For Vocation Directors

#24 The Newman Connection

Summary

Imagine a Mass that is dedicated to your parish's graduating high school seniors. They're easy to spot as they process in during the entrance hymn in their ceremonial cap and gown. Graduates and their families enjoy the reserved seating. The priest salutes the graduates during his homily, encouraging them to treasure their faith as they move into their college years. All are invited to a parish reception in their honor with light refreshments served while graduates are encouraged to stay in touch with their church family.

In the midst of the celebration, local Serrans are working to collect the names and college information of each graduate. The information is easily entered into the database of a national Catholic organization that will send it along to the appropriate campus ministry officials to ensure that each ministry reaches out to these same graduates to invite them into faith-centered activities from the moment they set foot on campus.

This scenario is an example of how a special program from the Newman Connection would look when successfully “rolled out” at a given Catholic parish. Please check the resource section for additional best practice suggestions.

Research reveals young people tend to fall away from church after graduating from high school.  Eighty percent of Catholic students stop practicing the faith while away at college. Research shows about ten percent of college students will locate the campus ministry on their own.

The Newman Connection looks to push back against that trend through a national outreach program and attempts to safeguard the pool size of young, practicing Catholics from which vocations are drawn. This unique program works in conjunction with parishes and Catholic high schools to reach the students where they are and to connect them to the campus ministers at their chosen colleges. Newman Connection has a working relationship with Catholic schools, but needs the help of Serrans and volunteers to reach other students through local parishes.

 

Program Outline

  • The Newman Connection offers a high school outreach program designed to help college-bound Catholics connect to the campus minister at their chosen college
  • This program aims to change the statistics that 80% of college students stop practicing the faith while away at college and attempts to safeguard the pool of practicing Catholics from which vocations are drawn
  • This program centers around the collection of student information, a celebratory Mass and/or reception for the high school graduates, and sharing campus ministry information obtained through Newman Connection when using best practices scenarios.
  • Campus ministers have the task of reaching out to the student to invite them into fellowship where resources permit
  • Campus ministry information can be made directly available to the students and their families at the mass and/or reception if Serrans or volunteers obtain the student information and campus ministry information sometime well in advance of the mass and/or reception. Parental reinforcement of the information is important and their presence at the time the information is received by the student allows this to take place. This is the best practices scenario
  • Dioceses opt into the program through Newman Connection organization contacts
  • Diocesan Letters of Endorsement by the local Bishop are available to Serrans through Newman Connection to share with pastors when introducing the program; Pastors appreciate their Bishop's approval

 

Implementation

Serrans / Volunteers

The preparations involve seeking the approval of the pastor and/or youth minister of the local parish. Reception space should be reserved months ahead. It is recommended that a mass on the regular mass schedule be used to minimize demands on the pastor. A suggestion may be that the homily address the importance of the students remaining faithful while away at college while encouraging them to locate the campus ministry and get involved there.

The invitations for this event are best sent out from the parish office signed by the youth director or pastor inviting the graduates and their families to attend a special celebratory mass with a reception to follow.  Graduates might be invited to wear their high school cap and gown and join in the opening procession at mass. Families of the graduates are notified of reserved seating.

Offer to provide and serve refreshments for the reception with the possibility of incurring all or much of the associated expense. A graduation cake and a variety of soft drinks should be prepared and served with the accompanying accouterments. Offers of assistance for room set-up and break-down activities would be greatly appreciated.

While everyone is enjoying refreshments, a team of Serrans/volunteers is actively at work following one of two scenarios. In the first one, they are collecting name and college information from the graduates at the reception using the special cards provided by Newman Connection for that purpose.

Well wishes are extended with a commitment to later send students the campus ministry information specific to their college choice as a parting gift from their parish. The information collected is later transferred to Newman Connection who notifies campus ministries to expect and reach out to them. Additionally, information is downloaded by Serrans or volunteers from the Newman Connection website regarding campus ministries and sent to the graduates directly or via the parish offices as determined during planning.

In the second or best practices scenario, individually customized packets of campus ministry information are being awarded to each graduate at the reception. An earlier opportunity had been arranged through the Youth Director weeks earlier to collect the student's names and college information on the special Newman Connection cards.

Additionally, campus ministry information specific to each student's choice of college was downloaded from the Newman Connection website and placed in individual packets for each graduate prior to the mass and reception.

The packets were ready for distribution at the reception in the presence of parents who were available to reinforce the value of the information and encourage its' use. This scenario increases the possibility for a good connection between the student and campus ministry to preserve their faith.

 

Program History, Development, and Additional Resources

In 2012, Serra approached the Newman Connection with the idea of uniting together to help our college students stay connected to the faith during their college years.  This resulted in a major increase of effort and resources into what was then called then College Connection for Catholics program—an initiative started by Dick Stolley of the Lima, OH Serra club.  The program has seen tremendous growth from 12,000 students connected in 2012 to 70,000 students in 2017!

This unique program works in conjunction with parishes and Catholic high schools to reach the students where they are and connect them to the campus ministers at their chosen colleges and universities.

Newman Connection has a great working relationship with Catholic schools but needs the help of Serrans and volunteers to reach public school and non-religious affiliated private school students through local parishes. Serra USA has partnered with Newman Connection toward this end.

The program is simple. Local Serrans working with the parish collect the contact information and college destinations of graduating seniors.  The information is then shared with Newman Connection, that notifies campus ministries at the corresponding colleges and universities to expect these students and to reach out to them where resources permit.  Collecting campus ministry information from the Newman Connection website to share with the students follows, so if the campus ministry is unable to make a connection, the student still has the information on where and how to make the connection themselves.  This information generally includes campus ministry location, mass schedules, faith-sharing activities, dining or social events, and more.

Presenting the information to the students is the final step. The most successful efforts include sharing the campus ministry information with the presence and support of parents at a high school graduation Mass and/or reception in the parish.  Serrans can sponsor this event for all graduating seniors and their families.  It's the perfect time for the parish to make a commitment to stay in touch with the graduating student, and, as a parting gift, connect them with the campus ministry of their chosen college.  Serrans can package the campus ministry information for distribution at the parish reception.

One suggested way of ensuring a good success rate in gathering name and college data from graduates is to print out the PDF-format information card—which can be found in the Additional Resources section below—and then copy it and distribute the copies to the graduates at the parish reception. Serrans can both distribute these cards at the start of the event and gather the completed cards at the end of the event.  If this process occurs at an earlier gathering of youth, the campus ministry information can be distributed at the reception itself with parents present to reinforce its' use.

This invitation to the student is not happening currently because our campus ministers cannot identify Catholics on campus with ease.  It's easy to see why so many stop practicing the faith.  We have to change this.

 

Other Resources

Please note the following three points as you start this program at your parish:

1. Visit newmanconnection.com for additional information and include this address in every student packet  
    with ministry information you provide them.

2. Contact Cassie Campton regarding Diocesan Letters of Endorsement availability: 
    ccampton@newmanconnection.com

3.  PDF of information card for graduates to fill out with their names and colleges of attendance.

 

Download Student Contact Information Card Here.

Web page from the Diocese of Sioux City (IA) detailing the diocese's participation in the Newman Connection program:

►  https://scdiocese.org/newman-connection/

Facebook page for the Newman Connection organization:

►  https://www.facebook.com/NewmanConnection/

SPARK: Built by Serrans for Vocation Directors.
A service of Serra International, United States Council, in collaboration with the NCDVD.

055