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 CNS Story:

CAMPUS-FAITH Sep-2-2011 (820 words) xxxn

For some students, faith a factor in college decision process

By Josh Noem
Catholic News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- As a high school senior, Zack Imfeld thought he wanted to go to film school. He was involved in his Los Angeles school's television studio, he enjoyed working with film in his free time, and his dad worked for Warner Brothers.

"Plus, it sounded good when I told girls I wanted to make movies," he said.

At the start of his senior year, when Imfeld composed a list of universities he wanted to attend, the University of Southern California and New York University stood at the top because of their programs in film. His list shifted, however, as his senior year wore on.

"My dad told me to find a job that would make me happy," he said. "Film was something I enjoyed and was good at, but I grew so much from my high school youth group and I wanted to continue that growth at the next level. I knew that being involved in campus ministry was going to make me happy and become a better person."

Once he shifted his priorities and began looking for a college that would support his growth as a Catholic, the University of Portland in Oregon climbed from eighth on his list to the top three. It is a Catholic school founded by priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order that was present at his high school, so he had some confidence that his faith life would be supported on campus. "The more I dug into UP, the more it felt right," he said.

On his campus visit, he got the feeling that "I'd be treated as a person here, like I'd become part of a family. I knew this place was going to be more than a place I went to school. It would be a place that would form me into the person I want to be."

Four years later, Imfeld is starting his senior year at UP as student body president and as a lead coordinator for the campus ministry's flagship retreat program.

This fall, high school juniors and seniors across the nation will begin to prioritize their own college lists and set out on fall road-trips for campus visits. Catholic campus ministers are encouraging families to let faith play a role in those decisions as it did for Imfeld.

"Parents could talk to students about how their own faith deepened in college and the importance of grounding their academics in a holy lifestyle based on the practice of their faith," according to Father Marty Moran, executive director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. "When they make a visit to campus, families should locate the Catholic campus ministry center serving that college or university."

A Catholic institution will likely have a campus ministry office as part of its student service offerings, such as a health center or office for students with disabilities. At a non-Catholic institution, the Catholic community will most likely be gathered at a Newman center.

Newman centers were inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman, who encouraged societies for Catholic students attending secular universities. The first Newman center was founded in 1893 at the University of Pennsylvania, and there are now about 1,500 of the diocesan-sponsored campus ministry centers.

"Many people don't know what a Newman center is," said Father Moran. "It isn't the same as a 'Smith Hall' or some other typical campus building. A Newman center is the church's outreach on that campus."

When visiting a non-Catholic institution, students should be direct about wanting to see the Newman center, perhaps even calling ahead to make an appointment, according to Marcel LeJeune, a campus minister at Texas A&M.

An admissions tour at a state university could easily neglect to mention campus ministry resources. Admissions counselors at public schools cannot inquire about a student's faith background, so students should be proactive about identifying themselves to campus ministers.

"Before getting to campus, come up with a game plan for how to get involved," LeJeune said. "If you want to keep your faith, you have to put work into it. You have to make good decisions, even before you arrive on campus."

LeJeune said a good campus ministry challenges the prevailing culture on campus instead of accommodating it. "Campus ministry should give students what they need, not just what they want," he said. "A campus ministry should call its students to live for something greater."

Making this call clear to students is a crucial task for campus ministers because students face the task of making their faith their own during their college years, said Mary Deeley, pastoral associate at the Sheil Center, which serves Northwestern University in Chicago.

This faith is "not the faith of their parents nor is it their faith when they were confirmed at (age) 13," she said. "They must be able to respond to the mature, adult call to holiness. Campus ministry should be a bridge to that."


Copyright (c) 2011 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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