By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published Thursday, May 26, 2011
College campuses are a place to find and nurture the Catholic faith.
That’s the story told this Easter at Catholic centers at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Emory University and the Atlanta University Center, where young adults experienced their first sacraments.
“Every year I find my confidence in God’s grace strengthened by the RCIA process,” said Father Tim Hepburn, campus minister at Georgia Tech.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the backbone of faith study that leads and prepares people inquiring about the Catholic faith until they are ready to receive the sacraments.
At the Tech Catholic Center, 12 students completed RCIA this Easter and stepped into the waters of baptism, received Eucharist for the first time or were confirmed. Their stories are very individual, Father Hepburn said.
“Each year we seem to have a group with a broad spectrum of experiences. Some have always practiced their faith but, for one reason or another, missed Confirmation. Others have been drawn to the Catholic Church from other Christian denominations. Still others are coming out of radical unbelief into Christian faith. It is amazing to see the Spirit at work in students’ lives,” he said by e-mail.
‘This Was The Year’
Katie Quigley, 19, a freshman, visited the Tech Catholic Center once when she was a high school senior. She heard Father Hepburn speak, ate supper and helped make sandwiches for the homeless.
“I loved it. I knew right away that the Catholic Center was a safe, happy, comforting place to be. Father Tim is awesome,” she said by e-mail.
An architecture student who plays trombone in the marching band, she made going to Mass part of her freshman year. She also spent time every week since October in RCIA preparing to be confirmed.
Baptized Catholic, she grew up in a faith-oriented family, but her parents wanted her to decide when she was ready to receive Confirmation, she wrote.
“I think that I realized how important this faith was to me towards the end of my senior year in high school. My dad served in Iraq that year and some things happened that challenged my faith more than anything I experienced as an adolescent,” she wrote. “Fortunately, my daddy came home safe.
. . . After he got back, I’ve noticed our family all going to church a lot more often than we used to. We all grew together in our faith.”
“I knew this was the year for me to join the Church in Confirmation. I also wanted it to be with people my age,” she said. “And you know what? Late is better than never.”
Her Confirmation at the Easter Vigil at Georgia Tech is her most personal experience of God.
“I felt it so strongly when we were standing in front of the altar, being confirmed,” she said. “I couldn’t stop crying. It was such an overwhelming feeling that flooded my whole body. Like power, but not quite . . . like warmth and strength. I think that’s what God wants us to all have more than anything.”
‘I Am So Glad That I Took My Time’
Adrienne Jones, a 19-year-old majoring in biomedical engineering, had a long faith journey before she got to college, but she was searching for the right church. One step along the way was a Catholic boyfriend, who took her to Mass and explained his faith to her while they dated in high school, she wrote by e-mail. Later, they broke up, but he and his family still supported her in her faith journey. She was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Bible study in high school in Duluth. Raised in a Christian church that offers baptism to those 12 and older, she had never received the sacrament. One of her grandparents was Catholic, as well.
A freshman, she came to the Georgia Tech Catholic Center when a sophomore friend invited her. Her first experience was playing Taboo and other games there on “game night.” She met Father Hepburn and learned about the RCIA classes, which she’s been attending since last fall. She received all the sacraments of initiation, including baptism, at the Tech Catholic Center Easter Vigil Mass.
“Everyone at the Catholic Center is so nice and proud to be Catholic,” she wrote. “Not once have I felt insecure about not having grown up Catholic and about not knowing everything because no one in the Catholic Center community has been judgmental or condescending.”
“My conversion has been a very slow process (almost two years), which was frustrating at times because I was so anxious to become a part of the Church,” she said. “Looking back, though, I am so glad that I took my time deciding which community to join because now I can be sure that I chose the right one. I spent a lot of time going to church with friends, and even revisiting the church from my childhood, before deciding to become Catholic. There is nothing else quite like the Catholic Church because it is so rich in community life and traditions but also allows plenty of room for me to have a personal relationship with God, which I believe should be the main focus of anyone’s religious life.”
A Critical Time Of Faith Formation
Father Hepburn said college years are an important time for people to receive answers to their faith questions.
“College is a time when so many young people shift and form their own belief systems,” he said. “For me, college was the time when my faith became central to my life. College can also be a time when people cease their practice of faith. It seems that every week at Georgia Tech, I talk to a student who is considering, in a significant way, questions related to their faith.”
Other Catholic campus ministries also welcomed new Catholics at Easter from their young adult and university communities.
Father Bryan Small, campus minister at Emory University and Agnes Scott College, administered the sacraments, including baptism, to two Emory undergraduates at the Easter Vigil at the Emory Catholic Center. He also confirmed five other undergraduate and graduate students, all cradle Catholics who “felt the time was right” to receive Confirmation.
“We also have two others from other Christian traditions who asked for more time to reflect and discern,” he said.
Father Edward Branch, campus minister at the Lyke House Catholic Center at the Atlanta University Center, said two young men undergraduates received baptism and the other sacraments of initiation there on the Easter Vigil and he baptized the infant son of a graduating senior.
At the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, through the RCIA program, one undergraduate student received baptism and all the other sacraments of initiation, and 12 others, including UGA undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students and their spouses, received the sacraments of first Eucharist and confirmation, according to Sister Marie Clark, MSC, the RCIA coordinator. Franciscan priests staff the UGA Catholic Center.