The 40 days of Lent are a journey. It begins with faithful gusto and determination, then come the inevitable interruptions and distractions.
For Marquette University Campus Ministry, Lent is an exciting time of additional prayer and service events and increased student participation.
“Ash Wednesday on campus is the biggest day of Mass participation, period,” said Steve Blaha, Marquette Campus Ministry’s director of sacramental preparation and community formation. From morning to night, there are extra Masses both at Gesu and the Chapel of the Holy Family in Alumni Memorial Union on campus, and they are all jam-packed.
Then, midterm exams hit students in early March, and spring break is like Easter come early. Roadblocks along the Lenten journey look a little different for college students.
“Lent’s an interesting bifurcated reality on campus,” Blaha said. There’s some resettling to do as students return back to campus after the 10 days away.
Marquette Campus Ministry students and faculty are always committed to providing programs that engage as many students as possible.
During Lent, each Friday evening students gather for Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration or some other prayer observance and then head to a local parish fish fry for dinner. The Lenten retreat in Daily Life, or, as Blaha called it, “a busy person’s retreat,” is a really popular retreat in which participants commit to praying 15 minutes a day and meet with a spiritual guide once per week. A new “Milwalking” retreat will lead a group of students on a walk from campus into downtown to engage with community members in places like churches and coffee shops.
In addition to all these and more special Lenten programs are the offerings Campus Ministry has year round. Everything from international service trips to retreats to daily and weekly Masses at Gesu, the Chapel of the Holy Family and St. Joan of Arc Chapel on campus fall under Campus Ministry’s realm. Hundreds of student volunteers are involved in these ministries.
Continuing to create attractive programs as generations of students come and go every four years is the constant challenge for Campus Ministry, Blaha said.
“The question is always, ‘What is the current need?’” he said. “Are the conversations occurring in the ways they need to, and how do we accompany those conversations? How are we making spaces and opportunities to encounter God anew?”
Student leadership helps with this, and Blaha pointed to Ignite as a prime example. Ignite is a weekly faith and fellowship service that began when he came to Marquette 10 years ago and has increasingly gained in popularity.
Students desired a regular opportunity, without a strict commitment, to connect with peers, be inspired by the witness of others, hear dynamic speakers and worship in a perhaps more contemporary style. The student leadership team took the initiative, and faculty members worked with them to establish Ignite.
What is the need on campus now?
For both Blaha and Campus Ministry director of liturgical programs Sr. Mary Reginald Anibueze, it’s an increase in diversity and interfaith dialogue. With opportunities currently in place such as the Campus Ministry-sponsored Muslim prayer space, Interfaith Coordinating Team and affiliated ministers of other Christian and non-Christian religions, this outreach is already strong at Marquette, but there is room for improvement and expansion.
“Part of being a Catholic university is how we create a community of welcoming and hospitality,” Blaha said.
Anibueze said one of her personal challenges as a minister is reaching out to people of other faith traditions who feel they don’t belong. “We are a faith-based institution here at Marquette, yet some students don’t know about Campus Ministry or where the office is.”
Julie Medenwald is a Marquette student in her fifth year studying speech pathology and has been involved in Campus Ministry as a liturgical choir member, retreat leader, liturgical preparation team member and Marquette Action Program service trip leader. This year, she is a sacristan. She reiterated Anibueze’s sentiment that Campus Ministry is always trying to reach out to more students beyond those already involved.
“I think there’s definitely a stigma that you have to be very Catholic or know a lot about your faith to get involved, and I feel like that’s not the case. It’s a really welcoming group. We want more people involved,” Medenwald said. “I think there’s a lot of anxiety built up into walking into the Campus Ministry office. You don’t need to have all the answers to come.”
Sophomore and liturgy assistant Chase Hawkins also said at times it seems like not a lot of people know about Campus Ministry, but there’s always a desire to reach every student. “The challenge is always, how can we love more students?” he said. “And, I think it’s an important thing to think about. How can I – as a student who is involved – how can I help?”
Medenwald, Hawkins and fellow sacristan junior Matt Braccio all spoke to the strong feeling of home and community they experience through their participation in Campus Ministry. They describe the atmosphere as refreshing, life-giving, joyful. It draws them in, keeps them involved in the various ministries and inspires them to continue a strong and active faith beyond college.
Hawkins said he plans to keep his position as liturgical assistant for the rest of his time at Marquette, “There’s never a dull day, and I’ve met so many people because of the job.”
For Medenwald, the many ministry opportunities she participated in provided new ways to explore her faith and develop a deeper faith connection personally and among friends, she said. As she graduates this spring, she is preparing to spend a year of prayer and service as a Colorado Vincentian Volunteer. She learned about the program from a former Marquette student in Campus Ministry who now works there.
“It’s awesome to watch the growth of these student leaders,” Blaha said. He called them “your standard Marquette students,” diving full force into what they are passionate about. “I’m always in awe watching students who say, ‘I don’t know if I have the skills, I don’t know if I have the capacity, all I know is that I have enough courage to try.’ It’s inspiring.”
The work Braccio has done with Tuesday night Mass at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel and music ministry, among other things, he said, makes him feel at home. He said he enjoys making this place feel like a home for other people. “If I can get up there at Mass senior year and talk about my experience and make some freshman feel at home, then I’m happy.”