College students ‘a huge blessing’ for St. Peter’s in Greeley

Moira Cullings

The Sunday evening Mass at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greeley looks a little different than most parishes in the archdiocese — it’s filled with college students.

“They are very active,” said Father Jim Crisman, pastor of St. Peter’s. “It certainly adds a level of enthusiasm and life to the parish.”

Located just a mile down the road from the University of Northern Colorado, St. Peter’s welcomes and reaches out to students through its largest ministry — Bear Catholic.

Bear Catholic serves students at UNC in a variety of ways with two part-time campus ministers and FOCUS missionaries who act as the “evangelistic arm” of the ministry, explained Michael Lynch, Campus Development Director at St. Peter’s.

Lynch, who attended UNC and later served as a FOCUS missionary there, has seen first-hand the fruits of the campus ministry.

The priests who served during his time in Bear Catholic offered adoration, confession and daily Mass on a regular basis, as well as opportunities for retreats.

“The opportunities to grow and take it to the next step wherever you are in your faith journey [are there],” he said. “There was always something available if you were hungry enough for it.”

St. Peter’s works hard to make the college students feel included, particularly through a new program called “Adopt a Bear,” which allows parishioners to open their homes and share a meal with one or two college students.

“It was created to bridge the distance in ages because so often in parishes, the age group that’s not well-represented is college-aged students because they’re off at college,” said Father Crisman.

“We wanted to integrate them into the life of the parish in a positive way so that they could have a positive influence on the families and the families could have a positive influence on them,” he added.

The program is also a way to help kids who might feel homesick.

“We have parishioners who are acting as a way to give the students a home away from home,” said Lynch, “which is what St. Peter’s strives to do for their college students.”

The Bear Catholic ministry at St. Peter Catholic Parish in Greeley has seen the great fruits of reaching out to college students at UNC. (File photo)

Bear Catholic itself has made an incredible impact on students who participate in it during their college years. Several have even joined the Church or received certain sacraments for the first time during their time at UNC.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Father Crisman. “They’ve got great intellectual curiosity. They raise excellent questions. They give youthful enthusiasm that’s infectious.”

Parishioners like Aileen Kato, who has been a member of St. Peter’s for 34 years, enjoy the gifts the young adults bring to the Church community.

“I love that vibrancy that they bring to the parish,” said Kato. “The newness of life and the questions — it’s wonderful for me.”

Kato is grateful for the presence of college students and her parish’s work to minister to them.

“I support whole-heartedly the mission of our church and the outreach that we have with campus ministry because it’s so important,” she said. “It’s the future of our church and of our faith. If we don’t nurture it and foster it and be a part of it, it’s going to fade away.”

Father Crisman continues to welcome the opportunity to change the course of a young person’s faith life through Bear Catholic.

“We’re making disciples that will be able to live the fruits of the gospel,” he said, “and then share those fruits with everyone in their field of expertise.”

COMING UP: Catholic Baby University prepares parents for the real deal

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Heidi and Jim Knous had no idea that something like a Catholic childbirth education existed. But not long after finding out the great news that they were expecting their first child, Brady, they came across an article in the Denver Catholic introducing Catholic Baby University — a program designed to teach expecting parents the nuts and bolts of both childbirth and Catholicism.

“I think it’s special because it gives you an opportunity to step back from all the registries and baby shower… and to really take time to come together as a couple to think about this vocation, what parenthood is … and how you want that to look for your family,” Heidi said.

“I think there’s a lot of distractions when you’re about to have a child,” Jim added. “Everybody knows it’s going to be tough and you’re going through a lot. Everybody’s trying to tell you, ‘You should do this, you should do that.’ But Catholic Baby U really gives you a solid understanding of what having a child is going to be like and includes the values that we learned as a family in raising a baby in the Catholic faith.”

Jim and Heidi Knous and their son Brady, are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. (Photo provided)

 

The Catholic Baby University holistic program for parents — offered both as a weekend retreat or a six-class series — is the result of the partnership between Rose Medical Center and the Archdiocese of Denver and was inspired by the previously-founded Jewish Baby University.

The classes touch on topics dealing with childbirth instruction, postpartum experience, baby safety and the Catholic faith — and they are taught and facilitated by certified birth and safety instructors, mental health professionals, and members from the Office of Evangelization and Family Ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Statistically, people become more religiously involved when they have children, so we want to respond to people’s desires to reengage their faith with the coming of their child,” said Scott Elmer, Director of the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver and also a facilitator of the program, in a previous interview. “We want to be there to welcome them, celebrate the new life, and give them the tools they need to incorporate God into their home life.”

For Jim and Heidi, who are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, the experience of having both the childbirth and Catholic aspects in this preparation did not disappoint, as they learned from each one.

“It was a great opportunity to come back and think about things from a basic level again and how to bring our child into the faith — things that you haven’t necessarily thought of or how you would teach a child something, [like praying],” Heidi said.

“Something we learned [that really made me reflect] was that the bond between me and Brady and between Heidi and Brady are very different. It happens at very different times,” Jim shared. “Right away when Heidi finds out she’s pregnant, then her bonding with Brady already starts all the way until Brady’s born. As a dad, it doesn’t start until he is born and I’m actually holding him.”

Heidi assured the concept of “gatekeeping” also helped them prepare for parenting better.

“[Gatekeeping] is when, as a mom, you get really wrapped up in, ‘Only I know how to change baby diapers, only I know how to feed the baby, only I know how to do this,’” Heidi explained. “And I am someone who I could’ve seen thinking that I could be the only person that knew how to take care of [my child]. But gaining that understanding helped us co-parent a lot easier from the very beginning because I was aware of it.”

“I would tell [expecting couples] that Catholic Baby University is a great place to start, to gain community, to meet other people that are in a similar place that you are in; having people in the same room who are just as excited, just as terrified who also want to learn,” Heidi concluded. “It’s just a really awesome opportunity to take advantage of.”