Evangelization school equips students to be light on campuses

| Susan Klemond | August 3, 2011 | 0 Comments
Ryan O'Shaughnessy

Ryan O’Shaughnessy is being trained by St. Paul’s Outreach on the University of St. Thomas campus to live out and share his Catholic faith. Jim Bovin / For The Catholic Spirit

At the start of his freshman year at the University of St. Thomas, Ryan O’Shaughnessy saw Catholic campus groups as a way to network. But the sense of community among members of the campus ministry St. Paul’s Outreach started to grow on the atheist/agnostic, especially when he attended an SPO retreat.

“When things in my life started coming to a head around my sophomore year when I converted to Christianity, SPO was definitely there to catch me,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Since then I’ve just been getting gradually more involved meeting people and taking more of a role in SPO as an organization rather than just somebody who attends meetings.”

Before O’Shaughnessy starts his senior year this fall, he’ll participate for the first time in the School of the New Evangelization, a two-week SPO program co-sponsored by the St. Paul Seminary which will equip him to live the Catholic faith and share it effectively as part of a student community.

From Aug. 4 to 13, O’Shaughnessy and about 200 other students, full-time mission leaders, priests and leaders of other mission groups from 20 states and Mexico will meet in prayer and fellowship at the eighth annual School of the New Evangelization at the University of St. Thomas.

SPO is a West St. Paul-based Catholic ministry that seeks to evangelize students, bring them to maturity and train them to be leaders. This year, it is celebrating its 25th anniversary of training and sending missionaries to serve on campuses across the country, including eight in Minnesota.

Great need to evangelize

The need for evangelization on campuses is great, said Gordy DeMarais, SPO executive director.

“I think more and more people might be realizing that a lot of kids go off to college and lose their faith,” he said. “This is the future of the church.”

Depending on their experience, school participants will focus on deepening their relationship with Christ, training as student missionaries or for full-time mission work. They’ll learn about prayer, community living, Christian maturity, the New Evangelization and how to bring it to campus, Catholic faith and apologetics, and identity and sexual morality for Christian men and women.

This year, SNE participants can serve at several local non-profits. In addition, student missionaries will receive additional practical training in evangelization methods, including how to lead small group Bible studies, said Ryan O’Hara, Minnesota Mission Center director.

“I think we’ve always had a very strong spiritual environment and we want to keep that up, but we also want to make sure that, practically, we’re giving people tangible practical skills to play their role well, whatever that role might be,” he said.

SPO seeks to train more student missionaries to reach out to their fellow students, DeMarais said.

“We think historically that we’ve done a really good job at bringing people to a conversion and forming them to maturity,” he said.

“We want to be able to expand more broadly those students we’re engaging on the front end of our program on the initial evangelization.”

Student excited to serve

Shelley Pavlas will attend the evangelization school part time this year. The soon-to-be University of Minnesota senior looks forward to the experience.

“There are people coming from all over the country and we all leave there so excited to go back to school and use what we’ve learned and bring people closer to God,” said Pavlas, who became involved in SPO during her sophomore year. This year, she’ll serve as a missionary and co-lead a SPO women’s household near the U of M.

O’Shaughnessy, who will serve with SPO and live in an SPO household this fall, said he’s excited to learn more about evangelization and take a more active role in his faith.

“[It is] something that I can share with the world and really take an active role in the body of Christ,” he said.

As SPO expands, interest in the School of the New Evangelization also continues to grow, DeMarais said, adding that the ministry may offer conferences in other states in the future.

DeMarais said he hopes the school will facilitate life-changing conversion for participants and their call to share their faith on campus.

In addition, he said, “I’d hope more than anything that those who participate in SNE would walk away from SNE realizing that it’s God’s grace and God’s power ultimately at work that transforms and changes people’s lives. And the best thing we can do for our peers on the college campus is to be strong witnesses ourselves in our relationship with the Lord and our love for others, be men and women of prayer who build together strong communities of faith on college campuses.”

The evangelization school equips participants and gets them fired up to be light on campuses, Pavlas said.

“It helps us to be bringers of truth to all the students who are bombarded with lies all day every day,” she said. “Knowing evangelization is part of the church’s deepest identity and that’s why the church exists to evangelize, it’s cool to be part of that. It’s really exciting.”

If you are able to help School of the New Evangelization participants cover program expenses, call (651) 451-6114.

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Category: St. Paul's Outreach