Although I've been a priest for 22 years, I am new to working in Campus Ministry. At Stonehill College, where I serve, the practice is to have the entire incoming first year class come in for two days of orientation with their parents at the end of June. Half the class comes in on Monday/Tuesday and the other half comes in on Thursday/Friday. It's a wonderful experience and I've never been through anything quite like it. I certainly didn't have the opportunity to do something like that when I was a freshman at Notre Dame almost 35 years ago.
The day started at 9:00 a.m., but a number of families came to our 8:00 a.m. Mass. As I greeted them, there was a huge range of emotion in that Chapel. One mother had tears falling down her cheek and another father was just beaming with pride. One student looked like he was as scared as a mouse, while another seemed like she couldn't wait to get away from her parents.
After Mass, there was a brief introductory session with both parents and students, where our president, Fr. John Denning, C.S.C., our vice president for Mission, Fr. Jim Lies, C.S.C., and other campus leaders greeted everyone. After the greeting, all of the students left to go off to their own programs for the next two days.
Then the campus police chief, the director of residence life, the director for community standards, and the director of student health services and me as director of campus ministry gave presentations to the parents about our areas of campus life. Later at the parent lunch, each campus office and program set up informational booths for the parents to browse after they ate. In meeting with numerous moms and dads and overhearing them at other tables, it was clear how much they loved their children and just how powerful it was for them to entrust their children to us for the next four years. You could tell from their questions how much they cared about their child's future, health, education, welfare and spiritual well-being.
In the afternoon, the incoming students then toured various offices of the College and had presentations on different aspects of student life. The Campus Ministry staff met with them in our Chapel. Each Campus Minister presented on the offerings that we make available for students, everything from chapel choir, to retreats, to immersion and service opportunities, to prayer groups, to the Knights of Columbus. Returning students gave testimony about how important being involved in Campus Ministry was and urging the first-years to come and sample our offerings early.
As I looked out over that group of students, I couldn't help but think how much they were going to change over the next four years, how important the friendships they make will be, how they will develop into adults and be formed by an education in the Holy Cross tradition, and how much good they will contribute to our world and to the building of God's Kingdom. I pray in thanksgiving for the opportunity to work with them and ask for God's blessing on them as they begin their life here at Stonehill.
Fr. Tony Szakaly, C.S.C., is the local superior of the Holy Cross community at Stonehill College, Director of Campus Ministry, and Alumni Minister at Stonehill College. A South Bend native, he received a Holy Cross education at every level of his schooling, from the C.S.C. sisters in grade school, the C.S.C. brothers in high school, and C.S.C. priests at the University of Notre Dame. He took final vows in 1991 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.