New leadership sparks unprecedented student involvement in U of M campus ministry

| Jessica Weinberger | September 7, 2016 | 10 Comments
University of Minnesota senior Dani Shupe, front, listens during a leadership training day Aug. 21 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center in Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota campus. Shupe and other student leaders came to help organize events and programs for the upcoming school year. Shupe will be directing the fall retreat. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

University of Minnesota senior Dani Shupe, front, listens during a leadership training day Aug. 21 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center in Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota campus. Shupe and other student leaders came to help organize events and programs for the upcoming school year. Shupe will be directing the fall retreat. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

On an average weekend at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, 1,200 students gather together — not to attend a Gopher sporting event or house party — but to attend one of three Sunday Masses at St. Lawrence Church and Newman Center on the northwestern edge of Minneapolis’ Dinkytown neighborhood.

Thanks to Campus Ministry Director Brother Ken Apuzzo, a strong partnership with St. Paul’s Outreach and a group of passionate student leaders, a vibrant Catholic culture has emerged at the mega public university where nearly 47,000 students study each year.

Since Brother Ken’s appointment two years ago through the Brothers of Hope religious community headquartered in Boston, daily Mass attendance has increased from less than 10 students to nearly 70. Priests previously heard 30 minutes of confessions each week — now it’s 30 minutes per day. Fifteen students attended campus ministry’s 2014 fall retreat, while last year’s retreat topped more than 100 participants. More than 20 students came into the Church on Easter in 2015, and there’s a greater interest in religious vocations.

To spark this dramatic resurgence, Brother Ken leaned on his experiences at other large public universities like Florida State University in Tallahassee and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to form a trained student leadership team and develop a solid vision for reaching out to the masses on campus, many being millennials who didn’t grow up in the Church.

“You have to be very proactive and find ways to enter into their world on campus and make the first step toward the Church — toward Jesus — an easy, natural and organic one,” he said.

That process often begins at the student-led Gopher Catholic Night. Each Tuesday, more than 100 students head to the student center to listen to presentations, hear testimonies, participate in small groups and praise and worship as they focus on deepening their faith, enriching their prayer life and ultimately, building relationships.

“The goal is for them to be in relationship with one another and us to support that because they can go out and reach each other in places we can’t,” St. Lawrence pastor Father Jon Vander Ploeg said.

A strong Catholic presence in a public university setting is crucial, said Father Vander Ploeg, as students are making decisions each day that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

“Here [at a public university], you’re encountering the frontline of the world, and there’s no secret in that,” he said. “You know where the battle lines are and where the issues are.”

A faith family away from home

Kaly Kohns, 21, serves as president of Catholic Students United, the official student group at the Newman Center. The Plymouth native who attended Holy Name of Jesus in Medina helps oversee the various campus ministry committees, Gopher Catholic Night and events like the recent Labor Day barbecue outreach event in the freshman superblock of dorms.

Kohns said that CSU has helped her feel part of a faith family away from her home parish and equipped her with the tools needed to live and study alongside people of different faiths.

“Because of CSU, I’ve been able to have very open and honest conversations with my friends,” she said. “They can meet me where I’m at, and they respect the different ways I see things or how I explain my faith.”

Kohns, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering, also noted her expanded prayer life, which now includes lectio divina, Liturgy of the Hours and a greater understanding of how to pray the rosary. During this Year of Mercy, she looks forward to participating with the other student leaders who have taken an oath to be “missionaries of mercy” and look for opportunities to evangelize throughout the school year.

Junior Ali Miller, 20, said her involvement with CSU has showed her the power of faith in action. She served with fellow campus ministry members at a homeless shelter and women’s shelter on a spring break mission trip to Anchorage, Alaska, and now spends time ministering to the homeless at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.

“It’s really opened my eyes to the power of serving others,” said Miller, a biology and public health major from Rochester.

Faith has a place on campus

Brother Ken Apuzzo

Brother Ken Apuzzo

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who lives in the rectory at St. Lawrence, has seen the growth within campus ministry firsthand and describes the energy around the parish and the Newman Center as “palpable.” He’s pleased to see the increase in confessions and daily Mass attendance and hopes to see a continued up-tick in religious vocations.

“That time in college is so important for people to choose their vocation, and that’s why it’s so important that we invest in campus ministry,” Bishop Cozzens said. “That’s the time when young people encounter Christ and then can pursue their vocation.”

Now in the first week of fall semester, Brother Ken hopes this will be a breakout year in terms of reaching new students and strengthening the faith community. He asks for prayers from local Catholics for the incoming freshman class, which they hope to reach early on before temptation may draw people away from the faith.

To support their efforts to evangelize to such a large university community, Brother Ken is grateful to have the designation as a recognized student organization on a secular university campus.

“We believe that faith has a place in the midst of the university,” Brother Ken said. “It’s not just supposed to be across the street outside of the life of the university. By being an actual recognized student group on the campus, it puts spirituality and faith right there in the heart of the campus.”

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  • Mole

    Unfortunately during my 5 year presence at UofM I’ve never heard about any Catholic event on campus, it almost feels there is no Newman Center at UofM.

    • DebraBrunsberg

      Then you must have never entered St. Lawrence, where the Newman Center is located. You can’t miss the calendar, the schedule of events, the bulletin boards or the students. There is something going on constantly. Granted, nothing much was going on until three years ago, when a new pastor was assigned. You might want to try a daily Mass and then see for yourself. 🙂

      • Mole

        Please see what kind of events are available here at Newman Center website: http://umncatholic.com/events/ I see a LOT of basketball (12x a week), volleyball (2x a week), not many Catholic events. Yes, I do see Bible Studies (once every two weeks), but at the U there is like 45,000 students, I’m not sure how one Bible Studies (and few other loosely related to Catholic faith events) can provide opportunities for young Catholics to keep faith. Considering that UofM is one of the most liberal universities it can be there should be MANY, MANY more events organized to keep young people engaged.

