Sister Faustine of Jesus and Sister Jeanne Marie, from the Community of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John, Burgundy, France, recently arrived here to serve as Catholic campus ministers at Montclair State University's (MSU) Newman Center.
Several months ago Archbishop John J. Myers invited the Sisters to serve in the archdiocese. Though still adjusting to their new environment, they were clear regarding their mission and ministry: to reach out and establish personal relationships that celebrate the spirituality of MSU students.
"We are here mainly for the Catholic students of Montclair State, but we are open to speak with students of all faiths, to help open the door to their hearts and satisfy their thirst for the truth," Sister Faustine said with her lilting French accent.
Sister Jeanne Marie explained that, as Catholic campus ministers, their duties will encompass Bible studies, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs, as well as to serve as a "praying presence" on the campus. She said they also will participate in Sunday masses, which will be held at 8:30 p.m. in the MSU Student Union building, Café C. The first Mass of the new school year will be held on Sept. 9. Pizza and refreshments will follow Mass. Bruce Mauro serves as music director.
The daily garb for the Sisters-a gray habit and veil-no doubt will spark curiosity among students, but they acknowledged that their attire is an integral part of their presence on campus and, in turn, part of the learning process for the MSU community.
They emphasized they will strive to connect with one "person" at a time, rather than deal with an arbitrary assortment of "individuals" from a given community. In explaining this subtle distinction, which will be at the core of their ministry, they pointed to the 1998 encyclical ("Faith and Reason") of Pope John Paul II.
"We are children of the John Paul II generation," Sister Faustine said. "This encyclical is a guiding light for us. He wrote that people have lost their sense of what it is to be a human being because they have lost their sense of God. As campus ministers, we want to give our lives to the Lord in a very true way. We will try to touch the heart of each person we meet. We want to know what makes you, you." She said they also will give witness to fraternal charity and the spirit of St. John-the "beloved" disciple of Jesus.
Their initial tour of duty at MSU will be three years. Nearly 17,000 students attend the university and around 40 percent are Catholic, according to estimates by officials at the Newman Center. In a separate development, MSU (Web site: www.montclair.edu), a secular institution, is reviewing plans to develop a campus spirituality center for students of all faiths, which may open in the spring of 2008.
Though currently immersing themselves in the diverse culture of the Garden State, the Sisters also have visited communities in Texas, North Dakota and Illinois as part of their comprehensive American experience. Princeville, IL, was a significant stop on their tour, for this represents their point of connection with Archbishop Myers-the former bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, IL.
In the early 1990s, Archbishop Myers became acquainted with Father Marie Dominique Philippe (who died last year), a French Dominican priest who was the founder of the Brothers of St. John-a community of men Religious, and a community of women Religious, the Apostolic Sisters of St. John. Both communities have as their mission the evangelization of young people in college settings. Another community of women Religious, the Contemplative Sisters of St. John, also was founded.
Archbishop Myers invited Father Philippe to send members of the Brothers to work with students at Bradley University in Peoria. A group of Contemplative Sisters of St. John soon followed. The charism or spiritual gifts of the community is based on the experience of St. John with the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross. Pope John Paul II had encouraged Father Philippe to take up this work.
"I was deeply moved by Father Philippe's dedication to ministering to the needs of young people in college, by the spirituality of the members of the group and by the eagerness with which students at Bradley embraced the presence of these priests on their campus" Archbishop Myers said. "So when I learned a few months ago that some of the Apostolic Sisters were available to work, I encouraged them to take up their ministry here in the archdiocese."
While the Newman Center will be the headquarters for their campus activities, the two Sisters will reside at the St. Joseph Parish rectory in East Orange. They are joined at the rectory by their prioress, Sister Anne of Jesus, who also hails from France, and Sister Theresia Maria, who comes from the Netherlands.
There are 150 Sisters in the community of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John (Web site: www.stjean.com). The four Sisters at the East Orange rectory are the only members of this community in North America. The community was founded first for Brothers in 1975 and then for Sisters nine years later. According to information on the group's Web site, the origins of the community can be traced to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where several French students were studying with Father Philippe.
(Editor's note: James Goodness, archdiocesan director of communications, contributed to this report. Sister Jeanne Marie and Sister Faustine of Jesus can be reached at the MSU Newman Catholic Center by phone (973-746-2323) or via e-mail (email@example.com); (firstname.lastname@example.org). Father Jim Chern (e-mail: email@example.com) is the director of the center and the MSU Catholic chaplain, while Mary Kominsky serves as the center's administrative assistant and pastoral associate. The first meeting of the Newman Center Council is slated for Thursday, Sept. 13, at 5 p.m. The gathering will feature Mass, dinner and social interaction. The center, at 894 Valley Rd., is located on the MSU campus adjacent to Morehead Hall.)