Campus Ministry shifting from chaplains to peer ministers

Campus Ministry staff will begin the process this fall of transforming the current hall chaplain program into a peer ministry program, and when the new program is fully implemented by the fall of 2011, undergraduates serving as peer ministers will entirely replace live-in hall chaplains.

“This past year we took time to seriously consider how we’re doing outreach on campus,” said Assistant Director of Campus Ministry Don Beyers. “We found many successful programs at other colleges depended on peer-to-peer relationships.”

The new peer ministers will be undergraduate students chosen through the student leadership selection process and will live in the halls, like resident advisors. Their job will be to invite their peers into the campus faith life by doing things such as hosting prayer sessions or retreats and by being there to offer spiritual guidance to fellow students, Beyers said.

“When we talked to students, they said they were more comfortable talking to peers and their initial contact when they have problems is with a peer,” Beyers said. “It’s not that the hall chaplain program didn’t work, we’re just trying a new model of ministry.”

They will be trained to be ecumenical, Beyers said.

“Motivated by our Catholic tradition, they’ll seek to engage people of all faiths,” he said. “We’re not asking them to be Catholic – they can be of any faith background. The qualification we’re looking for is to be open and willing to support the work of Campus Ministry…They’ll never be sent out to convert or evangelize people.”

Peer ministers will be expected to maintain similar standards of confidentiality as hall chaplains currently do, but if peer ministers encounter life threatening problems, they can get in touch with a peer ministry coordinator or another trained adult, Beyers said.

“Transitional year”

Four of the seven hall chaplains from this past year will continue on as “Resident Outreach Ministers” during the 2010-2011 school year and will expand their ministry beyond their respective halls.

The nine peer ministers who will replace them will be chosen in the spring of 2011 and will start their new jobs in the fall of 2011. They will live in Ireland, Dowling, Brady, Cretin and Grace residence halls and will also be expected to minister to the entire campus, not just their specific hall, Beyers said.

The peer ministers will receive free room and board, just as the hall chaplains did, but they will not receive an hourly wage as the chaplains did for working 20 hours each week. Two peer ministers will share one room. The switch to peer ministers saves the university and Campus Ministry money, said Peer Ministry Coordinator Molly Bird.

“The rooms the chaplains used can be divided up and used to house students and bring in income,” Bird said. “We showed Residence Life they would actually save money by going to this model.”

Hall chaplain Dominic Bruno will be continuing as a resident outreach minister this year, and he said he is excited to see the peer ministry program implemented.

“I’ve worked with a lot of capable students with spiritual talents and gifts and it’ll be great to see those tapped more in this program,” Bruno said.

He said he’ll encourage students to apply to be peer ministers and thinks the peer ministers will be “more plugged into campus life” than hall chaplains were because the new peer ministers will have classes with their fellow students and will encounter them more regularly. But he also said there could be drawbacks.

“One of the differences I see is the ability to offer an adult presence and perspective,” Bruno said. “The chaplains are able to bring a perspective a few years removed from the college environment and some are married with families and offer a certain stability. They have that ability to guide students both in spiritual journeys and give more life counseling.”

Bird said she is planning to work alongside the chaplains this year to see what they’re doing with the students and use some of those same ideas with the peer ministry program. She said she hopes the peer ministers will promote unity among students and be positive role models on campus like the hall chaplains.

Beyers said it will be four or five years until the success of the new program can be measured.

“We’re excited about this, but it’s a huge shift in how we do ministry and there’s always a period of growth where you try to find the right balance,” Beyers said.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at

16 Replies to “Campus Ministry shifting from chaplains to peer ministers”

  1. I am not opposed, but concerned.  I get no sense from the article that the new “peer ministers” will be identifiably Catholic or even spiritual in any objective sense.  It sounds more like peer counselling with “ecumenical prayer sessions” stamped on to give it a pseudo-spiritual sheen.  In fact, given the mess of agenda-driven programming that’s comes out of Res Life in recent years, we’d be fortunate if these “ministers” were not positively *anti*-Catholic!

    But, then, I am a bit of a cynic, so even *I* take my concerns with a large grain of salt.  Hopefully this peer ministry program will pay off by developing virtuous, committed, personable, and deeply Catholic individuals as highly engaged and successful spiritual mentors and campus leaders.  (That “personable” bit disqualifies me, sadly.)

  2. I had a discussion with a co-worker of mine about an idea similar to this. I’m very happy to see that there is something along those lines being put into effect at UST. I, like James, am also concerned that the spiritual connection to Campus Ministry could actually deter some students from taking advantage of this service. Then again, I’m also sure it will draw in other students for the same reason.

