GUEST COLUMNIST | Catholic Student Center: A strong force for good

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A while ago, I received a call from Chancellor Mark Wrighton, who told me the Board of Trustees of Washington University had unanimously awarded me an honorary doctorate. This was so surprising and off the page of anything even thought about that I was moved to the core and grateful beyond words.

The honorary degree is a sign of the huge impact the Church is having on the lives of all students of the university. The Catholic Student Center is a strong force for good here; a movement of faith, hope and love is growing on this campus. The CSC staff has worked together for many years to build this community into a presence on campus that keeps our Catholic values in front of students of all faiths and none. We're an inclusive Catholic community that welcomes people of faith and no faith without exception and will help anyone. Our only goal is to love the students — all 20,000 of them!

When I arrived here in 1991, there were 42 students registered. Since then, the chapel has been expanded three times and there are now about 1,200 registered students. After we arrived, we sought guidance from other Newman Centers; now many consult us for guidance. We recently hosted the national board of the Catholic Campus Ministers Association for three study days and spoke with them and two other Newman Centers from the East Coast. We're glad to return the favor.

The 34th student from the CSC recently applied to the seminary. From here, the CSC has been able to catapult students into seminaries all over the country and many religious communities.

When Archbishop John L. May asked me to serve here, I knew nothing about this work. I had always reached out in all five of my parishes to college students and take my days off to visit students from my parishes in their universities all over Missouri. It taught me a lot. We worked hard to include university students in ministry and leadership, especially liturgy, in all my parishes. That was my personal catapult into this work, and the archbishop had gotten wind of that, it seems. I had great mentors and inspirations along the way, and a lot of patient donors, archbishops, staff and students who helped me figure it out. It has been more challenging and more work that I ever imagined

Part of that work has been learning, learning and more learning. And making lots of mistakes. Our students are among the best and brightest in the world. Average ACT scores are 33 (out of 36). They constantly ask new and pertinent questions. They're trying to figure out their young lives and how they want to spend their live. Their culture is always changing. Staying up with that in preaching and education has demanded constant revision of programming to meet the always changing issues and making sure the community is healthy and holy so that our students who call this their home-away-from-home can springboard into campus as leaven to their school and to their peers.

Recently, I was asked to speak at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy graduation. The CSC has helped them bury three from that class. That is the hard stuff for any priest.

The hardest thing is happening right now, the end of the academic year and saying goodbye. This time we're the empty-nesters as another class moves on and out into the world to lead for many years. Every four or five years the community becomes almost totally new.

May 14 was my 26th anniversary here. Sunday, May 21, is my 40th anniversary of ordination. No matter the work or heartache, I am grateful for this phase of the priesthood where I get to spend my life. The honorary doctorate is a great encouragement to me and to the CSC along the Way.

Father Braun is director of the Catholic Student Center at Washington University. 

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