Course Correction: My journey from journalism to campus ministry

Tired and worn down, I gave in to the call.

There is no easy way to explain the winding road I took through eight years of journalism, eight newspapers and five states before I arrived in college campus ministry.


But I know that every interview with an athlete, grieving family member and pushy school superintendent helped prepare me for my job today as a campus minister for law and medical students at Northwestern University.

Back then, I lived a hectic life with constant deadlines. When I was not writing stories, I was on the phone conducting interviews, sometimes for more than an hour at a time, or responding to angry readers. Now, in my first year of ministry, my conversations center on exams and summer plans. I ask questions about companionship and faith. They are not probing questions asked in a way to elicit hidden information. They are questions that show I care.

A great journalist, John C. Quinn, known as “Chips,” had this advice for reporters: “Care. Care. Care. Take it and show it.” Quinn was an editor at The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York when he was killed in a car accident at the age of 34. As a reporter, I tried to heed his counsel. In a way, his words may have helped lead me to my chosen path.

Working in ministry allows me to care about students in ways that would have seemed artificial as a newspaper reporter. My work is not recognized in another byline but in a student’s spiritual life and in the choices he or she makes. Seeing my name in print did provide a charge of sorts, but the relationships I have forged in ministry have proved far more rewarding in the long run.

As a young adult, I can understand the pain that students experience. I know what it is like to leave your family to follow your passion, to live thousands of miles away from home. They wonder why I decided to settle in a city where I had no close friends or professional connections. I tell them I bring to my job the same stubbornness and sense of adventure that made me a decent reporter. I am determined to make it work.

I decided to leave journalism in 2007 because newspapers were struggling and I could not see a future in the profession. It was a very difficult decision. Night after night I cried while kneeling in front of my Santo Niño, a wooden statue of Jesus as a child, a popular image among Filipino Americans. That same image inspired me as a teenager when I first considered ministry. At the time, my parents persuaded me to find a better- paying job, though journalism was not the lucrative career they envisioned.

A life in ministry offers many rewards, though they cannot easily be measured. Helping a student find stillness on a busy afternoon, guiding a student in prayer as she ponders a life-changing decision—these are graced moments that I take part in almost every day.

Witnessing the transformation of students’ lives makes me want to work harder on my own faith life. One young woman, whom I will call Samantha, told me about her desire to find a spouse whose cultural background and faith tradition matched hers. She was born in India and brought up in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Our conversations revolved around her Catholic identity and how it was important for her professionally and personally within the medical profession. Samantha asked me to pray for her the weekend she broke up with her boyfriend because the relationship was no longer moving in the direction she had hoped.

Journeying with students through ministry can be a rich experience as each story unfolds in its own time. To truly be an effective minister, I have to think beyond weekend retreats, social events and weeklong service trips. I have to dig deeper. One day, I may find myself researching St. Dominic’s nine ways of prayer; on another, looking up stories about end-of-life care. I do my best to help students navigate stressful professions that routinely push their work-life boundaries and test their morals.

The shift to campus ministry has been a tough and sometimes lonely road for me. Along the way, I have drawn strength from the students I have met. Consider Rich (not his real name), who also began in daily journalism but now is pursuing a career in law. He is struggling to find community and a place to be centered. Through a series of monthly conversations, we worked together to place this desire in the context of his daily life. We talked about sports, current events and legal writing assignments but always returned to the subject of how Rich could best be himself.

Like Rich, I have struggled to find a professional community and a community of faith. This journey has led me away from the majestic California coastline to a city known for skyscrapers. The change has been difficult, but I have grown more comfortable with my solitude. I no longer push back but accept this unknown path that creates fleeting moments of beauty amid long stretches of loneliness.

Finding a healthy work-life balance has been easier in ministry than it was in journalism. Not everything has to be done by a 6 p.m. deadline. I live life at a more subdued pace. I try not to become overwhelmed. There is no 24-hour news cycle in campus ministry, though my tenure in journalism has helped me to guide students in their own moments of stress, when they burrow into their study caves to prepare for final exams.

Settling in to my new life was more challenging than I had imagined, but I now celebrate a wonderful freshman year in ministry. This journey continues to surprise me and leaves me wanting more.

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Margaret Denari
7 years 1 month ago
For a long time I have considered a career in journalism, but more recently have I been able to picture myself working for the Church in some capacity (in Campus Ministry, at a parish, etc.) some time later in my future.  Thank you for reflecting on the challenges-and the value- of making that transition from journalist to campus minister.
7 years 1 month ago
I just love stories like this!   A couple of weeks ago I stumbled into a book written in the eighties by Fr. Thomas H Green, S.J. : Weeds Among the Wheat.  I think after reading it,  it will confirm your choice of a change in your career.  The book was published by Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 46556.  Congratulations!
Emily Arvisu
7 years 1 month ago
So well written. The struggles that one undergo when changes, major or minor, are being considered is really a tough situation.  Persistent contemplation, faith, and overcoming the fear of the unknown really helps.  Weighing what to give up (e.g., comfort of being close to family) in exchange of risks (e.g., new challenges and fulfilling ministry) is somthing to consider.  This article is very helpful.
Rick Rossi
7 years 1 month ago
Witness this article as a confirmation of the creative and new possibilities of being true to God and self on a continuing and inspiring journey.  Thanks Clarissa!
Luigi Del Gaudio
6 years 9 months ago
Clarissa, what a wonderful, faith filled adventure you are on.  It is my prayer and hope that you will always take time to go deeper into your faith.  It is so easy, as they say, while doing the Lord's work to forget the Lord in the work.  God bless your desire to serve Him.


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