It came like they all do in an Indiana summer afternoon. Off on the horizon…
Ave Maria promotes faith at every step
Ave Maria University in southwest Florida is a newer Catholic college, having been established in 2003, but it has a vibrant campus ministry program, which includes five priests serving the needs of its 1,052 students. Students are encouraged to participate in daily Mass and confession, retreats and a variety of devotions and catechetical programs, all designed to prepare them for life after college as active Catholics.
“We want to help our students grow in their faith so that when they finish school they have both the formation and prayer life to be energetic disciples of Christ,” said Scott King, Ave Maria’s director of mission outreach.
The school was founded by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, and as an institution it “pledges faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church and is committed to offering one of the finest classical liberal arts curricula available.” Most of its faculty and students are Catholic; it offers 34 majors.
Places of prayer
While the school has yet to raise funds to build a central, stand-alone church on the campus, each dormitory has a small chapel. Mass is celebrated daily, with confessions available beforehand. For larger events, the school can use a parish church across the street from the campus.
Students are encouraged to sign up for the perpetual adoration program held in a chapel connected to the school’s library. Adorers must sign up for at least one hour a week; two people must be present before the Blessed Sacrament at all times. About three-quarters of the hours are covered by Ave Maria University students, with faculty, staff and local townspeople covering the remaining hours.
Senior Phil Rhein of Michigan signed up for the 6 p.m. hour, and he believes his participation not only is an important component of his spiritual life but also of the life of the school. “Everyone on campus is focused on growing in their relationship with Christ,” Rhein said.
Besides the chapels, another favorite place for prayer is the Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer garden, built two years ago alongside a canal that runs through the campus. Its centerpiece Marian statue was donated. Each evening, students hold a rosary walk across the campus and end the walk at the prayer garden. Additionally, King noted, it is a favorite place for students for marriage proposals. Another optional opportunity to grow in spirituality is through the school’s household system, which King described as “groups of men and women of a similar charism, with a desire to serve and pray in a particular way. They make commitments to pray and serve together.”
Rhein is one of 15 men in the Filio in Filii (Sons of the Son) household. Its focus is on brotherhood, with members “supporting each other and helping each other to be their best.”
Senior Corinne Zay of Indiana is a co-leader of the Asteria tis Marias (Stars of Mary) household, which houses seven women. “Our twin pillars are service and sisterhood,” Zay said.
Ways to deepen faith
Other student devotions include a noontime Angelus, which is begun with the ringing of a bell outside of the student union. For those wanting to learn more about their faith, the school hosts a popular Theology on Tap series, at which students gather in the college café over drinks and snacks to hear theology presentations by professors. For students wanting to delve into Scripture, there are a variety of Bible studies available, including one led by University President Jim Towey.
For students exploring vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the school offers an annual Vocations Fest, during which the campus welcomes 30 religious orders and other groups involved in ministry to provide information to the students. For engaged couples, the school offers marriage preparation classes. Students also can sign up with the priests for spiritual direction.
“The word you hear a lot with our students is ‘discernment’: What is God calling me to do?” said Franciscan Father Rick Martignetti, director of campus ministry. “I ask them what they think their gifts are and encourage them to be faithful to prayer.”
One of the benefits of having a spiritual director, he said, is that when a student is “trying to hear the voice of God, two can hear better than one.”
Father Martignetti, who is in his first year at Ave Maria, said he is impressed with the many student-initiated spiritual activities on campus. One group of students, for example, began Ave for Life to promote the pro-life cause. Another group formed Purity of Hearts to promote chastity. Father Martignetti is on-hand to provide advice for these groups.
Mother Teresa project
Ave Maria is named for the Blessed Mother, yet other saints to whom it is devoted include St. Teresa of Calcutta and Pope St. John Paul II. One unique feature of the school is the Mother Teresa project, through which students can learn about the saint, engage in local service projects and take a mission trip to places where the saint’s Missionaries of Charity can be found. Past trips have taken students to aid the poor in India, Haiti, Uganda and Brazil.
Zay, for example, went on a mission trip to Calcutta, India, as a freshman, working 10 days in both a home for the dying and an orphanage for handicapped children. “It was life-changing, experiencing the faith of Christ in the poorest of the poor,” she said.
While much has been reported in the news about young adults having little interest in religion, such is not the case among the students on the campus of Ave Maria, Father Martignetti said. He hopes his Franciscan community will soon send more of his Franciscan confreres to assist him in his work. And while he’s in constant demand for spiritual direction and other campus ministry activities, he doesn’t mind the heavy workload. “I absolutely love it here,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Jim Graves writes from California.