Pope St. John Paul II on Campus

How a Texas college ministry is honoring the legacy of the new saint.

The living area at St. John Paul II University Parish in Denton, Texas, features a portrait of its namesake.
The living area at St. John Paul II University Parish in Denton, Texas, features a portrait of its namesake. (photo: Jacqueline Burkepile)

This past academic year was very special for St. John Paul II University Parish in Denton, Texas.

We offered many spiritual opportunities for our students and parishioners, including this Lent/Easter, when we had 16 people enter into full communion with the Church. And, on Divine Mercy Sunday, we witnessed Pope Francis canonize Pope John Paul II.

St. John Paul II University Parish serves Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and the University of North Texas (UNT). As the campus minister for TWU, my job is to ensure that college students are spiritually and intellectually enriched in their faith each semester.

As I do so, I am inspired by our namesake, one of the Church’s newest saints, St. John Paul II, whose 94th birthday we celebrate today. I think he would have been proud of our recent 44 hours of devotion to the holy Eucharist. He encouraged Catholics to spend time in Eucharistic adoration in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharista: “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. … The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: By not only celebrating it, but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.”

Everyone was invited to visit Our Lord from 7am to midnight, but between midnight and 6am, only men were permitted to enter the chapel. Our pastor, Father Kyle Walterscheid, refers to this responsibility as “Man Up,” explaining how the men are to be protectors and guardians and should show strength through the darkest and most difficult hours of the night. This devotion was a great success. Students and parishioners never left the Eucharist alone. There were between five and seven people in the chapel at all times, even during the earliest hours of the morning.

Prior to Holy Week, Father Walterscheid and I planned the very first on-campus Holy Wednesday Mass inside the TWU Student Union. Daily Mass is an added spiritual benefit for TWU students because many of them do not have their own transportation and are unable to go to our main location.

Father Walterscheid celebrated Mass, and students led all other Mass-related roles. Food and fellowship immediately followed Mass, which offered students time to get to know other Catholics on campus — creating such community opportunities was key to John Paul II’s ministry with young people.

As he told youth during the World Youth Day 2000 Prayer Vigil, “In these noble undertakings, you are not alone. With you there are your families; there are your communities; there are your priests and teachers; there are so many of you who, in the depths of your hearts, never weary of loving Christ and believing in him.”

In his years as a teacher and pastor, John Paul II often led events that began with Mass and ended with fun and fellowship.

St. John Paul’s love of the Eucharist is visible on our campuses, too. It was a blessing to have Father Walterscheid celebrate Holy Thursday Mass on both campuses. Students participated in the washing of the feet, as well as other leadership roles within the Mass.

Following Holy Thursday Mass at UNT, Father Walterscheid, students and parishioners processed to the Catholic Center from the university’s nondenominational chapel. About 100 students paused to watch the procession.

The parish also hosted Good Friday services at UNT and TWU. After seeing a church full of students and parishioners at the TWU service, it reminded me of how John Paul II clung to the cross during his final Holy Week on earth in 2005. It was a beautiful witness for the students — and for me as a campus minister.

Holy Week was a great victory for our parish and prepared us for several other upcoming events. Since our parish is only two years old, we hosted our very first Easter vigil Mass. It was a great joy for all of us to welcome new Catholics into the Church.

Divine Mercy Sunday (the Second Sunday after Easter) was also full of great festivity for our parish, for good reason: Pope Francis declared Pope John Paul II a saint. Consequently, our parish name changed from “Blessed” to “Saint.”

Following the 11am Mass that day, approximately 100 students and parishioners went to the Catholic Center for a luncheon to commemorate our new saint. Then, at 3pm, many gathered in the backyard to sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet, so beloved and promoted by John Paul II, in front of the Grotto.

As John Paul said in his homily on St. Faustina’s canonization day in 2000, “The light of Divine Mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sister Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.”

It is a joy to see so many young people and parishioners taking advantage of the sacraments, engaging in fellowship and uniting in study and prayer on a regular basis. It is my hope that our parish will only continue to grow and flourish through St. John Paul II’s teachings and intercession.

May we model his saintly life and encourage our youth to do the same. St. John Paul the Great, pray for us!

Jacqueline Burkepile writes from Texas.