Lisle, Illinois ~ It should come as no surprise that Benedictine’s Campus Ministry is among the liveliest and most spirited areas on campus.
That’s because it’s a ministry on a Catholic campus that invites students from every faith group as well as those who hold no faith traditions to participate and work toward becoming better people who strive for good in the world, according to Carrie Roberts, M.A. (Theology), director of Campus Ministry.
“You don’t need to be Catholic or even believe in God to be involved,” Roberts said. “The beauty of the Benedictine Hallmarks is that they are Catholic and Benedictine and anyone of any faith tradition can really connect with them. It’s those hallmarks — particularly living and working in community, hospitality and love of neighbor — that give us the ability to connect with students who may not be Catholic or are on their own faith journey trying to discover what religion means for them.
“Campus Ministry is meant to be for everyone because we are all called to grow closer to God and/or to be the best person you can be whether you ascribe to a certain religion or not,” she added.
While there is still a strong-as-ever Catholic emphasis, in recent years, Campus Ministry has focused on offering more ecumenical and interfaith programs and services to meet the needs of all students.
Catholic doctrine tells us to welcome the stranger and embrace those who are different from ourselves.
At the Lisle main campus, 47 percent of students are Catholic; 24 percent are Muslim; 21 percent are other Christians; and 2 percent are Hindu, according to 65 percent of traditional undergraduate students who agreed to share their religious preference with the University in 2016.
This level of diversity affords students with unique opportunities to learn more about the world and engage with students from all walks of life.
Through participating in Campus Ministry, students can expand their worldview and enrich their understanding of other cultures. These ideas mirror values of living and working in community and caring for others.
Doors are opened to all through service opportunities, called the STEP (Serving Together Engaging our Purpose) program, which appeal to students regardless of faith background. Research shows the newest generation of college students (called Generation Z) overwhelmingly wants to help make the world a better place. They aspire to have purpose and give back in their lives. This matches perfectly with the Benedictine hallmarks.
“Students are looking to be part of a community they can grow in, and we see a lot of students come to Campus Ministry who are very interested in serving their neighbor and caring for those in need,” Roberts said.
During the winter break, a group of students traveled to Bacolod, Philippines, to help impoverished villagers build homes. This spring, another group will travel to Baldwin, Mich., to help residents make repairs to their homes.
Students who attend these trips are asked to reflect on the reason why they involve themselves in service, Roberts said.
“All of our service activities are rooted in our Catholic faith with a continued focus on ecumenical and interfaith work and involve looking from the inside out, asking students to really reflect on why they serve,” Roberts said. “We don’t want these experiences to just end on that act of service. We want them to take that extra step so that they continue on whatever creed they have that is encouraging them to serve.”
Other local service projects have included packing and distributing food for local food banks and volunteering at Misericordia Heart of Mercy, a community that provides a continuum of support for 600 adults and children with developmental disabilities.
Another way Campus Ministry welcomes students is through conversing about religion and interfaith programming in student groups, such as the Catholic-Muslim Dialogue and the Movement of Students Achieving Interfaith Collaboration.
A new student-led arm of Campus Ministry, Cor, is composed of student leaders who organize Bible study groups and other programs to reach out to the greater student body, such as “Find Francis Fridays,” which features a search for a hidden life-sized Pope Francis cutout on campus. Those who successfully find him win a prize. It’s a fun way to involve the wider community.
Students (Catholic and other faiths) have also found value in the “Busy Person’s Retreat,” which offers opportunities to meet with a spiritual companion.
“For one of our Hindu students, it was another way he could find peace in his day and reflect on how in his own faith tradition he could take time from his hectic schedule to be with God and re-evaluate that relationship," Roberts said.
Special care is taken to provide support for students as they develop their faith in a friendly, non-proselytizing and non-judgmental atmosphere.
“We are here to listen and ask questions so that we can provide resources for them or direct them to an appropriate spiritual leader either on or off campus,” Roberts said. “We really want to meet them wherever they are and help them to grow in their faith journey.”
Hannah Joseph, who is Catholic, specifically cites the diversity of programs in Campus Ministry for helping her to grow in her faith.
“Being part of these programs encourages me to explore more of my faith and helps to make a difference in the lives of others,” Joseph said. “One of the most memorable experiences I had was going to Washington, D.C., for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge to share how Catholic-Muslim dialogue is implemented in a respectful and meaningful way at Benedictine.”
Campus Ministry also serves as a springboard for students like Kelcey Adams, who is not Catholic but still forming a faith identity.
“In Campus Ministry, there is a level of respect for students no matter how they grew up or how they identify themselves,” Adams said. “I feel that learning how to treat everyone with kindness, how to step back and fix your eyes on the larger picture, and learning how to forgive yourself and others are some important life lessons anyone can benefit from, no matter their religion.”
Bringing people together with the goal of helping them discover their purpose, growing in their self-awareness and contributing to the greater good is core to Benedictine and its aspirations for helping students live more meaningful and virtuous lives.
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 9,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. A 2016 PayScale Inc. report ranked BenU one of the top 10 colleges in Illinois for return on investment and in the top 20 percent nationally. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.