For the past few years, seminarians have used their October break from class for mini-mission trips of service and evangelization. This year, one group is headed down to Alabama, and another has chosen to spend their break engaging and evangelizing students at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue had the winning combination of location (170 mi from Mundelein), large number of Catholic students (the most of any college in Indiana, including Notre Dame), and an active Newman Center (St. Thomas Aquinas, run by Dominican priests).
Grant Wilson (Pre-Theology II, Springfield) is a graduate of the University of Illinois and organized this year’s trip. His own experience as a student was influenced by missionaries from FOCUS, so he understands the impact of college evangelization.
“Our go-to icebreaker is, ‘Why do you think so many students aren’t engaged in their faith during college?’” he said.
“That opens the door to ask them about their personal experience, dive into their faith story or introduce them to Christianity and Catholicism for the first time. I spent an hour in conversation with a student from Oregon who had no experience with Christianity whatsoever. That was a challenge for me, as a Catholic seminarian, to figure out how to even approach that conversation. We talked about the entire Catholic faith and then I prayed with her – something that she had never experienced,” he said.
Since arriving on campus Sunday afternoon, seminarians have played ultimate Frisbee with students, attended Mass, had dinner with 150 Catholic students, prayed daily holy hours, and walked around campus as visible witnesses of faith. The experience has also helped these men grow in their identities as seminarians studying to be priests, with the ultimate goal of introducing more people to the heart of Jesus, praying for and with them.
Elliot Zak (Pre-Theology II, Lafayette) is a Purdue graduate who helped plan the logistics of the trip.
“I wanted to do this trip because there is a desire to share the faith with others, especially college students. It’s been challenging to step out of my comfort zone to engage somebody in conversation about the Lord or their faith, but I’ve been consciously breaking down that barrier,” he said.
He added, “We want to introduce people to God’s mercy and love, to increase their awareness of His divine mercy. I spoke with a student who had recently converted to Islam, and he asked for prayers. We have been able to pray with a lot of students, many of them for the first time ever.”
The seminarians will continue to evangelize the community of Purdue through Tuesday, and ask for prayers for both them and the students they encounter. They will also attend night groups/bible study and share their vocation stories.
Seminarians on the trip are Michael Block (Theology I – Lafayette), Jake Epstein (Pre-Theology II, Des Moines), Mike Goodwin (Theology II, Grand Rapids), Cristian Garcia-Nuno (Pre-Theology II, Chicago), Joby Joseph (Pre-Theology II, Syro-Malabar), Kevin Ripley (Theology I, Green Bay), Richard Rivera (Pre-Theology I, Tucson), Rob Ryan (Pre-Theology II, Chicago), Ben Thomsen (Pre-Theology II, Atlanta), Joe Wagner (Pre-Theology II, Atlanta), Grant Wilson (Pre-Theology II, Springfield), and Elliot Zak (Pre-Theology II, Lafayette).