Clemson—Franciscan Father John W. McDowell said the biggest challenge with campus ministry is motivating students not to be afraid.
“Nobody wants to admit they’re homesick — they are,” he said.
The priest has served as campus ministry chaplain for a year at Clemson University, working in tandem with Fred Mercadante.
He said one of the factors in reaching out to students is making them feel comfortable and at home.
Father McDowell calls the campus ministry building a house of formation. He said it’s where they complement what the youth learn on a secular campus and teach them to bring the message of justice, peace and love to the world.
Unfortunately, that house has been neglected and needs an upgrade.
Like his patron, the Franciscan’s theme is “rebuild my house.”
Although that is a spiritual reference to the house of God, Father McDowell said, in this case it is also a literal goal to renovate the physical building.
Shingles have been blowing off the roof, windows leak, the basement is damp, and electrical wiring needs to be brought up to code.
Father McDowell said they would also like gently used furniture, a back deck for prayer services, and kitchen improvements.
The whole tab is about $50,000, and those involved with campus ministry hope Clemson alumni will help them.
Prayers have been cast to his fellow Franciscan, St. Anthony the miracle worker. If that doesn’t work, Father McDowell said with a laugh, they’ll go to the big guns and pray to St. Joseph.
Ordained in 1977, the priest said he was surprised to find himself back on a large campus.
Father McDowell spent time as an itinerant preacher on the mission band, participating in retreats and renewals.
He also spent nine years at the University of Georgia, and two at St. Francis University in Pennsylvania. Being a campus minister at a small school is more difficult because there aren’t as many Catholic students, he said.
He wasn’t sure whether his communication skills were still there in regard to students, but so far, he has thoroughly enjoyed it.
“My prayer has always been, ‘God, let me know I’m no longer effective here before the kids tell me,’” the Franciscan said.
Being able to talk to young adults as equals is important as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood during the college years.
The goals of campus ministry are to help students mature into an adult spirituality, form a Christian conscience, teach them to serve those in need, and develop leaders for the church.
Father McDowell said some freshmen are already natural leaders and they look to them to reach out to others.
It is a big transition, and youth must learn to not be afraid and to find comfort through God even when they are uncomfortable.
He said they will use all available methods to reach out and pull people in. They still employ the timeless word-of-mouth, along with a web page, e-mail and text messaging.
The churches, which draw about 500 people to Mass, also work closely with campus ministry.
“We are quite pleased with the progress we are making,” Father McDowell said.