While many things look different on college campuses this fall, students can get a familiar dose of reality through the sacraments — albeit with face masks of course.
Campus ministry, like every other aspect of college life, has had to pivot since the beginning of the new academic year to provide faith formation while also respecting the safety precautions in place to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
Olivia Johnson, a sophomore at Bellarmine, said she is thankful to be back on campus, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“I love being on campus and being surrounded with such supportive, loving friends,” she said in an interview last week. “Although Bellarmine was incredibly supportive throughout the rise of COVID-19, it wasn’t the same taking classes at home.”
She said being on campus has restored some normalcy to her life and eased some of the anxiety caused by the global pandemic.
Franciscan Friar John Pozhathuparambil, campus minister at Bellarmine, said that one major result of the pandemic and strict guidelines is that he and other campus ministers are seeing fewer students at Mass and events.
“Students are mostly spending their time in the dorms. There is not as much celebration going on; they are mostly focused on studying,” he said.
Students are able to attend weekday Mass at Our Lady of the Woods Chapel on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Sunday, Mass is offered at 6 p.m. Opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation are offered Wednesday evenings.
“We stand outside for confessions. Students are really enjoying that. A lot of students are coming for confession,” he said.
While he has not seen a lot of disruption of his sacramental duties, he does miss the informal, day-to-day interaction with students in the campus ministry office and around campus.
“It’s a challenge for me. I get to see students at Mass, but I miss students that come to the office and engage and interact with us there,” he said.
Johnson said she is coping with the disruptions by sharing her disappointments with her friends, turning to Christ in prayer and going on lots of walks outside.
“I am reminding myself that God has prepared me and given me all the graces that I need to do his will during this time,” said the Bowling Green, Ky., native who serves as president of BUCatholic, Bellarmine’s student-led Catholic organization.
Dominican Father John Paul Kern, director of campus ministry at the University of Louisville, said students are more hungry than ever for spiritual nourishment.
So far the Catholic campus ministry at U of L has celebrated two weekends of Sunday Mass — a 5 p.m. on campus at the Interfaith Center and a 9:30 p.m. at nearby Holy Name Church on S. Third Street. Opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation and adoration are available daily at the Interfaith Center. Small groups of students have also started meeting outdoors for Bible study.
“One of the beautiful things about the liturgical and ritual aspect of our faith, especially the liturgy, is that it’s something that’s very familiar to do together, even with certain changes” such as being physically spread out at Mass and wearing masks.
“Being able to worship together and perhaps grab lunch with friends after is really important. It’s a spiritual and human source of nourishment for students,” Father Kern said.
U of L’s Catholic campus ministry also welcomed about a dozen freshman students with a retreat at the start of the semester, and they have several students in formation for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.