Program directors and participants reflect on experiences
A total of 25 participants gather in the Coleman Morse lounge every Sunday after the 12pm Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to receive catechesis in Campus Ministry’s Short Course program, with the final goal of being initiated into the life of the Church at the end of the semester. This year’s 25 is up from last year. Campus Ministry’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program—the year-long formation program—has also experienced an increase in participation according to Brett Perkins, director of the program.
When asked about this increase, Fr. Brian Ching, director of Short Course, cited COVID, saying, “I think people are just in a better spot to take on more … [and have] more time and mental freedom to think about the big questions.” Brett Perkins offered a complementary perspective, telling the Rover: “I’m not necessarily hearing people say, ‘I wanted to do it a couple years ago, but I’m just getting around to it.’ It just seems like the work of the Holy Spirit. I say that every year, and I don’t mean for it to be a catch-all. But in many ways, we are bringing to completion a harvest that we didn’t plant.”
This harvest, Perkins emphasized, includes diverse groups of people. When asked about the demographics of RCIA, Perkins detailed for the Rover the variation in participants: “For example, last year, half of my group were freshmen … This year, I would say it’s a mix. We have everything from freshmen to PhD candidates. We have those … from an evangelical Protestant background or from a Catholic background they grew up with but for whatever reason, they didn’t ever celebrate the sacraments. We have individuals who come from no faith background whatsoever and would describe their upbringing as non-religious completely.”
Perkins continued, “We have a few international students—and I’m always fascinated by those that come from places where they wouldn’t really bump up against Christianity much. Every year seemingly we’ll have a person or two from China or from other countries in which it might be unlikely for them to bump up against Christianity … So, it’s always hard to say that there’s one demographic. There are those that have known for years that they wanted to become Catholic and there are those that have become convicted perhaps only since becoming a part of the Notre Dame family.”
Fr. Ching identified two primary groups within the candidates, the first being “practicing devout Protestants whose intellectual journey has brought them to the Church” and the second being “culturally committed Catholics who don’t object to the life of faith but for whom the life of faith wasn’t a significant part of their life growing up.” The diversity of people involved is both a beautiful testament to the capaciousness of God’s grace and an administrative challenge for the sacramental preparation programs, noted both Perkins and Ching.
Short Course participant and senior Charles Korndorffer spoke about his experience with the Short Course team members, students who volunteer to deliver presentations and facilitate small group discussions: “I think [our two team members] are very complementary. [The one is] very thoughtful and stays on track, but [the other] keeps the conversation rolling, and it’s a really fun complement.”
When asked about RCIA’s primary difficulties, Perkins identified both fitting the program into the academic year and the aforementioned diversity of candidates. Perkins spoke of a “tension between individual and communal formation.” This tension exists between the necessity of community involvement for personal formation and an understandable desire for a personally oriented formation for each individual ordered toward the “beautiful nuptial language” of “I do” found in the rite of initiation.
Fr. Ching told the Rover that the interaction between the different types of people in these programs “helps each see the broader vision of church that exists outside of our particular friend group or community.” Perkins also mentioned the positive effects of the diverse community, adding that often “the question you would ask in small groups might not be the question that I originally would have asked, but it’s something that I need to hear.”
Both Korndorffer and fellow participant junior Joseph Bafaro affirmed the importance of the small groups in the sacramental preparation process. Bafaro said of the program that “it’s just a great place where you have a lot of very smart and religiously devout people at your disposal to guide you in this journey.” Bafaro also shared that his conversion was sparked by meeting “some very inspiring Catholics … My conversion was definitely more of an intellectual one, which is why I’m here, but there’s definitely always room to grow the spiritual aspects of your faith. That’s something I’m working on currently.”
The participants in Short Course will receive the sacrament of Confirmation at the 12pm Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on December 4. Those in RCIA will receive Confirmation, Baptism, and first Holy Communion in the spring.
If interested in assisting as a sponsor of a candidate in RCIA, contact Brett Perkins at email@example.com.
Joshua Gilchrist is a senior PLS and theology major who lives off campus. When not singing for the Liturgical Choir or assisting as a team member for Short Course, Joshua is either reading or trying to come up with editorial ideas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Campus Ministry