Catholic campus ministry expands at U of L

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Father Charles D. Walker, the new chaplain for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Louisville, and Sarah Fellows, the Catholic campus minister, are pictured outside the schoolÕs Interfaith Center recently. The Archdiocese of Louisville is committing new resources to expand its ministry to Catholic students at U of L. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)
Father Charles D. Walker, the new chaplain for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Louisville, and Sarah Fellows, the Catholic campus minister, are pictured outside the schoolÕs Interfaith Center recently. The Archdiocese of Louisville is committing new resources to expand its ministry to Catholic students at U of L. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Last week as Catholic campus ministers at the University of Louisville’s Interfaith Center discussed their ministry, a student talking on his cell phone appeared outside and took a seat on the center’s concrete steps. He looked upset. When he hung up, he began pacing.

The center’s new full-time chaplain excused himself and walked outside to greet the student. The two talked quietly for about 10 minutes and then the student went on his way.

Turns out, he had just received news that a family member died.

The new chaplain, Father Charles D. Walker, provided what’s known as a ministry of presence — the act of being present to someone in need.

To make this type of ministry — and other outreach —  more available, the Archdiocese of Louisville is expanding its presence at the university beginning this summer.

The chaplaincy, formerly a part-time position, is now full-time, and plans are in the works to include a local parish in student life.

Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville, said two things prompted the archdiocese to commit more personnel and resources to U of L students.

First is the emergence of a large residential community — of more than 6,000 students — on the university’s campus.

“In the last 20 years, U of L has moved from being primarily a commuter campus to more residential,” he said. “In a sense, the campus has become a small town unto itself.

“While there are no hard statistics, it is estimated that a third of (the students) come from Catholic families,” he added. “So we have a small town with several thousand Catholics.”

The second reason is an intentional effort within the church in the United States to engage young adults.

“There’s been a clear calling for the church to increase pastoral initiatives to young adults,” Reynolds said. “Young adults are arguably the least connected to parishes of any age group.”

Both local pastors and parents, he said, have expressed concern that college-age students “aren’t getting pastoral care at school.”

A full-time chaplain — who plans to keep daily office hours — will help answer that need, said Reynolds.

The presence of a full-time priest has ebbed and flowed since Catholic ministry was established at U of L more than 50 years ago. It’s been about 25 years since a priest served on the campus full-time, said Reynolds.

“It takes new financial resources to do this,” he added. “We’ve adjusted the use of our resources because this is such an important area.”

Father Walker, formerly pastor of the thriving St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., is a long-time pastor who’s known for being down-to-earth and for being a hit with kids young and old.

He succeeds Father Louis J. Meiman, who served part-time as the chaplain for 20 years. Father Meiman served the campus faithfully, Reynolds said, while also serving as full-time pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, a large parish in the Highlands.

Sarah Fellows, the Catholic campus minister at the University of Louisville, has known Father Walker as her pastor for many years. She was shocked and pleased, she said, when Father Walker was appointed as her new chaplain and co-worker.

“It’s going to be a perfect fit. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” she said.

“Having a pastoral presence is essential to this age group,” Fellows noted. There is so much happening in their lives. They’re coming out of high school and making decisions on their own. They’re deciding what’s important and what isn’t.”

Campus ministry, she said, aims to keep spirituality on the “important list.”

Sunday evening Masses draw 80 to 120 students to the Interfaith Center, depending on the time of year, Fellows said.

Catholic campus ministry, she noted, is peer led, meaning students help plan and carry-out various activities. About 22 students currently serve as leaders — coordinating liturgical music, prayer, faith-sharing activities and service work.

Under and upperclassmen alike take part in service activities and attend regular Scripture study, devotions (including the rosary and liturgy of the hours) and a monthly catechetical program with free pizza called Pizza Theology.

Father Walker said he’s looking forward to the end of summer when the university will again be filled with students. He noted that he was very sorry to leave St. James, a community he served for about six years. But he’s excited to be at U of L.

“I don’t own anything blue,” he said with a grin. “I even regret the times I have to wear blue jeans. I’m more of a fanatic than a fan.”

More seriously, though, Father Walker said he hopes that he and Fellows can increase the numbers of students engaged in campus ministry, including those who live in neighborhoods nearby.

“If we do that well, we’ll probably need different space than we have here,” he noted.

With that in mind, the archdiocese’s expansion of campus ministry includes plans to establish the nearby Our Mother of Sorrows Church on Eastern Parkway as a center for student worship and sacramental life. Father Walker is living in the parish rectory already.

For now, Catholic campus ministry will continue to be based at the Interfaith Center, said Fellows, noting that Catholic Campus Ministry shares the space with other faith groups.

The center, located in the heart of the Belknap campus, has been home to Catholic campus ministry at U of L for nearly 50 years. It was built with the help of the Archdiocese of Louisville and other faith-partners in the 1960s.

The parishioners of Our Mother of Sorrows “warmly welcomed” the plan to bring U of L students into the parish, said Reynolds.

“Father David Harris has developed an active young adult ministry at Our Mother of Sorrows, St. Elizabeth and St. Therese (clustered parishes) in part because large numbers of graduates and graduate students are living in that area,” he said. “This appears to be a natural place to gather adults in their 20s.”

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