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The opening of a perpetual adoration chapel on a North Carolina campus is illustrative of an increase in Holy Hours at Catholic and non-Catholic colleges.
BY Katy Carl
It may be the
degree and careers that keep students forging ahead in the daily grind of
classes, papers and exams. But for more and more Catholic students, their daily
motivator seems to be Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Belmont Abbey College, just outside
of Charlotte, N.C., offers the latest evidence of that trend. As students
returned to class a few weeks ago, the Benedictine college opened a chapel on
campus dedicated to perpetual adoration.
The first Mass in St. Joseph’s
Chapel drew 120 students. It normally seats 40 to 50 people. “There were
students sitting on the floor. Everyone just wanted to be part of it,” said Ken
Davison, vice president of college relations.
Students like Stephanie To can
understand why. A law student at Saint Louis University in Missouri, To is a
regular at the campus’s Friday afternoon Holy Hour. “It’s really a spiritual
boost in my week and reminds me to be open to his will in everything,” she
Monica Cortright, a junior at The
Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., echoes To’s thoughts. “It’s
an incomparable source of solace and affirmation,” Cortright explained. “Most
of the time [when] I go [to adoration], I’m worn ragged from schoolwork and
what seems like every kind of demand and pressure. Stepping into the peace of
the chapel, surrounded by friends and classmates, with Our Lord watching over
us from the altar, realize that none of that other stuff is as scary or
frustrating as I thought it was.”
And, on his recent visit to Lourdes,
Pope Benedict XVI said that the respect Catholics show the Eucharist reflects
the awareness that Christ is truly present.
Those who, for some reason, cannot
receive Communion may find special meaning in adoration, he said.
“Some of us cannot — or cannot yet —
receive him in the sacrament, but we can contemplate him with faith and love
and express our desire finally to be united with him. This desire has great
value in God’s presence,” the Pope said.
Belmont Abbey, Saint Louis
University and The Catholic University of America are not alone in their
devotion. There are regularly scheduled Holy Hours at numerous Catholic
campuses and Newman Centers at non-Catholic universities across the country,
including Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., Holy Cross College in
South Bend, Ind., Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., Thomas More College in
Crestview Hills, Ky., and Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. And there
has been an increase in Eucharistic devotions like processions.
“We’ve been seeing a resurgence in these
practices not only at schools associated with the Church, but also at our
Newman Centers at secular schools,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the
Cardinal Newman Society, which works to renew and strengthen Catholic identity
at Catholic colleges and universities.
Form of Evangelization?
At Belmont, college officials
decided to build a new chapel to supplement an existing one, which was proving
to be too small. Completed over the course of two years, the new chapel is
located in a wooded area adjacent to the student dorms and the grotto of Our
Lady of Lourdes. The timber frame and glass design blends aesthetically with
the natural surroundings of the chapel.
Davison couldn’t predict how many
students might attend adoration in a given week, but he hopes the Eucharistic
encounter will be an important part of the campus culture.
“Students seem to love popping in to
visit,” he said. “I’ve already seen whole households of students in the chapel
saying the Rosary together — and not just when they have a final to take.”
The chapel will be staffed by
parishioners of neighboring Catholic churches, but Davison says students often
volunteer to fill gaps in the perpetual adoration schedule.
As well as sustaining the life of
the university, Davison speaks of the chapel’s presence on campus as a subtle
form of evangelization.
“Here in the Bible Belt, Catholics
are a minority. A lot of non-Catholics will come to visit the chapel because
it’s beautiful, peaceful and quiet,” he noted. “That’s attractive. Many Protestant
traditions don’t have this sort of space, even in their churches. It may be
that there’s something they don’t understand drawing and attracting them, as
In the Midwest, the revival of the
historic Eucharistic procession on the University of Notre Dame’s “God Quad”
has also been driven by, and has drawn the support and attendance of, younger
“Five years ago, several student
groups approached me and asked if we might bring back the procession to
campus,” said Holy Cross Father Kevin Russeau, director of the undergraduate
seminary at Notre Dame. “Each year [since then], we’ve seen an increase of
participants. Last year, we estimated that 600 people were part of the
“For me, it has been so encouraging
to see so many other young people so determined to make God loved on campus,”
said Thomas Haan, a Notre Dame senior. Haan was one of three people in charge
of the Eucharistic Procession Planning Committee last year. “I can still
remember walking near the front of the procession and seeing visitors to our
campus stop and watch in reverence, even though they had no idea a Eucharistic
procession was occurring on that day.”
Reilly says that the students he
speaks to often desire to experience traditional forms of Eucharistic devotion
in a new way.
“The current generation, or those
who have received catechesis in recent years, may have had very little sense of
the wonder of the Eucharist brought to them during their education,” Reilly
said. “At the same time, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have
displayed such a strong devotion to the Eucharist that it’s become very
attractive to young people. It’s very often younger priests and newer students
who are expressing the strongest interest.”
Increased Mass Attendance
On the few occasions Reilly has
heard of resistance to Eucharistic adoration on a campus, he said, it is
usually because “priests who may not have had a lot of experience with
adoration are concerned that it will diminish Mass attendance, because people
will somehow think adoration is more important. But of course, the very nature
of adoration is contemplating and celebrating the nature of the Eucharist, and
that tends to increase devotion to the Eucharist, and therefore, the Mass.”
Reilly also noted the expansion of
Eucharistic devotion and education about the Eucharist to non-Catholic
colleges. The Cardinal Newman Society’s Vatican-sponsored “Eucharistic Miracles
of the World” exhibit has traveled to campuses across the country. Last month,
it appeared on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Morris, where
professor PZ Myers claimed to have desecrated the Eucharist.
“[In many places] there’s a lack of
recognition of the Real Presence,” Reilly said. “We’re excited about the
opportunity to educate people about the mystery of the Eucharist. We think this
is a good and appropriate response.”
Added Saint Louis University’s
Stephanie To, “It’s so inspiring to see 20 to 30 other college students
gathering to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.”
Carl is based in