|April 30, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 13|
CCM at The College of William and Mary: Students committed to service
Catholic students at The College of William and Mary have two opportunities for Mass on Sunday, both within walking distance of the sprawling campus. Mass is celebrated Sunday at 11 a.m. in the St. Bede Parish Center and later at 5 p.m. in the campus ministry chapel, the former church used by St. Bede Parish.
“We see 600 to 700 students each week,” Mary Ellen Pitard, Catholic campus minister, told The Catholic Virginian.
Apparently there is interest in learning more about the Catholic faith because CCM at William and Mary has an active RCIA program called “Journey” open to undergraduates, law students and graduate students on Wednesday nights.
“Last year we had three catechumens and six candidates,” Ms. Pitard said, adding that the program is also open to Catholic students who have received the sacraments and who want to learn more. “This year we had only one catechumen and six candidates.
“We say ‘just come and learn about the Catholic faith,’” Ms. Pitard continued.
“To me, it is a real blessing to walk with these young people on their journey of faith.”
The RCIA program draws some students who had been baptized in the Catholic Church as infants, but never raised in the faith. As they grow into adulthood, a seed which had been planted at baptism continues to grow, Ms. Pitard believes.
“Through baptism that desire is planted in their hearts,” she asserted.
The College of William and Mary, located in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, has 6,660 students. Because it receives financial support from the state, 65 percent of those accepted must live in Virginia.
“We know that about 37 percent of the students are Catholic,” Ms. Pitard said.
The college reports the names of those students who indicate they are Catholic to campus ministry, but students are not required to do so.
Opportunities for continuing Catholic formation or service projects abound. There are 70 coordinators with the various programs, ranging from intramural sports to getting speakers to address theological issues.
Father John David Ramsey, parochial vicar of St. Bede’s and sacramental priest for CCM, normally conducts a class on Wednesday nights called Catholicism 101. The April 25 session, the last in the current school year, had a double feature on Father Barron’s “Catholicism” series.
The students have formed the CCM Student Leadership Board which helps guide the various programs and takes seriously its role in promoting evangelization and Christian service projects. Members of the previous board were thanked with a blessing by Father Ramsey at Sunday Mass April 15, followed by a blessing to the new board which is already in place for the coming year.
“We couldn’t do it without the student board,” Father Ramsey said, smiling. “Mary Ellen and I, in a sense, are along for the ride.”
Guidance also comes from a steering committee which has help from older St. Bede parishioners who work with the students.
“Our function is to raise money for the perpetual support of the CCM program of William and Mary,” said Ralph “Whitie” Barrows, chairman. Lindsey Neimo, a sophomore from Ashburn, is the student chair.
There are various fundraising events year-round including an annual Gala held at Walsingham Academy. This year the event in March raised more than $50,000 at a sit-down dinner for 240 people.
The students also raise money from fundraising activities which they organize on their own, said Megan Provoncha, development coordinator for CCM. She also seeks money from alumni, parents of students, St. Bede parishioners and friends, who, she said are “very generous” and represent different generations.
Students who organize fundraisers take an active role in promoting them.
“We hold a baby shower to collect baby items and money for new mothers who are struggling.”
Patrick Costanzo, a junior from Charlottesville, who is service chair, said the focus is regional, domestic and international “with the idea that all service starts with individual contact and the idea that we are serving Christ when we serve others.”
Among the projects in the Williamsburg community are an annual Halloween costume sale whose proceeds go to FISH, an ecumenical group helping low-income families and a benefit auction whose proceeds go to the Angels of Mercy Clinic in Norge, a program which provides medical care to the uninsured.
“We are an active presence at the 40 Days for Life prayer vigils to end abortion,” said Jane Ryngaert, a junior from Gainesville, Fla. Students were at local events in Newport News and Virginia Beach.
Jackie Stykes, a senior from Long Beach, N.Y., was one of seven CCM students who this year went on a mission trip to Haiti to the CCM’s twinning partner, College Decoste, a high school in Thomonde.
“While we were there we taught English and sang songs with the students, worked on arts and crafts and prayed with them,” she said.
“Our big project this year is to provide clean water to the school,” Ms. Stykes said. “We hope to purchase two water filters so the students can have clean water which would also be available to other people during the summer when school is closed.”
In addition to Mass on Sunday, there is daily Mass Monday through Thursday in the chapel, Monday at 6 p.m., and on the other weekdays at 5:15 p.m. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is on Monday from 6 to 10 p.m., with Benediction at 9:45. The sacrament of Penance is available Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m., on Monday at 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., or by appointment.
“The Rosary group meets several times during the week and is open to anyone who wants to come,” said Rachel LaVigne, new vice president of the student board.
It is not surprising that the William and Mary CCM has become “a hotbed of vocations,” Father Ramsey said.
“Since 2000 we know at least 19 or 20 men and women have pursued an interest in the priesthood or religious life and have gone on to formation after graduation,” he explained.
Among them are Gino Rossi, recently ordained on March 3 a transitional deacon seeking the priesthood, Father Jonathan Goertz, now pastor of St. Timothy Parish in Tappahannock, and Dominican Sister Mary Amata, principal of St. Mary Star of the Sea School in Fort Monroe.
In addition, Danny Cogut, a CCM alum, is in formation for the priesthood for the Diocese of Richmond and Marissa Cirenza, who graduated from W & M in 2011, is entering the postulancy of the Nashville Dominicans. Kyle O’Connor, former student who would be a junior at William and Mary, is now a Basselin Scholar at Theological College of Catholic University in formation for the Diocese of Richmond.
Father Michael Boehling, diocesan Vicar for Vocations, says he visits the campus twice a month to stay in touch with students considering the priesthood or religious vocation.
“There’s not a formal group, but a number of men and women I have worked with who are seriously pondering the priesthood or religious life,” Father Ramsey said.
He credited Ms. Pitard for her vision of the campus ministry program “that would not only serve students while they are at William and Mary, but prepare them for lives of service in the Church in whatever way they are called.”
“Because of that atmosphere — and it is largely to Mary Ellen’s doing — many go on to some form of service in the Church.”
Other than spiritual activities which take place in the chapel or Parish Center, much of the hub of activity takes place in the lower level room of the chapel known as the Catacombs. Here students can hang out between classes.
The building is kept locked and one can only gain admission by placing a numerical code in a keypad.
Angela Dugas is the current CCM intern.
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