Faith and the college student

Cunningham_formal_robes This past Sunday morning I was privileged to celebrate Mass in the St. Thomas More Chapel at the Albriandi Catholic Center at Syracuse University.  It was parents’ weekend and the congregation was packed not only with our college students but with the supportive presence of family members.  As I celebrated Mass, I also remembered the Mass of the Holy Spirit I celebrated earlier in the year at Le Moyne College and my visit this summer to the Hall Newman Center at the State University of New York at Oswego.  These visits helped me to focus on the more than 50,000 students at the 13 college and university campuses that are located in Central New York.  I prayed for all of them this past Sunday with the hope that they would use their educational opportunities wisely acquiring knowledge that would help them on the journey through this life and prepare them for everlasting life.

In an address to the young people attending the World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reminded his audience that they were like young people the world over who are searching for happiness.    The Holy Father told them that the happiness they seek has a name and a face.  It is Jesus Christ.  He reminded his young listeners that Jesus Christ would never disappoint them.  Faith in Him would bring clarity of vision and happiness beyond measure. It is so very important that our college students encounter Christ, discover God’s will and accept His plan for them.

In so many young people of our diocese, I see generous spirits and goodness personified.  I see them eager to be of assistance in organized programs and volunteer efforts that serve the needs of others. In community service projects they volunteer to clean up neighborhoods and  help spruce up the homes of the elderly.  They tutor younger students.  They walk and run in order to raise funds to benefit worthy causes.  They assist  in religious education programs.  Our young people are concerned that everyone be treated justly and fairly.  They possess a great reverence for all of human life — so many helping in various programs to protect and defend the most vulnerable of all — the child in the womb.  It is a source of great encouragement that even as threats to human life increase enormously in our society, many young people realize the value and dignity of every human life.   They realize how much they can and must contribute to the cause of life by their prayer and diligent participation in the political process, advocating for just laws in every dimension of life.  They will help us to turn the tide in promoting the Gospel of Life.  Our young people, filled with idealism, are truly a treasure.

The presence of our campus ministers supports our college students as they live in the present and prepare for the future. The task of the campus minister is multifaceted.  The Catholic Bishops of the United States more than 20 years ago encouraged campus ministers to
• form the faith community,
• deepen the faith journey of persons,
• form Christian consciences,
• educate for justice,
• facilitate personal development and
• develop leaders for the future.

A major part of campus ministry involves just “being there.” Being with students, helping them form community and influencing the culture of higher education is a noble task and a holy vocation.  The campus minister who is truly present has an opportunity to influence students, faculty and staff.  At one time, education took place under the auspices of the Church.  The Church has a rich history of educating and forming young people to assume their role in the Church and in society.   Serious students understand and appreciate the role of the Church in educating and forming not only individuals but society as a whole.  The Catholic campus minister brings to this ministry a desire to share the living faith and to reach out in support of students in their everyday lives.

College years are important. Often, it is during these years that students make choices that will shape their entire lives.  The Catholic campus minister has a privileged position in assisting, supporting and strengthening our students as these choices are made.  It is an honor and responsibility for the campus minister to walk with the students during this formative time in their lives.

Campus ministry is vital to the Church and to society.  I am profoundly grateful to our campus ministers, men and women, clergy, members of consecrated life, and dedicated lay people who staff our campus ministry centers and provide our students with solid Catholic values.  Please know of my gratitude also to those who have contributed to the Hope Appeal which helps us fund this important ministry.  Join me in praying for our college students that they will develop their full potential according to God’s plan.

Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse


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