Greek life on a college campus doesn’t have to conjure up images of hazings gone wrong, underage drinking or other wild party scenes.
It can also be associated with brotherhood and sisterhood rooted in Catholicism. Especially if you’re a student at Arizona State University in Tempe, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff or any other college campus across the nation that has one of 44 Catholic fraternity chapters or a handful sorority chapters.
Mu Epsilon Theta chartered its latest chapter at NAU Dec. 5 with 20 young women. Katie Bandy, who was a charter member of the Gamma chapter at ASU nearly three years ago, was key to launching the NAU chapter.
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She’s now a missionary in Lumberjack land through the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at the Holy Trinity Newman Center. As such, Bandy noted a lack of consistency in women’s fellowship despite a myriad of activities and ways to get involved.
She realized evangelizing via Greek life might be the answer. Members would stay connected once discovering the opportunity for true sisterhood.
The desire for a faith-based brotherhood impelled a core group of Catholic men at ASU to launch Phi Kappa Theta in the fall of 2014. The Alpha Zeta Colony, as it’s known, hopes to have a strong enough financial and membership base to officially charter a chapter sometime in 2016. Membership stands at 25 now and is one of four colonies of the Catholic fraternity nationwide.
“Fraternities in their most simplistic sense are awesome things,” said Zach Blomberg, president of the colony at ASU. They get like-minded people together “and they drive each other to improve as men and be the best selves they can be.”
“It has strengthened my resolve to be a good Catholic. College is one of the hardest times to live out your faith. … It’s all on you,” especially the motivation to even get to Mass, Blomberg said.
The fraternity’s pillars of formation — spiritual, fraternal, social, leadership and intellectual — keep the men on track and allow them to challenge and encourage one another. Newman Center activities and retreats support spiritual formation. They attend national Phi Kappa Theta leadership gatherings, support local charities and even log a minimum number of study hours at the library each semester.
The women of Mu Epsilon Theta operate under a similar mindset. Activities fall under the pillars of sisterhood, spirituality or service and they’re not opposed to teaming up with the fraternity for the latter. Last spring’s “Mystery Newman” pageant, for example, was a big hit and raised money for the local affiliate of the Children’s Miracle Network.
DeAnna Alvarez, a charter member of the Catholic sorority at ASU who also now serves on the national board of directors, said MuEp clarifies how to live as Catholic women. There’s “a lot of happy breakups,” Alvarez said, referring to a trend she’s noticed among some new members who start off in unhealthy relationships. After being involved for a semester and growing deeper in their faith, they’d realized they deserved far better.
ASU’s sorority now has more than 70 current members plus alumni. “It feels like a sea of women,” the ASU senior said.
The same could be said nationally. Interest for new charters is quite steady and the universities are seeing the sorority as something positive, Alvarez said. MuEp is constantly fundraising, launching new chapters and growing a foundation to support such costs.
Kimberly Shaffer, a 20-year-old business economics student and member of the Newman Center’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program in Flagstaff, joined because she knew there’d always be a group of women around to remind her to place her heart in God, not worldly desires.
Amanda Garcia, 19, said hours after initiation night that she already saw a difference in her life during the pledge process.
“I love the fact that I have this wonderful and beautiful group of girls supporting me by my side,” Garcia said.
Blomberg applauded the mentorship ASU’s MuEp members have given ASU’s Catholic fraternity and are open to helping establish Phi Kappa Theta on other Arizona university campuses.
Stephen Lee, director of membership growth for the fraternity at the national level, said groups are well organized, have a strong moral foundation and are driven in identity and purpose. He will be among members in the Diocese of Phoenix this summer for its biennial Quo Vadis conference allowing current members and alumni to plan Phi Kappa Theta’s long-term future.
“Phi Kappa Theta actively develops men to be effective leaders who passionately serve society, fraternity and God,” Lee said. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity for men to better themselves while serving others.”