St. Paul’s Outreach marks 25 years of sharing faith

| Susan Klemond For The Catholic Spirit | March 2, 2011 | 0 Comments


As he encourages the high school juniors in his Providence Academy, Ply­mouth,  religion class to become better Catholics, Kevin Ferdinandt draws on what he learned as a college student almost 25 years ago from the ministry now known as St. Paul’s Outreach.

“It’s about how the Gospel permeates every part of my daily life, and that still stays with me,” said Ferdinandt, Provi­dence Academy’s upper school director. “How do I seek to help others come to the faith, too?”

Ferdinandt, a parishioner at St. Anne in Hamel, is one of many Catholics who as college students and young adults have developed their faith — and the means to both live it out and share it — through SPO during the past quarter century.

As SPO leaders reflect on the ministry’s early days of evangelizing students on several Minnesota campuses, they look forward to continued growth around the country as more students seek an authentic Catholic faith experience.

Branches in five states

On March 8, the West St. Paul-based ministry will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a Minnesota benefit banquet at the St. Paul River­Centre. Other an­niversary events are planned for August.

Now with branches in five states serving 13 campuses, SPO has come a long way from the mid-1980s when founders Gordy DeMarais, Christina Smith and (now) Father Kevin Finnegan recruited the first student missionaries to reach out to their peers at the University of St. Thomas and then-College of St. Catherine, said Smith, who along with working with SPO formation, is an instructor at the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute.

“Really what we were trying to do was instill a vision in the student for what their Christian responsibility is to reaching out to other students,” she said.

Before starting campus work, SPO established its first men’s and women’s summer households where students lived together and received faith formation, Smith said. Later, prayer meetings and other campus events drew more students, she added. Currently, the ministry has 12 households in four states.

One of SPO’s goals, then as now, has been to prepare students to influence their peers positively, encourage them and strengthen them in making Christ-centered choices, said DeMarais, SPO executive director.

Along with this peer relational dynamic, which in the 1980s was uncommon in Catholic campus ministry, faith formation in the context of community life is at the heart of the ministry, he said.

Before becoming friends with an SPO missionary in one of his UST classes in 1986, Ferdinandt said he attended Mass on Sundays but was not very committed to his faith. Through personal relationships with SPO friends, Ferdinandt said he saw the importance of integrating faith in all areas of life.

“One of the things I realized while I was there is I don’t go halfheartedly at anything in my life,” Fer­di­nandt said. “Why do I go halfheartedly in my faith? That didn’t make any sense to me.”

Ferdinandt said his SPO experience influenced his decision to pursue a career in Catholic education and taught him about praying daily and healthy relationships — information he still uses today.

University of Minnesota graduate and Maternity of Mary parishioner Jenna Krause said participating in SPO has also helped her with prayer, and understanding who she is as a Christian woman. Since finishing her bachelor’s degree in 2008, Krause continues to work as an SPO missionary.

Before learning about SPO during her soph­omore year, Krause said she practiced her faith but lacked fellowship to resist pressures of college life. She said she’s grateful for friends she made who continue to call her and help her grow in faith.

Krause added that her college years weren’t just about her and her degree but an opportunity to share the Gospel with students seeking truth. “Our goal is not to make Chris­tians for four years but give a foundation for how to live out the rest of their life.”

Word about SPO spread quickly as students’ lives were impacted and more young people became aware of their need for the ministry SPO provides, DeMarais said. As college culture becomes even more secular, that need is still growing, he said, adding that SPO receives requests for help in starting similar ministries around the country.

Said Smith, “In my mind, it’s a work of God. I see so much grace being poured out and such great hunger on the college campuses still. There is probably even a deeper hunger for spirituality, true Catholic teaching and support in living a moral life than 25 years ago.”

For more information about SPO’s benefit banquet or to register, call Lauren Becker at (651) 451-6114, ext. 113.

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