Now in Adoration Falling

The small stone structure sits in a grove of trees. Quiet and contemplative, it is a refuge from the noise and busyness of daily life — and a place to find Jesus.

Visitors adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day in the Portiuncula Chapel at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Each semester, about 300 students, faculty and staff sign up for one hour of adoration in the small sanctuary, which is a re-creation of the one that St. Francis of Assisi prayed in.

“It's a place of peace, of safety, of prayer, of order,” says Heather Miletic, 22, a senior English major from Wintersville, Ohio. “Visiting Jesus strengthens my relationship with him, enables him to open my heart so that I understand myself better, and where Jesus can touch me with his love. What an amazing gift, that I can stop in if I'm having a bad day, or if something awesome just happened.”

Similar experiences are being reported at campuses around the country. No hard numbers exist to show that Eucharistic adoration is, indeed, growing. But, judging by the anecdotal evidence coming in, it would be hard to argue otherwise.

Take Jaime Gonzalez, a Franciscan University junior from Fort Stockton, Texas. He didn't always understand the gift of adoration. Following a “reversion” to the faith during his senior year of high school, he would stay after Mass and pray before the crucifix.

“One day, the priest walked by and pointed to the chapel and said, ‘Jesus is over there,’” Gonzalez recalls. “I wasn't used to that, but I realized it was something different. It struck me immediately.”

He signed up for an hour of adoration his freshman year at Texas A&M University. “I saw the grace flow,” he says. “That time in college was so crazy, and adoration was my oasis. I didn't have to think about anything. It was just peaceful.”

At Franciscan, he has made sure to include adoration in his daily schedule. “I love to go there and prepare for Mass,” he says.

Nor is Franciscan University alone. Students across the country seem to be flocking to get close to Christ.

Franciscan University's chaplain, Father Dominic Scotto, says adoration is important to students because they meet Christ in a special way.

“Students are drawn there,” he says. “It's an opportunity to encounter Christ in person. It's the real presence of Jesus, the Jesus in the Gospels — the healing Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the redeeming Jesus. It's an encounter with the very same Jesus and that's awesome. That encounter answers the hurts, problems and temptations, which are part and parcel of everyday life. It's a beneficiary of grace.”

The Silence That Stirs

Joseph Kirkconnell, a senior theology major at the University of Notre Dame, puts it simply: “There's no better way to spend time than to spend time with Jesus.” The 21-year-old says adoration is “a big part of my life.”

Kirkconnell would often stop in to adore Christ during lunchtime at his Catholic high school, and he continued the practice when he went to South Bend. He is among approximately 400 others in the Notre Dame community who fill hourly spots each weekday.

In addition, a Eucharistic procession was held last spring in honor of the Year of the Eucharist, and another procession is planned for this year.

“The students are serious about living the call to holiness,” says Father Kevin Russeau, a Notre Dame chaplain. “On campus we talk a lot about making time for personal prayer, and it's something special when you see the consecrated host.”

Intriguingly, Eucharistic adoration is not confined to Catholic campuses. At the University of Illinois, students gather before Christ in the middle of a large, public university. A holy hour is held daily prior to the 5 p.m. Mass, coinciding with confessions. Eucharistic processions are also held throughout the year there on holy days.

The silence draws the students, according to Msgr. Stuart Swetland, director of the St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where about 3,000 students attend Mass each weekend.

“Much of Americans’ lives, especially college students’ lives, is surrounded by noise. There's seldom a place with silence, except before Our Lord,” he says. “For the current generation, so much time is spent in virtual reality, and adoration is an incarnational way to meet Christ.

“We're naturally attracted because we're incarnational beings,” adds Msgr. Swetland. “The senses participate: You see him, you smell incense and you touch the beads as you pray the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It draws one in, in a tangible way.

“As people fall in love with the Lord in the Eucharist and in the Mass, it's natural to extend time of prayer with the Blessed Sacrament.”

Light for the World

Msgr. Swetland says that time before the Lord is valuable for searching hearts. “As a spiritual director, I find that my directees who regularly go to adoration find it's the best time to speak to the Lord,” he says, “heart speaking to heart.”

Aaron Foege, 23, a senior mechanical engineering student from Naperville, Ill., agrees.

“When Jesus is out in the monstrance, everything else kind of stops,” he says. “It's my friend, my Lord, my Savior, there in a vulnerable form for me to spend time with. Sitting in front of him there on the altar, I say, ‘Lord, I'm yours.’ It's a chance for him to work on my heart, to put into my heart what he wants me to do.”

Foege says that it's a blessing to have the Eucharistic presence in the midst of the campus.

“Nearby is the quad and all of the academic buildings, and buses are going by,” he explains. “There's all of this hustle and bustle going on, and in the middle of it, there's a place that's consecrated for prayer and the presence of God, and students know that.”

“Sometimes I'll be out by the mailbox in front of the church mailing a letter, and the doors will be open,” he adds. “I'll look in, and there's Our Lord. You can see him from the street with the buses going by. It's so cool to literally have this light that shines out to the world.”

Amy Smith writes from Geneva, Illinois.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.