Campus ministries promote vocations, presence through challenging years

by Matthew Smith

North Texas Catholic

November 20, 2017

Michelle Dinh, 20, co-president of the TCU Catholic Campus Ministry, prays during the Holy Hour for Vocations at the TCU Newman Center in Fort Worth, Nov. 8. (NTC Photo/Ben Torres)


FORT WORTH — Father Nghia Nguyen, during a Nov. 8 Mass at the Texas Christian University Catholic Newman Center, asked students attending to contemplate how God is calling “each and every one” of them to holiness and to love in a specific way.

Fr. Nguyen celebrated the organization’s weekly Wednesday Mass in honor of the Nov. 5-11 National Vocation Awareness Week and asked students to pray for more vocations, be they priests, sisters, happy marriages, or those discerning marriages.

Fr. Nguyen also challenged students to look into their own hearts to discern how God is calling them to serve.

“So I ask you today, what gifts do you give God in return?” Fr. Nguyen said.

Fr. Nguyen, parochial vicar at St. John the Apostle Parish in North Richland Hills, also serves as a vocations liaison for the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“Vocation means how do you respond to God’s calling to serve in love,” Fr. Nguyen said. “Our vocation is in each and every one of us. My role is to advocate, promote, and foster the vocation in a person whether that’s the seminary, religious life or maybe not — maybe it’s something else.”

Catholic campus ministries at several area universities also play important roles in supporting and guiding students as they work through such questions.

“For me it’s those ‘aha’ moments students have during their journeys through the good and bad where I get satisfaction,” TCU Campus Minister Tom Centarri said. “Their struggles and victories and seeing them grow as disciples and great parish leaders.”

That includes students at area universities who have answered religious callings — several have — as well as everyone else, Centarri said.

“Regardless of the direction they want to go in I’m just here as a resource,” Centarri said. “If they have questions about anything in their life, vocation related or not, we’re here for them.”

Father Nghia Nguyen leads TCU students during the Holy Hour for Vocations at the TCU Newman Center in Fort Worth on Nov. 8. (NTC Photo/Ben Torres)


Assisting Centarri is Ann Smith, a volunteer who brings 22 years of campus ministry experience both at Midwestern State University and TCU. Doing so, Smith joked, keeps her young.

“A big motivator for me is that when I was in this stage of my life I didn’t feel the presence of a safe place to just ask questions,” Smith said. “Which is a normal part of faith development, that it’s OK to be uncertain and have questions, to explore aspects of their faith, question some of that, and come to a deeper relationship with God as a result.”

From the standpoint of answering the call to vocations, UNT Campus Minister Jenny Lynn Pelzel said one former UNT student is now a novice sister, another has entered the seminary, and nine have become missionaries. More than that, however, it’s about providing space for students to talk, form friendships, and pray, Pelzel said.

“Taking the lead from St. John Paul II, everything we do is rooted in prayer,” Pelzel said.

Campus ministry, she said, involves an important, challenge-filled calling.

“The biggest challenge is our society and culture of relativism, which offers so many distractions and where the Church is seen as intolerant and telling people what to do.”

Another challenge is getting the word out, University of Texas at Arlington Campus Minister Jeff Hedglen said.

“We’re a commuter school,” Hedglen said. “We’ve combated that by being a visible presence, setting tables up at every event to let students know we’re here.”

Midwestern State University Campus Minister Debbie Neely said she works to maintain a campus presence including having a priest available to visit with students during events in the student center.

Michelle Dinh, 20, co-president of the TCU Catholic Campus Ministry, prays during the Holy Hour for Vocations at the TCU Newman Center in Fort Worth, Nov. 8. (NTC Photo/Ben Torres)

All agree that the biggest challenge may be the tendency of many to fall away from their faith during college.

“So many distractions,” Neely said. “Many are away from home for the first time, away from parents asking if they’ve gone to Mass. It can be easy to pull away from that relationship with God.”

Such freedom, however, often results in an opposite reaction, Centarri said.

Estefania Barreto reads a prayer November 8 at the University Catholic Community at UT Arlington. National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life through prayer and education. (NTC photo/Jayme Shedenhelm)


“It’s easy to assume students on their own are going to rebel, and a lot do,” Centarri said. “But a lot also make their faith their own at that point. It’s not their parents’ anymore.”

Senior Helena Kons, a service committee member for TCU’s Catholic Community agreed.

“I knew it was going to be different when my faith was completely my responsibility and not necessarily a shared responsibility between me and my parents,” Kons said.

Involvement has broadened her faith past simply attending church to participation with area food banks and homeless community outreach, Kons said.

“It inspired me not to have a static faith, to be more active in it,” she said.

For Junior Jack Schroeter, who serves as co-president of the TCU Catholics, a sense of community provided the draw.

“A group I could call my own and people I could develop my faith with and who would help lead me along the right path,” Schroeter said.

The campus ministers also consider that involvement a gift.

“I feel so blessed every single solitary day,” Neely said. “It’s not my job. I love it and it’s the best thing God has placed in my life, to be part of the students’ energy, questions, and curiosity.”

Smith agreed and said she finds inspiration in the fact that students today face a more challenging world than she did in her day.

“Despite the rough stuff in the world today, I repeatedly say that these students really do give me hope for our community, our Church, and our world,” Smith said.

FORT WORTH — Father Nghia Nguyen, during a Nov. 8 Mass at the Texas Christian University Catholic Newman Center, asked students attending to contemplate how God is calling “each and every one” of them to holiness and to love in a specific way.

Published (until 12/25/2039)
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