Salvatorian Father Salvatore Ragusa has been a priest for 27 years and a campus chaplain for almost 25. After he interned at St. Mark’s University Parish at the University of California/Santa Barbara, he knew that’s what he wanted to do.
“It was phenomenal and life changing for me,” he said about working with students. “It came to me as a Jesus moment in my life.”
Father Ragusa, 64, was a Benedictine monk, and when his community merged with another, he made the decision to become a priest with the Society of the Divine Savior.
“A wonderful spiritual director told me that I was good working with young people and suggested that I look into campus ministry,” he said. “That first year, I learned a lot about not only the university atmosphere, young people, their challenges and the gifts they bring, but it was a great opportunity to learn what it means to be a priest on the journey with others.”
Father Ragusa was at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga for 19 years, and for 13 years was a resident director and lived with students. He has been at Holy Names University in Oakland since August and lives in separate quarters attached to the residence hall.
In addition to the sacramentals and campus ministries, he connects with students in the dining hall, attends sports and other activities, and his door is always open to hear what’s on their minds.
“One of the biggest things I have learned is that students are looking for credibility, authenticity and integrity from Church leaders and civic leadership,” he said. “I consistently hear from students — even those who aren’t Catholic — that they love Pope Francis, everything from the shoes that he wears to getting out with the people. That’s a challenge for me, who is right here in their midst. How do I live? Am I walking the walk? When I preach, am I doing what I’m preaching? They challenge me to be an authentic person, an authentic Catholic.”
The university has 1,100 students, not all of them Catholic. Some are passionate about their faith, and others, he said, are asking questions “in a good and critical way.” He listens and acknowledges where they’re coming from.
“Then I invite them to consider joining us at Mass, or to come and talk with me for a deeper conversation,” he said. “Being a priest at this time in the Church is exciting. This has been very life-giving to me to see that the future of the Church is going to be in good hands. I’m learning from the students, and I’m getting to be part of the journey with them."
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.