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 said.
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 well.”
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 students.
“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 procession.”
“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.”
Katy Carl is based in
Silver Spring, Maryland.