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Catholic college students forsake vacation for evangelization
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
Ask most college
students how they plan to spend their summer and, nine times out of 10, you’ll
hear about sun, sand and earning some spending cash to enjoy the free time.
But for some Catholic undergraduates and recent
grads, summer means an extended chance to bring Christ to the world through
evangelization, catechesis and corporal acts of mercy.
Take Heather Martel, who graduated May 13 from
Franciscan University of Steubenville. She’s now preparing to head to Ethiopia with
about 20 other students. They’ll work alongside the Missionaries of Charity in
the capital of Addis Ababa.
Some will generously pitch in for a month. Others, like Martel, will stay on
even beyond that.
“We’re offering the beginning of our life in the real
world to God,” she says.
Martel describes this particular effort as a medical
mission trip. With AIDS rampant, they’ll be doing hospice ministry and working
with orphans. She’s hoping to add pro-life ministry, too, giving chastity
“And a lot of street ministry offering conversation,
a hug, a word of comfort or encouragement,” adds Heather, a social work and
theology major. “We’re going over there with hearts that are willing to serve,
whether by scrubbing toilets, helping someone in the last moments of life or
offering a word of kindness.”
Martel is no stranger to mission work in faraway
places. She’s led a mission to Russia
and participated in trips to Ecuador
As president of the university’s Franciscan
Missionaries of Peace, a campus club that sponsors such journeys — not only in
foreign lands but in the United States
as well — Martel is quick to point out that the Ethiopia trip is student-initiated.
The school can sponsor only so many missions a year, she explains.
Martel says sharing the Catholic faith is a major
goal of the trips. Meanwhile it’s clear that the opportunity to do so is a powerful
Martel stresses the importance of having access to
the sacraments every day. A priest will go along so the mission participants
can also offer “Born in the Spirit” retreats and Masses in places not having
them regularly — “whatever we feel the Holy Spirit is calling us to,” she says.
“We also want to build up the Catholic Church there because less than 1% of Ethiopia is
Action in the Americas
From St. Vincent
College in Latrobe,
Pa., junior Kara Shirley will head to the Dominican Republic
for the second half of July through a college-approved grant. She’ll be part of
the Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism (Fame) an ecumenical
Christian group, to spread the Good News through a combination of medical
services and evangelism.
A biology major aiming to become an optometrist, Kara
will work alongside doctors treating the poor and stay with a host missionary
“It’s not all medical,” Shirley
says of the mission’s goals. She’s looking forward just as much to applying
everything she’s learned while being immersed in the culture of a Catholic
institution. She’ll use that experience, for example, to teach in a children’s
Closer to home, Dara Vishnefske, who just graduated from Benedictine
College in Atchison,
Kan., is heading to New Orleans to assist with ongoing
After friends told her about their missionary work on
their Christmas and spring breaks with the Catholic World Mission and Youth for
the Third Millennium’s “Mission Hope,” Dara wanted to
join the group of Benedictine students when they return in June. They’ll be
assigned to a Catholic parish whose priest will link them to people in greatest
is not in the news anymore and a lot of people are forgetting about it,” Dara says of her decision. Since she likes manual labor,
gutting houses and clearing debris will be no problem. But she wants to bring
the people something more —something she finds in the project’s title.
“Mission Hope is the perfect
name,” she says. As far as Mission Hope’s goals of sharing the Catholic faith, Dara hopes the four years she spent in a solid
Catholic-college community will enable her to “show people there what it is to
be young and enthusiastic and Catholic.”
Orleans mission work is the springboard for future
plans: In October, she’s joining the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Heading to Ocean Beach,
junior Cassie Cleaton and her brother, freshman Jamie
Cleaton, will work with youth ministry in their home
parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and its Sacred Heart
Academy. She and Jamie
are to join with the parish’s new youth minister.
After running a highly successful retreat with two
students for Sacred Heart eighth graders earlier this year, the Cleatons see a tremendous need to reach out spiritually to
“Doing the retreat, I felt a hunger in their lives,”
says Jamie. “At the end of the retreat, they finally got it that Jesus could be
real in their lives, especially in the Catholic Church.”
“They are the future of our Church,” says Cassie, an
education major, who explains a chief aim is to have Eucharistic adoration for
the students, and for the other junior-senior high youth they hope to work
“We would love to see a weekly holy hour with the
kids,” she explains. It would build on the big breakthrough at the three-day
It didn’t seem like things were getting through to
the youngsters until the last night and adoration, explains Jamie. “We just
presented Jesus in front of them for two hours,” he says. “They didn’t want to
leave. That’s what I hope to bring over the summer [so] their whole Catholic
faith falls together and the whole Mass means something.”
They initially hesitated. But, explains Cassie,
despite some kids not know what adoration was or first thinking Jesus only a
symbol, they explained the Real Presence. Result? Two hours of silence and
“These kids really hungry,” says Cassie. “They’re
going to be a great sparkplug to get others excited for this.”
Active in their charismatic community, the Cleatons plan on praise and worship holy hours with music,
For this summer’s work, Jamie, a catechetics
and theology major who plans to be a youth minister unless he’s called to the
priesthood, wants to praise the Lord with the kids, eat hamburgers with them,
go to Mass with them, help them see Jesus working in their lives though the
Brother and sister believe this summer work will have
far-reaching benefits for the kids — and themselves.
“By ministering to these kids I’m ministering to
myself,” says Cassie. “It brings me to greater conversion.”
Pronechen writes from