    What I’d like to see, is peer “counselors” or “mentors,” who would essentially serve the same role described above, but would work alongside current hall staff including chaplains and resident advisors/hall directors. However, with the amount of attention this position lends to saving money, that seems like somewhat of a pipe dream.

  3. I too am concerned about the Catholicity of these “peer ministers” in that it might be just another step towards the secularization of the school.

    This paragraph in particular concerns me: “Motivated by our Catholic tradition, they’ll seek to engage people of all faiths,” he (assistant director of campus ministry, Don Beyers) said. “We’re not asking them to be Catholic – they can be of any faith background. The qualification we’re looking for is to be open and willing to support the work of Campus Ministry…They’ll never be sent out to convert or evangelize people.”

    If the Director of Campus Ministry is not too concerned that these peer ministers be totally Catholic at a Catholic school, I believe that is a problem. I believe that a Catholic school should cater to the needs of Catholic students first and foremost and be sure that they receive all that they need from totally qualified Catholic ministers. Other students needs must be subordinate to the Catholic…

  4. I am particularly concerned with the loss of a stable, adult perspective that is only briefly mentioned in the article and was hopefully brought into more consideration than it is given here. Students develop relationships with their peers (yes, religious ones too) on their own time, so I do not see the advantage of using university funding to provide positions to do the same thing. It may be cheaper as far as the bottom line is concerned, but I am concerned that the quality of ministry will decline, because peer ministers may be less available to their peers than a full-time minister, especially during times of academic stress like finals. When the importance of dollar figures overshadows the importance of the personal growth of students, the university needs to rethink their approach to Campus Life

  5. “I believe that a Catholic school should cater to the needs of Catholic students first and foremost…Other students needs must be subordinate to the Catholic.”

    Mr. Houck, while certainIy appreciate your concerns, the quoted comment is directly at odds with St. Thomas’s mission statement, which includes the following convictions:
    “DIGNITY: We respect the dignity of each person and value the unique contributions that each brings to the greater mosaic of the university community. DIVERSITY: We strive to create a vibrant diverse community in which, together, we work for a more just and inclusive society. PERSONAL ATTENTION: We foster a caring culture that supports the well-being of each member.”

    It is unclear how “subordinating” the needs of non-Catholic students to Catholic students in any way respects the dignity of each student, fosters a more just and inclusive society, or supports the well-being of every member of our community. While I understand your commitment to preserving UST’s Catholic identity, ensuring that non-Catholic students have their unique religious/spiritual needs met is not inconsistent with that identity. The University’s commitment to fulfilling the spiritual needs of every student seems to follow from (rather than contradict) its…

  6. Mr. Winkelman: Thank you for your reply to my posting. However, I do not see that anything in the UST mission statement is in conflict with the observation I made regarding the dormitory ministers. You distorted the meaning of my statement when you indicated that I meant to “subordinate” the needs of non-Catholic students. I did not say that nor did I mean that. What I said was that this is primarily a Catholic school operated under the direction and tenants of the Catholic Church and that under those directives, Catholic the needs of Catholic students is the number one concern of the Catholic Church and UST. The Church and UST both welcome any who come but they must be aware of what the Church and school are about. UST is not a secular university and those who attend must be aware of that. The same holds true for any other school of other religious persuasions. Because UST is a Catholic school it would not be expected to minister Lutheranism to Lutheran students However, it must minister Catholicism to Catholic students and therefore dorm ministers should have the background, training and dedication to do just that while also not neglect the needs of all other students as well. I do not see how this conflicts with the mission statement of UST.

  7. I am sorry if you believe I misrepresented your position. However, you continue to claim that “the needs of Catholic students is the number one concern,” which clearly suggests that the spiritual/pastoral needs of non-Catholic students are merely of secondary concern. You further comment, “Because UST is a Catholic school it would not be expected to minister Lutheranism to Lutheran students.” Your comments are not supported either by UST’s mission statement or official Catholic teaching. Ex Corde Ecclesiae states that an “essential element” of a university’s Catholic identity includes commitments “to care pastorally for the students” and “provide personal services (counseling and guidance) to students.” No mention is made of giving priority to the pastoral or personal needs of Catholic over non-Catholic students. To the contrary, it specifically says that the University and bishop “should collaborate in ecumenical and interfaith efforts to care for the pastoral needs of students…who are not Catholic.” It thus appears that the Church and University are explicitly committed to ensuring that the pastoral needs of non-Catholic students are met, which can and, in my opinion, should include providing non-Catholic ministers for those students.

