With the election over and the semester coming to a close, The Warrior thought it might be a good idea to shift focus and briefly survey the state of Catholicism on campus. As a Catholic institution of higher learning, fostering an environment that provides students the tools and knowledge necessary to deepen their faith should be a priority. Marquette’s mission statement attests to this responsibility when it notes that its “Catholic identity is expressed in our choices of curricula, our sponsorship of programs and activities devoted to the cultivation of our religious character, our ecumenical outlook, and our support of Catholic beliefs and values.”
The university’s Catholicity is at the core of its identity, and many of the standards and rules in place are rooted in Catholic values. On the surface, it would seem that the University is overwhelmingly Catholic.
However, despite the rhetoric promulgated by the University, what does one actually find when they look beyond the crucifix in every classroom? How active and informed is the Catholic majority at Marquette? Do the programs the University initiates have a positive impact on the faith of students on campus? How effective is Marquette at fostering and promoting its Catholic identity? On the other hand, are students doing their part to advance their faith? Certainly most students are aware that the University has an Office of Campus Ministry, which works closely with Christian and non-Christian student organizations alike. However, how many students, especially those that consider themselves Catholic, actively seek to take advantage of what Campus Ministry has to offer? Are students actively seeking to deepen their understanding of their faith?
These questions are complex and can be very subjective; indeed finding comprehensive answers to these inquiries may not even be possible. However, seeking to encourage thought and discussion on this topic, The Warrior interviewed a handful of students, faculty and staff who are involved with various aspects of spirituality at Marquette. These people are all in positions that allow them to observe and comment on the state of Catholicism on campus. They were asked to answer a series of questions evaluating Catholic activity amongst students and then grade the campus’ Catholicity in several categories. The findings of this brief survey of selected individuals highlight many of the things that Marquette and its student body are doing correctly to further the University’s Catholic identity. It also reveals some areas of deficiency that could use some improvement and attention. Hopefully, the following exposé will shed light on some of these shortcomings and serve as a call to action, urging students, faculty and staff alike to work towards a University that is unashamedly, and passionately Catholic.
The questions that were asked can be divided into five categories dealing with participation in religious activity, knowledge of Catholic teaching, involvement of non-Catholics, emphasis among students on prayer and emphasis on social justice and service. The interviewees were then asked to provide suggestions for bettering those categories that they feel need improvement. The following will provide five different perspectives on these questions from active students and staff.
Catholic Outreach is one of the larger, regularly meeting, Catholic student organizations on campus. As such, active participants of Outreach are an ideal source for opinions on campus Catholicism.
One regular female attendee of Catholic Outreach, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that, “for a Catholic school, there are definitely not a lot of Catholics participating in religious activities on campus…if Catholics really wanted to grow in their faith, they would be more active and look for ways to build on their relationship with Christ.”
She expressed their concern with the low attendance at Campus ministry sponsored retreats and activities, as well as the low participation in Catholic student groups, expressing the desire to see new faces at these events.
On the topic of catechized students, Student A sees a sharp division between those who are informed on the teachings of the Church and those who are not, saying that the University and Catholic organizations should “focus more on catechesis and discovering church doctrine…it would be awesome if there was more discussion on Catholic topics such as how to pray the Rosary, Eucharistic adoration and John Paul II’s theology of the body.”
Despite these shortcomings, she feels that the University does an excellent job of getting students of other faiths involved, noting that ecumenism is important and that Marquette performs its duty to people of other faiths superbly. However, she warns that, “Marquette, especially Campus Ministry, focuses so much on trying to include everyone that they sometimes forget that they are really Catholic at heart and must uphold Catholic values above all others.”
In addition to ecumenism, Student A sees Social Justice as one of the University’s strengths, and iterates that she’s “really proud” of Marquette’s dedication to service. Although, she cautions that students must be careful not to over-emphasize the service aspect of the faith and forget about other elements like the Eucharist and prayer, saying, “the root of service is Christ, and we must grow in a relationship with Him before any real service can be done.”
As a means of improving the Catholic environment on campus, Student A suggests hosting panels on Catholic topics like Sacraments, marriage and on controversial topics like homosexuality to provide more ways that students can further explore their faith.
Manresa intern Emily Schumacher, who works in the Office of Campus Ministry, also provided some of her thoughts on these questions. In answering the first inquiry about participation, Schumacher poignantly highlighted that it is very difficult to define a faith-based activity, as many students –she believes – pursue their faith in their own way. She also pointed out that although it appears that students lack information on what the Church teaches, this is a universal problem that is not specific to Marquette. Schumacher also believes that the University definitely tries to involve people from other faiths in its faith-based activities, saying that Marquette needs to “remain true to our Catholic core, but not be exclusive.”
On the topic of prayer, Schumacher believes that students on campus are spiritual and overwhelmingly engage in some sort of prayer, whether it’s in the Catholic tradition or not. Social Justice is something she says is very important to certain students, and something that Campus Ministry does an excellent job of. On this subject, she would like to see the Catholics who are heavily involved in liturgical circles engage in more service, and vice-versa, as these are both essential aspects of the faith.
