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August 20, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 21


photo: Ms. Denion
Ms. Denion

Catholic campus ministry helps students grow in faith

Since all the college-bound high school graduates are getting packed up and ready for the plunge into higher education, I wanted to write to the Catholic Virginian and share a few words of experience.

Nothing can really prepare you for that first year away from home at college. It’s an amazing and terrifying experience and one that is designed to equip you for life out in the “real world.”

When I started at James Madison University in the fall of 2005, my parents, high school, and friends had all prepared me for being on my own to appreciate the college experience.

As it turned out, what ended up being the most valuable and life-changing lesson I learned in college was the one that I was least prepared for. I did not foresee the challenges to my faith that lay ahead and was radically unprepared for them.

Looking back, I can recognize that my struggles with Catholicism and waning relationship with God began in high school and culminated in my first year at college. I realized at some point during that difficult year that I had no idea what it meant to be a 19-year-old Catholic and no clue what role God played in my life.

When catechism classes ended after Confirmation I didn’t do anything to fill that gap in my life. By doing nothing to foster my relationship with God, I was actually passively encouraging the decline of it.

Jennifer Denion, director of development of Catholic Campus Ministry at James Madison University, is a 2009 graduate of JMU with a BA degree in anthropology.Fortunately for me, James Madison University has a thriving Catholic Campus Ministry and my sense of guilt would sporadically push me to Mass on Sunday. At a time that felt like the farthest I have ever been from God, I remember sitting at Mass at the CCM house and being struck by the people around me. They were so obviously full of joy and engaged in the liturgy while I just felt empty and bored.

The difference between them and me was so poignant that it led me to ask the question: What is it they have that I don’t?

That simple question led me down a winding and extremely challenging journey of faith. The reason I wanted to share my story is because sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t known about our CCM program and hadn’t been at Mass to witness joy.

College should be a time of great fun, great adventure, and great faith! Don’t wait for a crisis to push you into Mass.

The diocese has made it easy for you to contact the campus ministry at your college and get involved right away.

Students: If you are going to a school in Virginia, go to the website and submit your information.

Parents: get them started right by sending in your children’s information for them!

Everyone else: pray for all the students on their journey of faith in college!

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