For some students, faith a factor in college decision process

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PROVIDENCE – When John Clarke visited Providence College last fall and met several Dominican friars walking on campus, he knew that was where he wanted to continue his education.

“I saw the Dominican presence,” the Seattle, Wash., native said. “Other Catholic colleges didn’t have the same presence.”

Clarke, a freshman humanities major, who described himself as a product of a “Catholic homeschool education,” emphasized that the friars’ visibility made the college’s Catholicity “come alive” and was different from other colleges that he visited.

“Having a chapel on campus helps me keep my faith alive,” he said, adding that he attends daily Mass celebrated in St. Dominic Chapel. Clarke works in the Campus Ministry Office and plans to be an altar server at campus liturgies and teach religious education classes at a local parish.

“I am looking forward to these ministries in the coming year,” Clarke said, noting that he believes it’s important to also share his strong Catholic faith with the community as well as with those on campus.

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 Clarke.

"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.

Deacon Michael Napolitano, campus minister at Rhode Island College, said that having a table at freshman orientation this summer was a good way of introducing campus ministry to incoming students at the secular college. He added that the campus ministry office is particularly popular with transfer students, eager to make friends and adjust in their new environment.

“It’s a very ecumenical spot,” the deacon said, noting that students of all faiths visit the campus ministry office and assist in service projects such as food and Christmas toy drives that benefit local inner-city parishes.

He said that one of the most popular activities sponsored by campus ministry is the weekly interfaith Bible study, which offers participants opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection.

As the new academic year begins, Deacon Napolitano said the focus of campus ministry will continue to highlight the importance of community service.

“As students grow, they have to help others,” he said.

With reports from Catholic News Service.