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: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.