  8. Steven, It’s one thing to allow non-Catholic students to practice their religion in private, but allowing non-Catholic clergy to minister to students and allowing non-Catholic worship on campus would amount to an institutional endorsement of other religions by a Catholic university. That is absolutely unacceptable, and there is no provision in Ex Corde Ecclesiae that calls for that. A Catholic university shares in the evangelization mission of the Church, and as such she has an institutional obligation to promote, defend, and safeguard the Catholic faith. She respects the beliefs of her non-Catholic students and faculty, but respecting the beliefs of non-Catholic students and faculty and providing non-Catholic clergy and non-Catholic worship on campus are two different things.

  9. Mr. Winkleman: It would seem that you just want to argue for the sake of arguing. If you are Catholic you will understand the correct position of a Catholic school on this issue. If you are not Catholic, you probably will not and just seek to make your point through further mistaken arguments. You can misconstrue the school’s mission statement anyway you want, but it won’t change the correct purpose for what a Catholic school exists. I will just pray that you will someday see the Truth and the Light. Thanks for the exchange.

  10. Michael, Ex Corde Ecclesiae states: “With due regard for religious liberty and freedom of conscience, the university, in cooperation with the diocesan bishop, should collaborate in ecumenical and interfaith efforts to care for the pastoral needs of students, faculty and other university personnel who are not Catholic.” The fact that it calls for “ecumenical” and “interfaith” efforts to serve the pastoral needs of non-Catholic students seems to suggest that non-Catholic clergy and worship would, at the very least, be allowed on campus if not provided. Moreover, it is not at all clear that such allowance amounts to a full fledged endorsement of those religions or that it somehow undermines the Catholic faith. Indeed the Church has acknowledged that although the Catholic faith constitutes “the sole Church of Christ,” truth and salvation can be realized in non-Catholic faiths as well. As Lumen Gentium states: “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside [the Church’s] visible confines.” When viewed as an acknowledgment that truth can be found in non-Catholic ways of living, the allowance of non-Catholic clergy and worship on campus is not inconsistent with “safeguarding” the Catholic faith.

  11. Mr. Houck, I am not at all arguing for the sake of argument. As a non-Catholic alumnus of St. Thomas, I take this matter very seriously. One of the primary reasons I chose to attend St. Thomas was the University’s explicitly stated commitment to treating me and other non-Catholics on a level of equality with Catholic students and “respecting the dignity of each person” regardless of his or her particular faith. You are advocating a policy that privileges the needs of Catholic students over non-Catholic students and, in essence, creates a two-tiered student body. For reasons already stated, I find this policy morally reprehensible and I would not choose to attend or support any institution that endorses it.

    Thus far, I’ve provided reasons to reject that policy based on St. Thomas’s mission statement and convictions as well as official Catholic teaching, both of which strongly imply that the “correct position of a Catholic school,” is not to privilege the needs, spiritual or otherwise, of Catholic students over non-Catholic students. Independently of this argument, I believe there are good reasons for both Catholic and non-Catholics to endorse a policy of equality rather than a two-tiered system that privileges the needs of some students over others.

  12. “22. With the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31).90 This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another’”.91 If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”
    -From Dominus Iesus, a Vatican document that clarifies what is meant by parts of Lumen gentium.

  13. “Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ — who is God himself made man — in relation to the founders of the other religions. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom,98 must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.”- An excerpt from Dominus Iesus. The full document can be found here

  14. Steven, I can’t find that section in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. What part is it found in? There are two general norms regarding pastoral ministry that I found in Ex Corde, which are as follows: “Article 6. Pastoral Ministry

    § 1. A Catholic University is to promote the pastoral care of all members of the university community, and to be especially attentive to the spiritual development of those who are Catholics. Priority is to be given to those means which will facilitate the integration of human and professional education with religious values in the light of Catholic doctrine, in order to unite intellectual learning with the religious dimension of life.

    § 2. A sufficient number of qualified people-priests, religious, and lay persons-are to be appointed to provide pastoral ministry for the university community, carried on in harmony and cooperation with the pastoral activities of the local Church under the guidance or with the approval of the diocesan Bishop. All members of the university community are to be invited to assist the work of pastoral ministry, and to collaborate in its activities.” Neither of those specify anything regarding allowing non-Catholic worship and/or ministers on campus.

  15. I think this is a horrible decision by St. Thomas, and a loss for all future Tommies. I am also a Lutheran FYI, and still hold these viewpoints. I lived on campus all four years, and saw/witnessed the incredible power and impact Hall Chaplains had teaching, and being ministers of the Catholic faith. They previously had more “real world experience”, education, and training than any of the new quasi chaplains will have. Elders can teach us a lot, and I really don’t see a Sophomore quasi Chaplain benefiting a Senior. It hurts me seeing this break from something that was amazing, and such a great tradition.

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