The Newman Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Newark is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ by encouraging those we serve to strive towards Christian spiritual, moral, and intellectual development. We pledge fidelity to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
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A Virtual Campus Minister
By: Lawrence Laurente – Campus Minister – Stevens Institute of Technology and NJCU Campus Ministry
In a small student center lounge, the Newman Catholic club at Stevens Institute of Technology held Holy Mass regularly every Sunday evening at five o’clock. A small, dedicated group of student leaders, with me as their campus minister, had worked hard the whole academic year to make Newman Catholic a place that Steven's students could call home. The Sunday after Ash Wednesday in 2020, we saw a Sunday Mass attendee number that we hadn’t seen in years and were so grateful to God for blessing us with an opportunity to cater to some fresh new faces.
Spring break was slowly approaching following that Sunday and rumors of the coronavirus were speculating. Some said that following spring break, the virus would have run its course and we would be back to school per usual. Then, an official email circulated to the Stevens community stating an extended closure of campus for caution and safety. Like a slow burn, we watched our ministry plans for that semester which included a mission trip to Kentucky and outreach to new students disappear.
It was difficult not only as a campus minister but as a person to see the concern and fear the students felt as the quarantine came into play. My family and I would sit at home and pray to God, asking for healing for both the suffering of the world and our growing anxiety about the dangers of the virus. After taking time in reflection to see what I could do in this situation, God revealed to me in numerous ways that I was being called to step into a difficult and uncomfortable role. He needed me to be a reminder to those that I encountered in this pandemic that He was still the loving and heavenly Father that He has always been and always will be. I realized that there were small ways that I could do that for the students.
Like the rest of Stevens, we moved onto Zoom as our new communication platform. It took some getting used to but seeing the students’ faces virtually became a normal part of my life. The students and I worked together to have regular programs each week that would encourage our community to stay connected. Our Tuesday discussion-based Newman Nights thankfully saw normal numbers as if we were still on campus. We offered rosaries, bible studies, and night prayers for students with varying schedules. We seemed to successfully assimilate to the “new normal” and did the best we could with what we had.
As the weeks during the pandemic turned to months with restlessness and anger sweeping the nation, each week I could see the weariness sink into the students. College was hard enough for the students on its own, but with the stressors of the pandemic piled on top, it was hard to imagine what they were going through. All I felt I could do was to be consistent in praying for and with them. We lifted our anxiousness and fear to God, learning in difficult ways what it truly meant to rely on Him.
Our God is faithful. He hears the cries of His people and knows our suffering. He knows every desire in our hearts, and the time during the pandemic was no different. That was the message I felt God calling me to share. Even when I was battling that temptation of hopelessness and despair myself, I knew that God was calling me to bear the weight of uncertainty and continue to trust in Him. With Stevens Newman Catholic, He wanted us to set His light on a lampstand when I wanted to hide it under a bushel basket.
He allowed me to see some fruit produce from the seeds He called me to plant in His faithfulness. Beginning the fall semester of 2020, one student named Abby Neel saw the light of the Church call her forward and decided to enter our RCIA program. This was something that our ministry had not seen in years even when there was no pandemic. Every week, we would meet and discuss the truths of our Church, and the conversations we had uplifted my soul out of any desolation I felt.
“Originally it was pretty intimidating thinking about going through RCIA especially coming from a Protestant background where people often misunderstand Catholic teaching. When Lawrence and I first spoke though, I was relieved to find that I had the opportunity to do RCIA through Newman which provided flexibility with my schedule as well as the virtual capability that allowed Jack, my only Catholic friend who was studying from home in another state, to join in the discussion and go through the process with me.
I came in knowing a lot about Scripture and I had studied the Church’s teachings a lot before converting, but I had so many complex questions that I was working through. I purposely looked for areas where I did not understand why the Church held the view that it did, and I focused on asking questions about those so I could prove to myself that the Church’s teaching was the truth. Each time I asked a question, Lawrence and Jack provided me with answers and resources I could look at after the fact. I grew close to the two of them since they made an effort to know me personally and were able to invest in my spiritual growth a lot since I was the only one in the class.
I grew to love these sessions as I would find myself talking to my family and friends about what I was learning. Even when they did not agree, I saw it was making a difference in the way they viewed Catholicism. Throughout this process, I noticed myself taking every opportunity to go to adoration or daily mass as I had such a desire to be close to God. I was inspired by the relationships I saw that Jack and Lawrence had with the Lord. It became clear to me through our sessions that the fullness of truth was found in the Church Christ formed so long ago when he said, ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”
God reminded me of His love. He reminded me of His goodness and the sweetness of his fruit. I am grateful for this ministry for being a place where I can live out my service to God and as a place that I can grow, hardships, and all. Campus Ministry faced a big challenge that even today we are feeling the aftereffects of. But we have learned to place our trust in God a little more deeply. We know that even when things do not seem to make sense, He is still working through us. I know I will carry these lessons learned for the rest of my life, and I have full confidence in Him that he will continue to reveal himself to all the students that have seen his light.