By Robert Alan Glover | OSV News
On the campus of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, a team of dedicated Catholic men and women called the “Catholic Wildcat Missionaries” are springing into action this August to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with young adults.
Brian Gall, director of campus ministry at the university’s Holy Spirit Parish Newman Center, is one of many people around the country who go forth and recruit Catholic men and women to live out their discipleship of Jesus Christ as college missionaries. These missionaries in turn reach out to a flock of young Catholics who are already developing their faith and help them make it even stronger and far reaching.
Gall is in his second year in the position at the University of Kentucky, where the teams are nicknamed “Wildcats”, having already served as a campus missionary for two years.
“I was raised Catholic but in a very lukewarm family, and during my college years fell away from our faith,” Gall told OSV News. “After earning my degree in chemical engineering, I did spend two years as a seminarian, but ultimately decided that a life in the priesthood was not my calling.”
Gall is now firmly focused on working with college missionaries through FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and explained how the program works at Holy Spirit. He also introduced OSV News to his newest campus missionary, who starts her missionary work late August.
“Alexis Koteras is her name, and she is now one of seven new campus missionaries who are starting in the coming academic year,” he said. “Five of the other new missionaries are connected with FOCUS.”
“These new missionaries who are joining us,” he added, “have already graduated from UK and various places across the country, signed a two-year contract, and then moved on to fundraising their own salary — successfully I might point out.”
While the Holy Spirit Parish Newman Center does help its new missionaries in their fundraising, as Gall noted, “there’s no amount that we contribute, and they normally succeed in getting close to 100 people strictly on their own for the necessary funds.”
Fundraising must cover the person’s basic salary, plus gas, food, rent and even Bibles if necessary. “If a student does not have a Bible, then the missionary may have the money to buy one as well,” Gall said.
All of the ensuing spiritual activities the college missionaries conduct occur on campus or at campus neighborhood locations. They involve between two to six small groups, with five to 10 students participating in each one.
The missionaries also do outreach events such as cookouts, Sunday evening Masses and a community night on Thursdays that includes Mass, confession, adoration and a social hour.
“We also have evening recruitment events, where students who attend are asked to consider the calling of becoming a young adult missionary, and 12 students have actually made that decision over the past several years,” Gall said.
“In fact, these 12 students that we recruited are the simple, pretty positive evidence of how successful our program has been,” Gall added.
He described the missionaries’ campus outreach as “having had a profound effect on the lives of students whom it touched — I honestly think a large number of students have been affected by their work in one way or another,” Gall said.
The two incoming young adult missionaries will work 40 – 50 hours per week, but Gall said “it is hard to separate what is work ministry from what is fun time, because when they also ‘hang out’ with friends, the evangelism carries over and becomes very time consuming.”
Koteras graduated from the University of Kentucky last May as a music education major. On returning to the university as a missionary, Koteras began her three-day fundraising training program through the Newman Center.
“I raised a grand total of $45,000, using my talks following each of the three weekend Masses at St. Peter’s Catholic Church off campus, and from my own personal contact list of family and friends,” Koteras said.
The new missionary noted, “I talked to roughly 200 people, telling them who I was and what I was doing … the results now cover my transportation, and also produced a good living situation with three other campus missionaries.”
The results of Koteras’ fund-raising, more importantly, go into supporting the budget of her mission. Following the fundraising period, campus missionaries like Koteras go through three weeks of additional faith formation, which she said, includes “among other things, time for prayer and to fulfill a promise that we new missionaries make to attend Mass daily.”
The Newman Center scheduled faith-related activities throughout “K week,” from Aug. 14, when freshmen arrived through Aug. 21, when classes officially resumed.
“My schedule and that of the average missionary will include group meetings, a morning Holy Hour, Mass and one-on-one meetings with students in the afternoon, and Bible study in the evenings,” she said.
Student attendance for past Bible study sessions has averaged around 150, with some 60 students leading the sessions. Koteras is hoping to increase fall attendance by at least 50 new members.
Asked about what led her to choose a campus missionary vocation, Koteras said she felt God calling her “to become a missionary” at Mass during a three-day SEEK conference for college students and young adults that she attended. The SEEK conferences are hosted by FOCUS.
“I realized the path I was on was not the one our Lord wanted me to be on, and I began letting him lead me,” Koteras said. As students begin the new semester, the Catholic Wildcat Missionary added, “I will continue asking him to lead me in my work with them.”