        I do not see in Newman Center Calendar: daily Holy Mass, Confessions, Spiritual Direction. Can I sign up for Holy Hour? Is there Holy Hour designated time?

        Examples: Holy Mass on UofM Campuses, Eucharistic (and/or Rosary) Processions on UofM Campuses, Movie Nights showing GOOD Catholic movies, Catholic speakers invited to give speeches to Campus about issues such as Abortion, Homosexuality, Marriage, Family, Apologetics etc. etc., events like “Stump the Priest” open to public.

        It would be great if Newman Center would invite Focus ministries to help with Biblie Studies. This is VERY active and amazing organization: https://www.focus.org/

        • DebraBrunsberg

          Again, why don’t you stop into the Newman Center and see what is happening there. There is much more than is on the web site, especially seeing as classes just started a week ago.
          They do have talks, music, speakers, prayer groups, retreats, Adoration and praise and worship. You can sign up for Adoration. there is daily Mass at 12:15 Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M. on Saturday. Confession Monday through Saturday after every Mass. Three Masses on Sunday. Seeing as you have not taken the initiative to ever come to St. Lawrence for Mass or talk to anyone at Catholic Students United or find out what is going on at the Newman Center, you might want to actually do that and bring your ideas and get involved. Join in a ministry in the parish. I am really sorry that in five years no one has personally sought you out and asked you to go to Mass or be involved with other Catholic students. I can only presume that you have been doing all of that evangelizing on your own. Please come to the Newman Center and bring your Catholic friends who also may not be aware of what there is for them to become involved in. You will meet some amazing people whose goal is to be drawn ever closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy to complain about something when you know nothing about it. Less easy once you become part of it. 🙂

          • Mole

            I’m very happy to hear that. However, new person just arriving on UofM campus will simply look at Newman website, check Calendar and see there is plenty of basketball etc. Why Calendar is missing most important (from Catholic perspective) information like: Mass, Adoration, Confession, Rosary times etc.? It is not necessarily about my “personal invitation” I did not get. It is more about Newman Center being present and ACTIVE in its efforts to reach to other people. I received many invitations to various Muslims groups, LGBT, Native Americans but I NEVER heard about any talk/event organized by Newman. I can see their posters etc. etc. I’m quite active Catholic, I know that Newman Centers exists and I will find “my way”, but what about outreach? What about approaching strangers, people who are NOT Catholics? It is easy to write words of “great, amazing, interesting, engaging” but without actually facts behind it. What are criteria of evaluation of Newman Center? It is true, I do not know Newman Center in UofM, since it is invisible for me and hundreds of other people at the U.

          • DebraBrunsberg

            You have to remember that the website is also for the parish church. The home page lists Mass times and confession. I can’t speak for the website but, if there are things that you want to see on it that are not listed, then get involved. They do have campus outreach and much of that is affiliated with St. Paul’s Out Reach and with the Youth Ministry that this article is about. I am thinking that with 46,000 students, and with the ministries being made up of mostly students, reaching everyone is an impossible job, unless every Catholic student gets involved. 😉 The Newman Center has always been at the U of M. They have not always been reaching out, but in the last three years, they have become a powerful tool for the Lord. I have only been there for three years, and I am not a student, but I am overjoyed with what I am seeing at St. Lawrence. Adoration is starting on September 19th. This is solely organized by the students. It starts right after the 12:15 Mass each day and ends at 5:30 each day. You can sign up in the Newman Center. Please come for Mass and stay for some time in Adoration or come for Sunday Mass and then meet some students after Mass. 10:00 and 7:00 on Sunday are pretty much all students. It is beautiful to see. God bless you!

        • litoo

          This group is at the U. http://www.spo.org

  • Jane

    This is sooooooooo wonderful!! So happy to know that the U is successful in being able to keep young Catholics, truly Catholic! Just so happy to learn of this!

    • Mole

      Please see what kind of events are available here at Newman Center website: http://umncatholic.com/events/ I see a LOT of basketball (12x a week), volleyball (2x a week), not many Catholic events. Yes, I do see Bible Studies (once every two weeks), but at the U there is like 45,000 students, I’m not sure how one Bible Studies (and few other loosely related to Catholic faith events) can provide opportunities for young Catholics to keep faith. Considering that UofM is one of the most liberal universities it can be there should be MANY, MANY more events organized to keep young people engaged.

      Examples: Holy Mass on UofM Campuses, Eucharistic (and/or Rosary) Processions on UofM Campuses, Movie Nights showing GOOD Catholic movies, Catholic speakers invited to give speeches to Campus about issues such as Abortion, Homosexuality, Marriage, Family, Apologetics etc. etc., events like “Stump the Priest” open to public.

      It would be great if Newman Center would invite Focus ministries to help with Biblie Studies. This is VERY active and amazing organization: https://www.focus.org/

  • John Calden

    I would agree that if the Newman Center has any real hope of reaching students it needs an enhanced web presence and better outreach. The competition for students’ attention is hyper-intense. There are innumerable clubs and activities, plus trips and lectures, and events in the larger community. Without good marketing and an effective calendar that includes more than sports I can’t imagine many students would 1) know the Newman Center exists and 2) would take the time to walk in the door of St. Lawrence.