Beyond this, Schumacher views the impending Campus Renew program as a positive addition to Marquette’s arsenal of faith programs. Campus Renew is a program that consists of small faith communities that allow people to connect with their faith alongside of others. Currently, the core team for this initiative is training and preparing for the program’s official launch next semester.
Another student respondent, who is active in Campus Ministry activities, also wishes to remain anonymous. This student offered a different angle regarding the level of participation among Catholic students. He surmises that if Mass attendance is included, 80 percent of students are involved in some type of religious activity, saying that “there is an overwhelmingly strong base of participation.”
This student also sees an adequate amount of catechesis amongst Catholic students, asserting that “many people know the basics of their Catholic faith and have their own way of living it.” Adding, however, that “there is a lot of misunderstanding on the Church’s teachings regarding human sexuality, particularly contraception, and I think it would be beneficial to have a program about that…without any bias against the Church.”
On the subject of ecumenism, Student B feels that the University does a good job of this, and that many retreats and activities sponsored by Campus Ministry do an excellent job of involving those of other faith backgrounds. He adds that Marquette has especially excellent opportunities for service, but cautions as Student A did, that a “very small number of people often forget that the service, justice and peace which we promote is centered on our faith and need to re-realize that no difference in the world can be made without the grace of God.” For suggestions on how to improve the shortcomings he perceives, Student B notes that Campus Ministry is doing a great job of making improvements, citing the addition of Catholicism 101 programs. In addition, he proposes tapping into other aspects of Ignatian spirituality in order to “help develop the spirituality of our campus and help keep our service faith-oriented.”
Actively involved alumnus
To obtain an entirely different perspective on these questions a Marquette alumnus who is still heavily involved in campus activities was chosen. This gentleman wished to remain anonymous, but was able to contribute several interesting thoughts to this conversation.
Like Schumacher, this alumnus noted the complexity of having to pinpoint who qualifies as a Catholic, but believes that among those who identify themselves as such there is a high level of involvement with various faith-based activities on campus.
Addressing the level of catechesis among students, the alumnus said that from his perspective the level of knowledge of Catholic teaching varies greatly by subject area and that it is rare to find students that will know everything about everything.
He indicated that he believes the level of prayerful experiences at Marquette is relatively high, saying “I think it’s a gift” that so many students engage in formal and informal prayer.
He also mentioned that the level of service at Marquette is very positive, although noted that it may be advantageous to “renew the emphasis on the inherent connection between community service and faith.”
On top of this he added that it is essential for the University to continue strengthening and maintaining the overall culture of faith so that it permeates the culture on campus.
To provide yet a different angle on the state of Catholicism on campus, The Warrior turned to Gretchen Baumgardt, the Director of Liturgy in Campus Ministry. From her position she sees a lot of students, “who are very committed to participating in Campus Ministry-sponsored activities,” but admits that the there is a struggle “with getting beyond the choir of folks that tend to participate in everything, and finding ways to encourage new people to get involved as well.”
On the subject of catechesis, Baumgardt believes that there is always room for improvement, noting that, “there is so much to learn and discover about the Catholic faith that isn’t elaborated upon fully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or in one’s experience of a theology course.”
However, despite this, Catholics at Marquette still place a big emphasis on liturgical prayer but, Baumgardt adds that during her time as a hospital chaplain she was reminded that prayer is a “very intimate experience for people and is something that is difficult to evaluate.”
She concludes by pointing out that Campus Ministry is currently working on addressing the catechetical needs of students through new faith formation opportunities and reflection groups.
The GPA of Catholicism on campus
In addition to interviewing a select group of involved people, The Warrior also surveyed twenty Catholic students, faculty and staff to obtain a grade for Marquette’s Catholic culture. The categories stipulated were Sunday Mass attendance, attendance of weekly faith activities, knowledge of Catholic doctrine, involvement in social justice and service work, orthodoxy of student body and participation at liturgy. The grades gathered average out to:
Sunday Mass attendance: B
Participation at Liturgy: AB
Attendance of weekly faith activities, including weekly Mass: B
Knowledge of Catholic doctrine: C
Involvement in social justice and service: AB
From these few interviews and surveys it can be seen that opinions on the state of Catholicism are diverse, and depending on one’s perspective, the way the University improves the culture of faith on campus changes. As mentioned before, the questions we asked are very complex and intricate questions. In no way was this exposition of perspectives intended to be a scientific analysis of Catholic students. Its sole purpose is to provoke thought and dialogue on the issues and questions addressed. The people interviewed and surveyed, including those whose names have been withheld, are all involved in areas of spirituality on campus that give them the ability to observe the state of Catholicism at Marquette. Their views are valuable, and varied.
Hopefully, the perspectives offered here cause readers to pause and reflect on what it means to be a Catholic and Jesuit university, what form that identity should take and where each individual fits within that bigger picture.