FLAGSTAFF — When students enter college, they enjoy the opportunity to seek new experiences, develop new friends, and establish their own values. Fr. Matt Lowry, chaplain of the Holy Trinity Newman Center at Northern Arizona University, wants to ensure that, despite these changes, students maintain their Catholic faith.
“Students are often looking for a new life,” he said. “If they are seeking the Way, the Truth and the Life, they will find Christ.”
In Flagstaff, the Catholic Jacks — a takeoff on the school’s mascot name, the Lumberjacks — provide a place for students to encounter faith on their own terms with their peers. Away from their families, students may be tempted to skip Mass and other sacraments, but when they have friends who encourage them to participate in liturgical ministries, retreats and social events, students are more likely to remain faithful.
“I came to the Newman Center excited to make my faith my own,” said Natasha Flaack. “The Newman Center helped me become a better Catholic. I learned to have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
Besides attending daily Mass, students have many opportunities to encounter other Catholics or even to explore the faith for the first time. The FOCUS group (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) offers guidance of a mentor in finding and maintaining faith.
Students can serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, lectors and in the music ministry. RCIA classes and marriage preparation are available and Newman Night provides a Mass, food and a guest speaker.
A retreat each semester finds the students out in the woods for a long weekend of prayer and study. A highlight of next year’s schedule is a trip to World Youth Day in Poland by way of a tour of the Holy Land. Men’s and women’s groups offer more opportunities for friendship and faith-building. The Newman Center offered Marcus Vargas a new path in life. Though he graduated from the nursing program, he became a full-time FOCUS missionary, serving on different campuses.
“The Newman Center gave me a huge foundation of being with people who have the same values I do,” he said. He was instrumental in helping to form a body and soul mission through the FOCUS ministry.
And the students have responded with gusto. Two hundred fifty to 300 students participate in Newman Center activities each week. More than 30 Bible studies are available. Fr. Lowry said in his seven years as chaplain, while watching practicing Catholic students focus on their faith with energy and enthusiasm, he has seen many conversions. Last year, two men from NAU entered seminaries.
“It is a marvelous experience to watch these students keep growing and learning in their faith,” Fr. Lowry said.
— By Mary Dahl, The Catholic Sun