Father Carl F. Janicki was skeptical when students at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., suggested moving PBJ Night to Friday.
“The common myth is that you can’t run anything on Friday night because kids are doing whatever,” he said. “So here’s a group of students saying we can do it, and it ended up that we had our largest turnouts.”
That should not have been a surprise because, he said, “We give students the position of leadership and set them up for success. Then you slowly reel them in by always being in front of them with something to be involved in.”
Father Janicki is the director of campus ministry at Cabrini. Stephanie Salinis, one of his students when he was president of Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia, is the campus minister.
“I think when freshman students are away from home for the first time, they wonder, ‘Who will I be friends with, what do I believe in, am I hanging out with the right people who are aligned with my values?’” she said. “Sometimes they find peers who share their interests through campus ministry programs and service trips.”
Variety of opportunities
There are many at Cabrini. The PBJ Ministry delivers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to needy people in Philadelphia. Service trips go to West Virginia, Ecuador and New Orleans, and speakers start dialogues on a variety of contemporary subjects such as sexuality and the hookup culture. In Prayer 101, students explore different forms of prayer.
“We sponsored a Facebook Freeze during Lent and students gave up social media for a day, a week, or all 40 days, and substituted it with face-to-face encounters to strengthen relationships,” Father Janicki told Our Sunday Visitor. “We had a Busy Person’s Retreat and targeted the kids who said they were too busy. We said, ‘Then this retreat is for you.’”
Campus ministries offer students more than projects.
“Sometimes they come without saying they have a specific need, but it shows up through interaction and building relationships,” Salinis said. “It usually begins with questions about faith and about people who live their lives in ways that follow the life of Christ. It’s our job to help them figure out what they’re looking for.”
Father Janicki and the staff are there for guidance, if students ask. “We are all on a faith journey, and we get to go on this journey together,” he said.
Engaging the community
A Priest, A Rabbi and a Minister are going to St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla., and that’s not the opening line of a popular joke. It’s a new campus ministry program that creates a dialogue with students and clergy from different backgrounds.
That’s not all. At a Friday lunchtime reading group, students discuss the works of C.S. Lewis and are interested in expanding to J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. Add to that popcorn and movie nights, Masses, Bible studies, catechism classes, prayers with the Benedictine monks and FIDE — Faith Integration, Development and Evangelization — reaching out to youth groups and parishes in the state.
“It’s important to provide a variety of activities at times that students can attend them, in a manner that is inviting to them,” said Benedictine Father Nicholas Ast, vice president for mission and identity at the university. “We try to give them alternatives to things that might not be in their best interest, and I think we do it very well.”
The activities also draw students out of “the cocoon” that they can create in their rooms.
“Because of the availability of technology, it’s a constant temptation for students to isolate themselves with the Internet, cable TV, Netflix, video games they can play online and their smartphones,” Father Ast said. “They walk down the sidewalk texting and have ear buds in, and they are in their own little world. We want to get them out of that mindset and engage them in the community. That’s why we try to do something every day.”
For the last Super Bowl, they put a big screen television in an open space and served pizza and soft drinks. A third of the student population showed up. When a snowstorm shut down the campus last winter, students found board games and organized a dance in the student union.
“It was fun to see what kind of community would come out of a snowstorm,” Father Ast said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.