College aims to promote missionary work with new institute

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., is recruiting students for its newly formed Institute for Missionary Activity. Graduates will be prepared to be disciples of Christ in the modern world and to advance the mission of the Church not only by being witnesses to the Gospels, but also by using the gifts that they have. 

In other words, they don’t have to be priests, brothers or sisters, nor have a major in theology. 

They can be something as diverse as civil engineers or chemists. 

“A lot of people are interested in doing engineering mission work,” Benedictine Dean of Students Joseph Wurtz told Our Sunday Visitor. “They can develop systems for pure water supplies. They can work on the infrastructure of a community and build bridges across a river so that people can get medical supplies, better water or an education. We will be serving the human person, and even the Holy Father said that we can’t just do it spiritually. We need to not neglect people’s material needs.” 

Diversity of missions work

The institute — the first of its kind in a Catholic college — was launched Jan. 25 to meet the practical needs that are part of the Church’s teaching on social justice and serving. Director David Trotter, a convert, was familiar with the education available for evangelical missionaries. 

“I remember in high school that [Protestant] students who were called to the mission field had a wealth of colleges and universities to choose from to help them develop knowledge and skills,” he said. “Now that I am a Catholic, I ask the question for Catholics who want to do mission work for the Church: What are the options? They can become missionaries by joining the religious life or becoming a priest, and those are outstanding choices. But a theology degree itself doesn’t provide everything that’s necessary to be in the mission field. It only provides one facet, which is intellectual formation.” 

Trotter was working in campus ministry at the University of Kansas when he was introduced to FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). He was a FOCUS missionary at Benedictine College before becoming director of the institute. 

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for Catholics who are called to the mission field, whether it’s youth ministry, foreign or domestic mission work, pro-life work, Catholic Charities or running a nonprofit,” he said. 

Dynamic program

The goals of the institute are to provide outstanding academics in Catholic theology and philosophy, sought-after personal formation in student life, and unparalleled experience in New Evangelization models and methods. 

Students will work toward their majors (any discipline at the college), and also will take required and elective courses to receive a certificate from the institute.  

For instance, students seeking certification might have classes in business, management for nonprofits and introduction in finances, as well as classes in Scripture and ethics. Other students may take language classes or specific history or sociology classes to understand the culture where they may be working. 

“There will be some basic knowledge that everyone will need to have, but we will tailor the program to the student,” Trotter said. “This would fit very well for students who want to do a philosophy or theology major, but it is also designed for students who want to major in business or nursing. There are a lot of people who want to do mission work in the health field.” 

There will be co-curricular programs such as foreign mission trips, which are already popular on campus. Service learning opportunities will serve the needs of and improve the quality of life in the local community. Service-based projects also will provide a venue for staff and faculty to research and publish. 

Students enrolled in the institute will be required to participate in at least one March For Life in Washington, D.C., and to be in a leadership role in student life or student government. 

“In fulfilling the co-curricular and curricular requirements, students can expect to have the intellectual knowledge, the character, interior life and transferable skills to be the most dynamic Catholic missionaries in their fields,” Trotter said. “I think this is in direct response to what our Holy Fathers have called for in the New Evangelization. All of us are called to be missionaries, whether we are a lawyer or a stay-at-home mom. You can be a missionary in a foreign field or in your home.” 

Called to witness

It’s something, he added, that has long been part of the Church, but is only now being more directly expressed. 

“I think we have seen a shift in the Church encouraging the laity,” Trotter said. “If anything, the New Evangelization has helped the laity to wake up and understand that we need to participate in this as well. It’s not just for priests and religious. Every Catholic by virtue of their baptism is called to be a witness to the faith and to Jesus Christ.” 

The first freshman class will enter the institute in fall 2012. A cohort may be offered, and the details of student transfers are still in discussion. Currently enrolled students can take the necessary courses for certification, with the first class graduating in 2013. 

There already is outside interest. 

“People who do national outreach with youth and with evangelization, people in youth ministry and people at the diocesan level are asking about the program and saying that they will hire our graduates,” Wurtz told OSV. “We have had great response from people out there in the field because this is the time in our country’s history and the Church’s history when this is needed more than ever.” 

The missionary institute will hold symposiums and speakers events for higher education faculty/staff, clergy, professionals and students. The first one — on the theme of Advancing the New Evangelization — was scheduled to take place March 23-24. 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. For more information on the missionary institute, visit www.benedictine.edu/ima.