Saturday, February 16, 2008

St. Mary's Vocation Boom

From an article in the National Catholic Reporter; I attended St. Mary's during my four years at Texas A&M:

St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M University is among the biggest and most dynamic campus ministry programs in the country. It's a vocations powerhouse, having produced 112 priests and religious so far, with 39 more Aggie alums currently in formation. Each year the center averages 8-10 vocations to the priesthood and religious life; last year's total was 16. By itself, St. Mary's therefore generates more vocations than many dioceses. The center's six weekend Masses regularly draw around 4,000 students. (Roughly 25 percent of A&M's student population of 45,000 is Catholic.) Konderla says that the unique ethos of A&M -- drawing students from rural, intensely religious parts of Texas -- is part of this picture. Paul Holub, a 22-year-old health education major who's considering a vocation to the priesthood, told me that it's not uncommon for Catholic and Evangelical undergrads to get "sidetracked" during study sessions talking about their faith -- pivoting especially, he said, on what it means to be "saved."


Anonymous said...

From what you have described, A & M seems to have a very Catholic atmsophere without having the kookiness of some arch-conservative Catholic colleges (not to mention the insularity). That is probably what we most need in this day and age.

FrGregACCA said...

Probably so, Arturo. I'm also wondering if this "vocations factory" is also producing a significant number of converts from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism.

AG said...

Fr. Greg, during my time there when Fr. Mike Sis and Fr. David Konderla were the pastors, we usually had around 20-30 young adults entering the Church. Five to 10 of these would be baptized; the rest were converts from other Christian denominations.

A&M actually isn't very Catholic, but I think there are two forces at work that contribute to the number of vocations there:

1. A&M is, by almost any standard, a conservative school. It has a heavy military tradition and still has those ties. (The George Bush Presidential Library is there, and more officers to the military are commissioned out of A&M's ROTC program than at any university outside of the military academies. You'd never see a war protest there.) It also places a heavy emphasis on traditions in general, being a tight-knit group, etc. Thus, it attracts students ("liberal" students go to that "other school" - the one in Austin) that tend to have conservative social and political values, tend to come from religious families, etc.

2. A&M could not be described as particularly Catholic when it comes to religion, however. The evangelical Protestants (or those claiming to be) outnumber us by ALOT, and many of them (or at least the ones who come up and try to start a conversation with you) do not consider Catholics to be Christians, and are quite an intolerant bunch. All of my hostile encounters with Protestantism occurred at A&M. One glaring example of the religious tone on campus was the "tradition" of "Resurrection Week" - during Holy Week, various evangelical Protestant groups got together to decorate the campus with balloons and banners saying "Jesus is Risen", host parties and celebrations to spread the news about Jesus' resurrection, hand out free Bibles and walk around asking people whether or not they were saved (usually they would also invite a pastor to speak on campus whose sole purpose was to scream at non-evangelical Protestant students that they were going to hell), culminating in a big barbecue on Good Friday. I never got a direct answer to whether this was done in pure ignorance, or if it was designed to be deliberately offensive to Catholics/Orthodox and classical reformed Protestants to carry on this way during what is a solemn week (especially since there was nothing that prevented Easter Week from being "Resurrection Week"). But I think this also helped to make St. Mary's a strong Catholic community - there were lots of opportunities - and eagerness - to participate in apologetics classes, "theology on tap," "pizza and patristics" and so forth. In other words, Catholic students could avail themselves of lots more opportunities to learn about the faith and be involved in activities with other young Catholics than exist at a lot of other universities, and we were bound together by not being evangelical Protestants. There was also lots of enthusiasm for World Youth Days, nun runs, busy student retreats, etc. St. Mary's is not a "traditionalist" Catholic community - we had statues and daily rosaries, but when I was there we had no Gregorian chant, no Latin, and we were quite proud of our Novus Ordo worship services that the students participated heavily in. We would probably be called JPII Catholics by others, and I think St. Mary's - and its large number of vocations - is a great testament to the fact that Roman Catholicism doesn't have to look only one way - like it did 50+ years ago - to enrich lives or produce vocations in young people.

AG said...

Tangentially related, as the information was posted on a Texas A&M alumni site (and I haven't verified its accuracy, so it may be wrong):

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano, TX has some 200+ candidates and catechumens this year! (I suspect some of them are former Episcopalians.) That certainly puts St. Mary's to shame in the convert department.

CrimsonCatholic said...

I've gotta echo AG's assessment of the Evangelical atmosphere at A&M. Fervent fundamentalist and (ironically) militant atheists seem to be more common than Catholics. Of course, I wasn't a practicing Catholic then, although I sometimes found myself as the lone voice defending Catholic practice despite not really being one (e.g., correcting the revisionism on the Galileo situation). I wonder whether that didn't help to push me back to the Church in the end.

Now that I think of it, maybe there is something to that. I did have one friend who was also Catholic, albeit somewhat loosely practicing. He transferred back to Michigan State after one year, and now he's a priest!

FrGregACCA said...

AG,I wouldn't expect a "traditionalist" community to make a large number of converts from evangelicalism (or, for that matter, to produce a large number of religious vocations for the mainstream Church). The traditionalists, in both RC and Orthodox circles, seem to primarily come from within the mainstream of the given tradition, not directly from without. (Obviously, there are occasional exceptions.) As it is, it sounds like the pervasive evangelical/conservative mainline Protestant atmosphere has contributed positively to the cohesiveness of the RC community at A&M, and such cohesiveness, of course, is all to the good.

Karol said...
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