On Sunday, 4 March 2007, Bishop Hilton Deakin offered the Commencement Mass with a large crowd of students in the chapel of the Religious Centre at Monash University to mark the opening of the tertiary year. Dominican Father Peter Phuong, University Chaplain, and the young Vocation Director, Father Anthony Denton, concelebrated. Father Denton doubles as Chaplain to Catholic Youth Ministry.
Over the last two years, the Catholics-on-Campus renaissance at Monash has been spearheaded by the lay leadership of Richard Houlihan, a tutor in the Politics Department, who is President of Catholics-on-Campus, Barbara Shea, the Dean at Mannix College, together with the Chaplain and many young tertiary students.
Catholics-on-Campus readily acknowledges the strong backing of Archbishop Denis Hart who has rescued the association from having to spend so much of its time raising funds to support its ministry. Mrs Lucy Lilburne, the Pastoral Assistant from St Peter's, Clayton (and husband John), are on the planning team. St Peter's takes its responsibilities to the 'parish university' seriously.
Father Peter Phuong provides daily Mass for 15-25 students in the small chapel at Monash Clayton along with a Thursday Mass for Catholics at the Caulfield Campus. The Sunday student Mass is well attended with young leaders organising the servers, the readers and the choir. Many are from Asian countries studying in Australia.
Catholics-on-Campus offers a well attended Friday Rosary and Bible discussion group from 6pm with most of the students going to dinner together after the formal part of the evening. In addition, there is a weekly meeting of the Legion of Mary Conference. By second semester, it is planned to initiate the so-called CAVE program of Christian evangelisation for interested students.
An annual Catholic Doctors and Lawyers seminar draws together undergraduates in the relevant faculties with visiting physicians, solicitors and university staff for an information and social evening.
Of course, Catholics-on-Campus at Monash is not the only Catholic presence at the various universities in the vast Archdiocese. Melbourne University is experiencing its own renaissance with the arrival of former seminary Director, Father Michael McKenna, as its new Chaplain, while Sr Theresa Ryan is the Chaplain for International Students. At La Trobe University (Bundoora), Father Liam Mackle is chaplain, and there are chaplains also at Deakin and Victoria Universities.
If there is something distinctive about Catholics-on-Campus at Monash it is the numbers of students involved, the wide range of ministry activities and the vigorous lay leadership.
Many Catholics are concerned at some features they imagine or observe in the modern Church, with empty seminaries often mentioned. In fact, the major seminaries in Melbourne and Sydney have relatively good numbers of students and in a recent letter from Perth, Archbishop Hickey mentioned that his seminary is 'full'. The Redemptoris Mater Neo-Catechumenate seminaries in Perth and Sydney also have good numbers. Eight young men commenced seminary training in Melbourne earlier this year.
In a similar way, the same Catholics, concerned at ageing priests and few replacements are often unaware of the Church's ministry to post-school youth (workers and students) directed from the archdiocesan centre. Melbourne's Catholic Youth Ministry has a professional staff of seven (three full-time and three part-time), with Father Anthony Denton as Chaplain.
Catholic Youth Ministry is faith-based and strongly religious. Its aim is to assist young people to build genuine, deep and lasting relationships with Jesus and to help them find their places in the Church and in the world. It is partly a co-ordinating body with its Mission Statement affirming:
'We work with individuals, parishes, schools and youth groups to help young people live, love and spread the Gospel. We run retreats and training days and support existing youth groups. We co-ordinate archdiocesan youth events such as six30, the annual Palm Sunday walk and the 'Days in the Diocese'â associated with World Youth Day 2008'.
At the heart of the ministry is prayer and adoration. Each Thursday since Advent 2000, Catholic Youth Ministry (www.cymmelb.org) has been hosting Holy Hours, evenings when anyone can come to St Patrick's Cathedral and spend an hour in prayer and adoration of the Lord.
This gathering has come to be known as six30 since the Holy Hour commences at 6.30pm. Attendance is good, with an average of 40-60 mainly young people, and a sprinkling of young Franciscans, Dominicans and Missionaries of Charity. Volunteers help organise each evening's readings and music. The six30 movement is spreading to other parishes.
The Holy Hour concludes with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and confession is available. Afterwards, most of the young people drift off in groups to local cafes and bars for coffee or pizza or to recharge the batteries.
The Holy Hours provide a centre from which other CYM activities can be publicised. The following would be three typical activities advertised over the past month:
* 'Prayer and Reflection Evening for Young Men', 16 March (Holy Hour, St Anthony's Shrine, 182 Power Street, Hawthorn), with a light meal provided afterwards.
* Victorian Catholic Students Lenten Retreat 07, 23-25 March, Casa Pallotti, Millgrove.
* Emmanuel Community Youth Suppers, (Fortnightly), Tuesdays, commencing 20 February, 7.45-9.15pm, The Hermits Retreat, 182 Power Street, Hawthorn.
Each of these events draws a fluctuating crowd of around twenty- five young people. Meanwhile, with plans for the World Youth Day, the CYM leadership teams have their hands full with a wide range of current and planned activities.
Dr Barry Coldrey CFC is an experienced teacher and lecturer and a prolific writer.