As a student at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., I did not exactly immerse myself in the world of campus ministry. No faith-sharing groups, no retreats. To be honest, I had an aversion to that whole world, which is a bit ironic, considering that I am now working toward a master’s degree in theological studies and have an internship as a graduate chaplain at Loyola University Chicago. I have grown to understand that ministry comes in a lot of different, sometimes unexpected forms. And in my experience, community, paired with an open mind and open heart, has always been at its core.
Growing up in Tupelo, Miss., I was one of just a handful of Catholic kids in my high school. I did not come from a staunchly religious family, but I went to church and religious education classes mainly because Catholicism was the faith tradition of our family. While not initially very knowledgeable or insightful, I kept finding myself explaining elements of Catholicism to high school friends. Somewhere along the line, this stirred my own curiosity and caused me to be more reflective about my faith life. Our parish youth group was a natural place I turned to for nourishment.
The youth group was faith-focused, but it was not only about catechesis or having Bible studies. No one in our group, including the leaders, pretended to know all the answers. This was something I liked, because it encouraged a more genuine questioning process. While we did run across many answers to our questions in class, we found answers mainly by hanging out with one another, having fun and being kids together. Luckily we were blessed with dedicated leaders who wanted to be involved; together we formed a tight-knit community. This community may have been small, but it sparked something inside that helped steer me in a new direction.
I went on to Spring Hill, where I studied theology, philosophy and history, the classes that fascinated me the most. There I began to grasp what was unique about a Jesuit education. The more classes I took, the more I noticed that my mentors and professors encouraged an open and discerning approach. Rather than proselytizing, they encouraged exploration and critique, not just of the subject matter but of policies and politics, of culture and even of the church. It was empowering and humbling at the same time. The more I learned, the more I came to realize I had a lot to learn.