Not a club, not a clique: SPO students live the New Evangelization

| February 26, 2013 | 1 Comment
Sarah Spangenberg, a junior at the University of St. Thomas, gave a testimony during the St. Paul’s Outreach Benefit Banquet Feb. 12 at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Sarah Spangenberg, a junior at the University of St. Thomas, gave a testimony during the St. Paul’s Outreach Benefit Banquet Feb. 12 at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Alumni and friends gathered Feb. 12 to benefit St. Paul’s Outreach

When Sarah Spangenberg arrived at the University of St. Thomas for her first semester of college life, she was ready to be on her own.

At least, she thought she was.

But, when she heard her parents’ car drive away, she didn’t feel the independence she had been longing for. She felt more alone than ever.

Spangenberg struggled through her first semester, meeting people and hanging out with different groups, but she really didn’t have any true friends. Her life changed, however, when she encountered Saint Paul’s Outreach.

“It’s not a club, it’s not a clique, it’s not a fraternity — it’s true, authentic Christian living. It’s true friendship, true relationships and life to the absolute fullest,” Spangenberg said. “When I signed the household agreement, I thought I was joining in a household of like-minded college students so I could learn how to pray and make some friends. What I was really in for was an encounter with Christ and what the Church can really be.”

Spangenberg, now a junior, told her story to a crowd gathered Feb. 12 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul for the annual Saint Paul’s Outreach benefit banquet. The event included dinner, testimonials and the presentation of the seventh annual Bishop Paul Dudley Servant Leadership Award.

Reaching out

Saint Paul’s Outreach, more commonly known as SPO, is a Catholic ministry on college campuses that began in St. Paul 25 years ago in response to the Church’s call for a “new evangelization.” There are now seven branches across the United States.

SPO reaches out to college students with the life-changing power of the Gospel through building relationships and faith-filled environments.

Brandt Haglund, a member of the SPO staff at the University of Minnesota, also shared his journey to SPO during the banquet.

Haglund aspired to be an ambassador to another country. He worked hard, received good grades — and had a good time. The son of an alcoholic, he grew up learning that to be a man meant to pursue success and pleasure.

One weekend a former coach reached out to him and invited him to the annual Rector’s Bowl, a football game between the seminarians at St. Paul Seminary and St. John Vianney College Seminary. He was invited to a bar to hear a band play afterward. It would be his first encounter with SPO.

“I was inspired by the maturity of the men and how they treated the women,” Haglund said. “Their joy and their zeal for Christ and his Church was contagious, but I thought, it’s good that this Jesus stuff is good for you, but it’s not really my thing.”

He continued working toward his goal and ended up at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. But things didn’t go as planned and he was alone and far from family and friends. He decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota and thought that a fraternity sounded like a great idea. But then he remembered the group of SPO students he had met after the Rector’s Bowl. He contacted SPO and filled out a household application.

After graduation, Haglund stayed with SPO. “I’m grateful to God and SPO for helping me become the man that I am today. Not only have I grown in my relationship with Christ and love of his Church, but as a missionary I have the best job in the world,” he said. “As a [SPO] staff person at the University of Minnesota, I have the privilege of watching guys become the men that God is calling them to be.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt told those gathered that they had chosen the right organization to support. “This is a wonderful organization and they’re doing tremendous work, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

“At a time when college students find their faith commitment being stretched and when they struggle with questions of morality and the practice of their faith, Saint Paul’s Outreach is there,” the archbishop said.

The Bishop Paul Dudley Servant Leadership Award was presented to Catholic United Financial and its former president, Michael McGovern, for their generosity and support of SPO over the years.

McGovern, a member of St. Dominic in Northfield, served as CUF president and chairman of the board from 1998 through 2012.

“I’m so grateful for all that you’ve done for the Church; it’s tremendous,” Archbishop Nienstedt said.

“We are thirsting to be known, to be loved personally and to be accepted despite our shortcomings,” Spangenberg said during her testimony. “Praise the Lord for SPO, because that’s what you get. You learn that you are loved, that you are accepted despite your shortcomings, that you are known.”

For more information visit the SPO website.

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