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Evangelization on College Campuses: Practice and Theory By Rev. David Olson, J.D., S.T.D. Introduction There can be no one-size-fits-all description of a successful method of campus evangelization. Even what we mean by success will depend upon circumstances. Indeed, we might ask how it is that we measure success of an endeavor above the order of nature. The topic of this short address is “Evangelization on College Campuses.” I believe the notion of evangelization has a broader sweep than the phrase “proclaiming the gospel.” Evangelization is not a one-time event, proper evangelization on campus is meant to spark the commitment to faith while evangelization benefits most from an ongoing relationship to keep the flame of faith alive. My talk will focus on campus ministry from a decidedly Catholic perspective. The Catholic Church in the United States has for many years promoted evangelization and building up the Catholic faith of students at public and private non-Catholic universities. This ministry began in 1883 at my Law School alma mater, the University of Wisconsin at Madison with the founding of what was known as the Melvin Club - named after the founding donor. The stated goal of the Melvin Club at this Land Grant University campus was to keep Catholics in touch with their religious heritage. A decade later, in 1893, the first Newman Club was established at the University of Pennsylvania with the same purpose. Its founder had been a member of the Melvin Club at the University of Wisconsin. The Newman Movement, as it came to be known, was named after John Henry Cardinal Newman who was chosen as the great patron of campus ministers in the United States. According to Cardinal Newman academic studies are incomplete without religious understanding. In The Idea of a University, Newman wrote, “In a word, Religious Truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unravelling the web of University Teaching. It is, according to the Greek proverb, to take the Spring from out of the year; . . .”1 The cooperation between Catholicism and higher education was a central theme in his writings and work. Newman believed only a union of the two, the study of the liberal arts and sciences along with religious truth, would lead to wholeness of knowledge. This unity is essential because true faith relies on intellectual arguments for its expression and a full understanding of the arts and sciences requires a study of their Creator. The varieties of ministry A recent phenomenon within the Catholic community are evangelically minded groups with a charism directed toward colleges and universities. Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), is a national organization that sends missionaries to college campuses. FOCUS, founded by Curtis Martin in 1997, represents a growing trend in Catholic campus ministry. FOCUS is loosely modeled after the Protestant evangelical organization, Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru. FOCUS and similar groups—like Evangelical Catholic—act as missionaries seeking out students. FOCUS is currently found on 113 campuses and Evangelical Catholic is on sixty-three campuses. FOCUS missionaries organize retreats, invite students to Bible studies, and enter into


Chicago Studies Spring 2017  

Volume 56:1

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