Campus ministry: The power of invitation


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — By offering a variety of retreats, service opportunities, ministries and Mass at St. Ambrose University, the campus ministry team hopes to keep students engaged in their faith in college.

Father Thom Hennen, the university’s director of campus ministry, said it can be a challenge to get people involved in campus ministry at any college. But he thinks that his team has a bit more of an advantage at a Catholic university with a smaller campus.

Opportunities that St. Ambrose University offers all of its students include:


• Antioch retreats and busy students’ retreats, both offered twice a year.
• Daily and Sunday Mass.
• Small-group sessions.
• Music ministry.
• Peer campus ministry in each residence hall.
• Ambrosians for Peace and Justice.
• Service opportunities on campus, near campus and, over spring break, in different parts of the U.S.

Word of mouth is how students are drawn to campus ministry options, Fr. Hennen said. “Our current students invite newer students to Mass. They also tell them about upcoming experiences.” To start things off, Fr. Hennen celebrates Sunday afternoon Mass when students and their families arrive on campus. “It’s a good opportunity to introduce them to our ministries.”

Father Thom Hennen, director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, receives the offertory gifts from Katie Galuska and Seth Brauman at the welcome Mass in 2017. Also pictured are Matt Filipski, serving at the altar, and Bizzie Braun, serving as cantor.

Keeping in touch with college students can be a challenge because their choice of communication constantly changes. The campus ministry team tries to keep up with the latest options. Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, St. Ambrose University’s faith formation director, said campus ministry offers a variety of opportunities to help students grow in faith. They can select activities of interest and that fit in their schedules.
Some students choose to participate in liturgical ministries, such as lector, cantor, sacristan, server or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Others “sing or play an instrument as part of our music ministry,” she said. New this fall is a group for women who want to learn more about the practice of discernment.

“We also offer interested students the opportunity to learn more about the Catholic Church and its teachings,” Norcross-Reitzler said. “If students are interested in joining the church they are invited to journey through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).”

Student Clay Colborn got involved in campus ministry after his older brother encouraged him to accompany him to several events. “I really loved the events and the people I met there, and it didn’t take long before I was going to Mass and to these events by myself.”

With each year, “it becomes more and more essential for me, said Colborn, who now serves as a peer campus minister, lector and eucharistic minister. “The time I’ve spent at Mass or in prayer has saved me on a number of occasions; especially when my schedule is crazy or I’m struggling with a big assignment. I rely on my faith in good times and in bad, and it never lets me down. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Andrea Adam received an email from a peer campus minister inviting her to Mass. “From there I joined music ministry with Chris Clow. My faith has always been a constant in my life.” Ben Hanser got involved his freshman year through a golf teammate. “I later found out he was the graduate assistant for campus ministry. We ran into each other after Mass and he asked me why I wasn’t a lector. I didn’t really have a good reason to tell him why I wasn’t a lector already, so I asked him when I could start …. My faith is an important part if my everyday life. My faith helps me have the right perspective during the tough times as well as the good times.”

Claire McCarthy said when she arrived at college she had the ability to choose whether to continue to grow in her faith or “just toss it aside. I saw that there was a music ministry gathering where they were just going to play music and socialize. I had brought my guitar with me from home and I love playing music and singing and learning new things and meeting new people, so I decided to go and that was the beginning of my experience with campus ministry. Since then I’ve become more involved. I went on several retreats. This past year I was a peer campus minister, which was a great opportunity to share campus ministry with other students here at St. Ambrose.”

(A future edition of The Catholic Messenger will focus on campus ministry at the Newman Catholic Student Center on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.)

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