College student Monica Martinez is a cradle Catholic, but until a few years ago, she never understood the Mass or the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Because of Creed on Campus, a Catholic ministry at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, Martinez no longer finds Mass “boring” and she regularly participates in Eucharistic adoration. After graduating in December, she plans to earn a master’s degree from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Martinez’s life is just one of many that have been transformed by Creed, which meets in the student union every Thursday night. While their fellow students are streaming into local bars to get an early start on the weekend, Creed members are listening to speakers talk about Church teachings and learning about John Paul II’s theology of the body.
On Friday nights, members of the group gather at nearby St. Aloysius Church for adoration. And, one Sunday a month, they visit the Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart Home for the Aged in Oregon, Ohio, for Mass, lunch and activities with the residents, for whom they put on a “senior prom” in the spring.
Creed also has made pilgrimages to the March for Life in Washington and brought speakers like Mary Beth Bonacci and Christopher West to campus.
Bowling Green State University is a public, four-year institution established outside Toledo, Ohio, in 1910. Its student body numbers about 20,000, and it offers more than 200 undergraduate programs, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in a variety of specialty areas.
Creed is the brainchild of Mary Alice Newnam, who works in the university admissions office and serves as a student-services counselor. Newnam told the Register she has encountered many Catholic collegians who were not well-formed in the faith.
“They arrive on campus, slip away and make bad choices,” she says. “And I’ve met students who had a hunger in their soul and wanted to know about faith and needed someplace to do that.”
In the summer of 2001, Newnam began an apologetics group with five students, inspired in part by the late Lena Kramer, a Bowling Green graduate who had tried to start a Catholic Bible study on the campus before she was killed in a car crash earlier that year.
Newnam didn’t feel confident in starting a Bible study, however, because she didn’t know Scripture well and wasn’t sure where to get good resources. So she ordered an apologetics series and began studying the fundamentals of the faith with the five students.
By the fall, five more had joined the group, making it eligible to register as an official religious organization at the university. Creed on Campus was born.
Today Creed attracts an average of 50 people to its weekly meetings. As the numbers grew, the group began inviting priests, religious and laypeople to speak at their meetings. Among these were Toledo Diocese Bishop Leonard Blair, who has since returned two more times, and Father David Nuss, the Toledo Diocese vocation director.
Father Nuss says he initially jumped at the invitation to a Creed meeting, partly because he is always eager to develop relationships with motivated, devout Catholic collegians.
“I was blown away,” he says of his first visit. “They get it. They understand that we are all called to live in the heart of the Church, not in the periphery, and that Catholicism is not about picking and choosing, but abandoning yourself to the will of Christ and his Church.”
Too often, Father Nuss says, campus-ministry groups are well-intentioned but devoid of spiritual development. Creed, he said, combines prayer, service and learning. “There’s this marvelous integration,” he says. “They have the model for what campus ministry needs to be doing.”
Father Nuss says Creed also has been an incubator for vocations. Former Creed member Jeff Walker, for example, is now a junior at St. Joseph Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago, where he and two other men from the Toledo Diocese are in formation to become diocesan priests.
Newnam adds that another Creed member has applied to the Sisters of Life in New York and several others are discerning vocations as sisters or priests.
Not everyone who comes to Creed stays, however.
“It’s not for everybody,” Newnam says. “Either they’re not ready for it or they have difficulties with the faith. Those who do stay tell beautiful stories about looking for something like Creed: a solid, Catholic place to learn about their faith and meet other Catholic students. We’ve also had stories of conversions and awakenings with students who came in with some not-so-good habits or choices.”
Martinez counts herself among those who have had such conversion experiences. She joined Creed after accepting an invitation from a fellow student to a theology of the body study group led by Newnam at the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority house.
“I was just really in a time in life where I wanted to get close with God, but I didn’t know how,” Martinez says.
The study topic was one that Martinez really didn’t want to talk about.
“But, apparently, it was where God wanted me to go,” she recalls. “It just completely opened my eyes to everything. Sexuality on a college campus is a difficult thing to wrestle with. Theology of the body really helped me embrace my Catholic faith in all my relationships.”
Soon after, Martinez began going to Creed meetings with the friend who had invited her to the study.
“I started to see the need to embrace the culture of life and to uphold marriage and family and how it’s the foundation of society,” she says. That, in turn, influenced her decision to go to the John Paul II Institute.
Martinez says being in Creed also helped her understand the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the meaning of the Mass — and of her confirmation last year.
Judy Roberts writes from