James P. Lyke, the $2.1 million center was built to resemble one of the oldest Catholic churches in Africa, a chapel in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Candis Mayweather, who graduated from Spelman College three years ago and served as a ministry assistant, said the time spent at the center was as valuable for her as the classes on campus.

"For me, Lyke House was a place where I grew, a place of spiritual and moral development," she said. "I found that even though Spelman College prepared me academically, it (could) in no way prepare my faith. Lyke House was a place to grow my faith and leadership. It is a place that I will always stay connected to."

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Contributing to this roundup were Carey Vosler in St. Paul, Jennika Baines in Syracuse, Mary Iapalucci in Garden City and Andrew Nelson in Atlanta.


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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