Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future
A Pastoral Letter on Campus Ministry Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I. History and Current Opportunities
A. History and Contemporary DevelopmentsB. Current Challenges and Opportunities
A. History and Contemporary Developments
4. The Church's response to current opportunities on campus
will benefit from an awareness of the history of the Newman Movement in
the United States.5 This ministry began in 1883 at the
University of Wisconsin with the founding, through lay initiative, of
the Melvin Club which was designed to keep Catholics on campus in touch
with their religious heritage. A decade later the first Newman Club was
established at the University of Pennsylvania, with much the same
purpose. It was named after John Henry Cardinal Newman, who was the
English leader in the nineteenth-century intellectual renewal in the
Church and later was chosen the great patron of campus ministers in our
country. During this initial stage, farsighted leaders recognized that
the growing number of Catholic collegians attending public institutions
needed support and instruction in their religious heritage. They
responded by establishing clubs for Catholic students, with their own
chaplains and residence halls.
5. In 1908, the second stage began with the establishment of
the first association of Catholic clubs in state universities. What
would become the National Newman Club Federation replaced this first
effort about the time of World War I. This phase, which lasted until
1969, was often characterized by a defensive and even hostile attitude
on the part of Catholic students and their chaplains toward the academic
world, which was perceived as dominated by a secularist philosophy.
During this period, many students and chaplains in the Newman Movement
felt estranged from the rest of the Church and decried the lack of
support from the hierarchy.
6. The third stage, begun in 1969 in response to the Second
Vatican Council and continuing until the present, has produced some
healthy new developments. First, the Church as a whole has grown in
appreciation and support of campus ministry. It is true there are still
problems: some colleges and universities lack officially appointed
campus ministers and many others are understaffed and suffer from
financial problems. At times, there are misunderstandings between the
Church on campus and local parishes and diocesan offices. However,
progress has clearly been made in integrating campus ministry into the
life of the Church. Today, there are over two thousand Catholics
ministering on campuses throughout the country—a significant increase
over a couple of decades ago. There is an increased commitment to
providing well-trained campus ministers who appreciate the need for
continued professional and theological development. Student groups at
all levels collaborate with official representatives of the Church.
Diocesan directors of campus ministry help keep campus concerns before
the whole Church. More Catholics appreciate the importance of campus
ministry and support diocesan funding of this work. Through this
pastoral letter, we affirm these positive developments and pledge to
work with others to build on them. We bring to the attention of the
whole Church the importance of campus ministry for the future well-being
of the Church and society. Our goal is to foster a closer relationship
and a greater spirit of cooperation between campus ministry and the rest
of the local Church. Campus ministry is an integral part of the
Church's mission to the world and must be seen in that light.
7. Second, we endorse the improving relationship between the
Church on campus and the academic community. While problems remain,
Catholics have developed a greater understanding of the positive values
and legitimate concerns of higher education. Many campus ministers have
established good working relationships with administrators, faculty, and
staff. There is greater appreciation of the way the Church benefits
from the teaching, research, and service carried on by colleges and
universities. Similarly, many administrators view campus ministry as an
ally in the common effort to provide an integrated learning experience
for the students. Faculty members frequently value the presence of
campus ministers who demonstrate an appreciation of the spiritual life
and can articulate their Catholic heritage. In our consultations, we
found that many leaders in the academic community welcome a word from
the Church on matters of mutual concern.6 Our hope in this
letter is to build on this fund of good will and to heal any wounds
which linger from past mistakes and misunderstandings. With respect for
the freedom and autonomy of the academic community, we believe it is
time to foster a renewed dialogue between the Church and higher
education, to the benefit of society as a whole.
8. Third, we affirm the development of ecumenical and
interfaith relationships. There are, of course, problems in resolving
longstanding differences, and at some colleges and universities dialogue
and cooperation have been difficult to establish and maintain. However,
on many campuses, the Catholic community and other religious groups who
share a common vision of ministry and who are interested in ecumenical
and interfaith cooperation have developed strong working relationships.
