Thursday, February 28, 2019 - Updated: 3:35 pm
In an age when campus ministry programs face challenging times and many students leave their faith before they graduate, the Robert Morris University Catholic Campus Ministry Program continues to grow.
“(We’re) working hard to engage students as much as possible in the life of the church, and more importantly expanding our ministry net as often as possible,” said Gary Slifkey, director of the RMU Colonial Catholic Ministry.
Two recent initiatives have brought even more energy into the program. In December, 111 students received religious medals of their choice.
In addition, Father Frank Kurimsky, chaplain, blessed four religious icons — representing St. Raphael, St. Dymphna, St. John the Apostle and St. Thomas Aquinas — during a Feb. 10 Mass. They will be placed on the walls of the non-denominational chapel during liturgies.
The icons were donated through the efforts of four members of the RMU faculty, St. Margaret Mary Parish in Moon Township and the campus ministry staff.
The medals, icons, donors and all who make up the extensive campus ministry net are constant reminders that the Catholic students are not alone at RMU, Slifkey said. With all of the stress young adulthood and college life can bring, they can be assured that many here on earth and in heaven are supporting and praying for them, he said.
Slifkey pointed out that initial steps to bring the students closer to the church included the help of numerous diocesan priests, the Office for Vocations, the Pittsburgh Religious Vocation Council and the hiring of Terry Skelley as pastoral musician. They collaborated with students over the years, he noted, to make more vibrant liturgies, transformative service and retreat experiences and engaging small group opportunities.
The efforts also included acceptance into the national ESTEEM Leadership program, coordinated by the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.
But while the net continued to grow, Slifkey said, it wasn’t until Father Kurimsky arrived at St. Margaret Mary in 2015 that the expansion really accelerated. Under his direction, the parish has established a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program on campus, staffed men’s and women’s discernment groups, sent students to the diocesan mission in Chimbote, Peru, and supplied care packages to students during final exams.
“We want them to stay close to the church,” said Father Kurimsky, who now serves as administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Margaret Mary, St. Joseph in Coraopolis and St. Catherine of Siena in Crescent. “We need to try to reach out to them where they’re at, to listen to them.”
The care packages were personalized to meet the needs of individual students, he said. They included everything from pencils and macaroni and cheese, to candy bars and bottled water. They also included prayers and the Mass times for Colonial Catholic gatherings and at St. Margaret Mary.
And while it was initially thought that between 25 and 30 students would request medals, Father Kurimsky added, they were pleasantly surprised when the figure of 111 was reached. He recognized Kelly Buchanon, owner of Victory Gift Shop in Moon Township, as an “unsung hero” for her efforts in finding all of the medals, a number of which are unique and not readily available. The medals were selected by survey and came with a chain.
The icons were purchased on the heels of the medal program. Father Kurimsky said that they represented the top four choices of students and reflected their attachment to the saints. St. John the Apostle, he noted, represents love, loyalty and friendship, while St. Dymphna appeals to students experiencing stress. St. Thomas Aquinas, he added, is the patron of wisdom, and St. Raphael the patron of relationships.
Father Kurimsky noted the importance of being able to sponsor students to Chimbote because they will have experiences that they can take with them the rest of their lives. The relationship between St. Margaret Mary and the students is important, he said, because he wants the parishioners to witness young people who believe in the church and are living the faith.
“They’re putting their faith into action,” Father Kurimsky said of the students. “They’re starting to touch more people in a deeper way.”
It is a witness, he added, that even in challenging times for the local church, there are still many good things taking place.
Father Kurimsky credits Slifkey for his strong efforts in leading the Colonial Catholic programs.
The Sunday night Mass at 8 p.m. has become a focal point of the RMU Colonial Catholic program, but events and activities are held throughout the week. More information can be found at catholicsoncampus.wordpress.com, on Facebook (RMU Colonial Campus Ministry) and at twitter.com/RMUCCM.