There have been some recent exciting developments in ministry at a number of Catholic tertiary institutions.
The first reformed tertiary ministry occurred under Cardinal George Pell at the four universities of his Sydney Archdiocese a decade ago.
He appointed well-known young lay leader, Daniel Hill, as Chaplaincy Co-ordinator of Tertiary Ministry with a special responsibility for the University of Sydney and St John's Residential College plus a general oversight of the chaplaincies in the other three universities (Macquarie, New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney).
In due course, the independent Notre Dame University widened its chaplaincy provision led by Pat Langrell.
Since then twelve young men and women closely associated with the Sydney University chaplaincy have entered the seminaries or training colleges of religious congregations.
In 2010, the Brisbane-based National Evangelisation Teams placed one of its groups, the "Freedom" team, led by Robert Schroeders, in the Queensland University of Technology to minister with the Chaplain, Fr Bavin Clarke. "Freedom" has had a major impact on the Brisbane tertiary scene over those five years.
On the other hand, the winds of change had not touched ACU, the Australian Catholic University, despite its distinctively "Catholic" name. In 2014 ACU has over 20,000 students on seven campuses.
Recently, however, there has been reform of campus ministry to make it more effective. The Director of Mission and Identity, Fr Anthony Casamento explains the reform in this way:
"Campus Ministry emerges from the Directorate of Identity and Mission. We are about animating the faith life on the ACU Campuses and our mission is to bring the distinctive identity and mission of ACU to life."
In achieving this laudable objective, each of the seven campuses now has a Chaplaincy Team with Mark Lysaght, Campus Ministry Manager at the Banyo (Brisbane) Campus having a general input over the entire chaplaincy scene. The actual ministry at Banyo is similar but not identical on other ACU campuses.
The liturgy and prayer side of the ministry includes: weekday Mass, Eucharistic Adoration for an hour on Tuesdays, confessions and rosary on Mondays before Mass, Christian Meditation on Wednesdays and Scripture study on Thursdays. There is also an annual retreat during the mid-year tertiary vacation and a number of interesting guest speakers.
The present situation contrasts markedly with what this writer observed when he first became involved in tertiary ministry eight years ago. Then the following were fairly typical:
• The university chaplain, generally an oldish priest had little engagement with the students, confining himself to celebrating Mass for a few older friends and retired ancillary staff.
• The chaplain tended to minister solely to a small number of visiting Asian students.
• In almost every case, the chaplain was in charge and most of his supportive 'team' (if any) tended to be older people.
However, the critical problem with this approach has been that the older Catholics (priests, religious or lay people) run activities for the students with little, if any input from the actual young Catholic adults. The result is the chaplaincy will be largely ignored by its target audience as university students are hardly a captive audience!
Such chaplaincy failed to view and treat university students as young adults who would rightly expect to have a substantial input if they were to take its events seriously and attend. Of course, to the middle aged and older people, the students look young and it can be easy to forget that they have passed the line from secondary school teenagers to young adults in tertiary.
However, we have seen already the advent of a new style of Catholic chaplaincy associated with the five universities in the Archdiocese of Sydney, the Queensland University of Technology and the seven campuses of the Australian Catholic University.
What are the elements of this new and more effective approach?
• The trust is placed in young, well-trained, dedicated and 'normal' Catholic young adults to run the university chaplaincies.
• The (Arch)bishop is prepared to improve chaplaincy facilities where the universities have not and will not do so, and to pay the salaries of the key full-time chaplaincy conveners.
• The priest chaplains in each separate tertiary chaplaincy are youngish men comfortable with a supporting role, rather than directing the chaplaincy as in the past. This means that if the priest has multiple ministries, the chaplaincy does not suffer when he is engaged elsewhere.
• Acceptance that youth, a team-style chaplaincy, gender-balance and normality are the standards in the staff of the chaplaincies.
Since the chaplaincy team(s) are young, if slightly older than most tertiary students, they have the best qualities of intelligent young people: enthusiasm, openness to new ideas and a natural, unforced rapport with other young people.
In the tertiary education context, chaplaincy workers require the normal characteristics of their age group to be effective. This will mean that most will have completed, or are successfully finishing tertiary studies; that some, at least, have an interest in sports as players or umpires and can discuss topical issues.
They are comfortable with the university social life, have probably travelled within Australia and overseas and have, or have tried part-time jobs.
Contacts: Father Tony Casamento, ACU Director of Identity and Mission, firstname.lastname@example.org; Mark Lysaght, Campus Ministry Manager, ACU Banyo, email@example.com; Daniel Hill, Catholic Chaplaincy, JPII Centre, 245 Broadway, Glebe 2037. (02) 9518-6415 and Pat Langrell, Student Chaplaincy, Convenor, University of Notre Dame, PO Box 944, Broadway, NSW, 2007.