This occurs especially with other Christian Churches, with whom we share
a common commitment to Jesus Christ, and with the Jewish community,
with whom we hold a common heritage and shared Scriptures. In some
situations, Catholic campus ministers share an interfaith center and
collaborate in some ministerial tasks. In other places, the Catholic
community cooperates with other religious groups through regular
meetings, joint study, and shared prayer. Mutual trust has grown as
members of various religious traditions work together on common
programs, such as projects to promote social justice. We commend this
ecumenical and interfaith progress and give full support to greater and
more creative efforts in this direction. Catholics who are deeply rooted
in their tradition and who maintain a strong sense of identity with
their religious heritage will be better prepared to carry out this
mission. We appreciate the contributions and cooperative attitudes of
most of the various religious communities on campus. The Catholic
community on campus might also seek to engage those who are concerned
with human ethical values of our society but do not directly relate
their concerns to a faith tradition. To those who demonstrate less
tolerant attitudes, we extend an invitation to join in the dialogue. In
this pastoral message, we address the Catholic campus community and
discuss its particular challenges and opportunities. While we will not
treat directly the ecumenical and interfaith dimensions of campus
ministry today, we hope that the Catholic communities on individual
campuses will be prompted by this letter to renewed dialogue and
collaboration in serving the common good.
9. Finally, this third stage in the history of the Newman
Movement has produced a remarkable diversity of legitimate styles and
approaches to campus ministry, designed to match available resources
with the unique situations at particular colleges and universities.
These creative responses range from well-organized teams serving the
needs of a large university parish to an individual ministering part
time in a small community college. The styles include ministries that
are primarily sacramental and those that rely mainly on the ministry of
presence. Some campus ministers work on Catholic campuses where they can
influence policy decisions, while others serve in public institutions
where they have little or no access to the centers of power. In some
situations priests are working full time, while in others the ministry
is carried out almost entirely by members of religious orders and lay
people. Ministers on residential campuses can offer many set programs
for students, while those who serve on commuter campuses must be
attentive to the creative possibilities demanded by such a fluid
situation. Most serve on one campus, although some are responsible for
several colleges and universities. While we cannot discuss in detail all
styles of ministry, we will offer principles and strategies designed to
encourage all those concerned with the Church on campus to make
vigorous and creative applications to their own situations.
B. Current Challenges and Opportunities
10. We believe this is the opportune time to address a
challenging word to the Church on campus. Catholics are attending
colleges and universities in numbers that far exceed their percentage of
the general population.7 It is crucial that these emerging
leaders of Church and society be exposed to the best of our Catholic
tradition and encounter dedicated leaders who will share their journey
of faith with them. Thus, the time is right to encourage campus
ministers to renew their own spiritual lives and to facilitate the faith
development of the Catholics on campus.
11. Today, there is a growing interest among many Catholics in
various ministries. On campus, there is a great reservoir of energy and
talent that could be utilized in the service of the Church and the
world. Therefore, the time is right to challenge faculty members,
administrators, support staff, and students to contribute their time and
gifts to the common effort to help the academic community achieve its
goals and to build up the Church on campus.
12. The academic world is in the midst of an important debate on how to improve the quality of higher education in our country.8
Fundamental questions about the purpose, methods, and direction of
higher education must be addressed, as colleges and universities
continue to define their mission and to improve their performance.
Therefore, the time is right to encourage Catholics on campus to
participate in these local debates and, thus, to contribute their
insights and values to this crucial national discussion.
See John Whitney Evans, The Newman Movement
(Notre Dame: University of Notre
Dame Press, 1980).
Among the many consultations with administrators, faculty,
experts, and others, we found especially helpful the
close to 300 responses
received from presidents and elected faculty
leaders representing institutions of
higher education from all 50 states who informed us of their hopes and concerns.
In both 1983 and 1984, 39.3 percent of college freshmen were Roman Catholic.
See Alexander W. Astin, The American Freshman National Norms for Fall 1983
published by the American Council on Education and the University of
California at Los Angeles. Catholics constitute about 25 percent of the
population in the United States.
Cf. "Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of
(National Institute of Education, 1984); William J.
Bennett, "To Reclaim a Legacy"
(National Endowment for the Humanities,
1984); "Integrity in the College
Curriculum: A Report to the Academic
Community" (Association of American
Colleges, 1985); and "Higher
Education and the American Resurgence"
(Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1985).
Issued by NCCB/USCC, November 15, 1985. Copyright © 1985, United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved.