Outreach connects students with faith
Campus ministry programs available at secular colleges
Some 90 percent of the more than 1 million Catholic students who enter college each year attend secular schools. It is difficult for campus ministry staff to identify who they are and reach out to them.
The Serra Club of Pittsburgh partners with Net Ministries to support the College Connection for Catholics to alert campus ministry teams of incoming Catholics. It helps students entering secular universities to find Masses and connect with ministry programs.
"The Serra Club's primary mission is to promote vocations," said Jack Warwick, past president of the Serra Club of Pittsburgh. "With the grace of God, vocations will come from Catholics practicing their faith. We want students to continue with their Catholic faith."
Warwick coordinated the 2011 program in which 514 graduates of Catholic high schools in the diocese were connected to campus ministry programs. He also coordinated this year's program in which 630 graduates were connected.
Gary Slifkey, campus minister at Robert Morris University and Penn State Beaver, noted that the program is a valuable tool in helping campus ministers identify students transitioning into a new environment.
"College freshmen make their best friends during the first few weeks on campus, and during that time they also join organizations they'll be part of throughout their college career," he said. "Having contact information on Catholic students allows me and my student leaders to personally welcome new students to campus and invite them to participation in Catholic campus ministry liturgies and programs before school starts."
Slifkey added that, in addition to the Serra Club's efforts, family members may also enter student information by visiting www.collegeconnectionforcatholics.org. The website will automatically forward the information to the students' campus minister. The site lists more than 1,100 college campus ministry programs throughout the country.
Another important step, Slifkey noted, is to print personalized campus ministry packets and share the information with the students.
"The goal of this program is to help students stay connected with their Catholic faith throughout their college years," he said. "However, I believe this goal should be everyone's goal, and anyone who knows a student in college should take a few minutes to visit the website and enter his or her name to make sure they are connected."
While the Serra Club program currently focuses on graduates of Catholic high schools entering secular colleges, diocesan officials have expressed hope that parishes can soon help identify students graduating from public high schools.