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Where Two or More Gather

WhereTwoGatherStrengthening Partnerships to Share the Good News

Serious relationships require attention. If we take them for granted, they can become stale. Frequently, one person gets busy, and the other follows suit. All of a sudden, something happens that causes you to finally pay attention. It is in that moment that you realize not only is something missing but your goals are fragmented because your work is done separate from your partner.

It is through strengthening partnerships with Catholic organizations throughout the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that University of St. Thomas hopes to be a pivotal influence in molding our society and creating missionary disciples to better share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Partnering with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

University of St. Thomas and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston have been working together to strengthen their partnership in helping Catholic Houstonians be more effectively educated in our Catholic faith. We recognize the support each can offer the other if we start to be more mindful of our unique relationship.  The Charter of the University upholds UST as the only Catholic University in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.  However, when I arrived at UST last year and first started to reach out to our friends at the Chancery, I discovered a common theme. I was frequently told, “We wanted to work with UST, and they said they wanted to work with us, but nothing ever came from it.” I would then talk to friends on campus and was told the same kind of thing.

When UST President Dr. Richard Ludwick arrived last year, he and a few others sat down with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, to express a clear desire: that UST be considered the “educational specialist” for the Archdiocese.  Through many fruitful conversations with various people in the Archdiocese, we can better understand and even anticipate the educational needs of 1.7 million Catholics, 146 parishes and 59 Archdiocesan Catholic Schools. Our goal is to provide resources so the Archdiocese can meet those needs.

Most recently, this client-supplier model was put into practice with the Master of Arts in Pastoral Services. MAPS has been taught since the 1990s in English, but as of January 2019, it will also be offered completely in Spanish. This was a direct request of the Cardinal and a clear need of the people of the Archdiocese, so the University is enthusiastic to grow the MAPS program in this way.

WhereTwoGather-NewmanQuoteUST Hosts Formation Toward Christian Ministry

Since last year, UST has been working with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis to create a better delivery and content structure for the Formation Toward Christian Ministry program. This program provides roughly 10,000 lay ministers with the basic catechetical knowledge they need to more effectively minister to people in our parishes.

Julie Blevins, MAT ’93, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said the recent partnership efforts of her office and UST have been exciting.

“As an alumna of UST, it was wonderful to know that my alma mater was committed to joining our missions together and directing efforts to definite points where our missions intersect,” she said. “An example of that was having UST host our Summer Intensive classes this year on their campus for our basic theology program, Formation Toward Christian Ministry.  This not only freed up our facility that is in high demand, but placed our participants on a college campus for these courses, giving UST a chance to promote their degree programs and provide an experience of UST life. ”

Blevins said the combined efforts to establish the MAPS program in Spanish will also benefit many lay leaders and deacons in theology in their preferred language of learning.

“I look forward to other ways we can work together to promote our Catholic faith and form better catechists and catechetical leaders for our Archdiocesan parishes,” Blevins said.

Catholic Relief Services form Student AMBASSADOR Chapter

In increasing Catholic partnerships in the Houston area, UST was approached by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with a desire to form a Student Ambassador Chapter through Campus Ministry.  This partnership will help UST students learn about global poverty and injustice to educate their peers; develop leadership skills to mobilize the campus community to respond to global emergencies and injustice; connect faith to action to cultivate global discipleship; and tap into CRS’ work and resources to gain tools to transform our local and global community.

Collaboration with Catholic Charities follows UST Mission

Then, of course, there is Catholic Charities, located just down the street from campus, where dozens of services are provided. Each year, Catholic Charities serves an average of 85,000 people. Just out of the Guadalupe Center – Pan de Vida Food Pantry, Catholic Charities distributes almost 1 million pounds of food to 1,200 families each month. Catholic Charities is also the only non-profit agency that is allowed to help children who have been separated from their parents at the border.

Karina Hernández ’04, MLA ’07, is the volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities and said she was able to better cultivate her faith while at the University of St. Thomas, which has served her well with her work at Catholic Charities.

“UST assisted with my faith formation and helped to put it into action,” Hernández said. “The work of Catholic Charities is based on Catholic Social Teaching, which is part of Catholic identity. I feel UST is enhancing its Catholic identity by building a stronger collaboration with Catholic Charities. Students are completing their internships and volunteer projects with us, so they work with a non-profit agency that has a Catholic Foundation.”

UST Freshman Symposium Director Dr. Jo Meier-Marquis said our work with Catholic Charities shows our commitment to social justice and allows students an opportunity to live the UST mission.

“Additional opportunities for students and faculty are being developed that allow students to participate in semester-long service-learning opportunities as a way to actively apply what they have learned in the formal classroom setting,” she said.

WhereTwoGather-Matthew18_20Campus Ministry Makes Student-focused Changes

These partnerships are an important way for our community to know UST and understand that our Catholic identity goes beyond what happens on campus. However, what happens on campus is of paramount concern to the Basilian Fathers.

Wherever Basilians have established a university, the focus is on how education directs us to the Truth of God—not as something that can be understood, rather as a Truth that is infinitely understandable. For this reason, we have always placed great importance on the location and way we come together around the Eucharist. After listening to the concerns of students this past year, new steps have been taken to ensure that the way students worship at the Chapel of St. Basil is reflective of the student body and allows for the students to gather as a community inside and outside of the Chapel. Such steps include hiring a new director of music for the student Mass who has the ability to include music in a variety of languages: English, Latin, Spanish and Vietnamese.  The student Mass has also been moved from 7:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. so Campus Ministry can facilitate opportunities for students to gather after Mass for community and fellowship. Young men in discernment with the Basilian Fathers at Keon House are also a regular part of the liturgies as altar servers and acolytes, and more than 70 students have signed up to be liturgical ministers at the weekend Masses at the Chapel.

UST Campus Minister Nicole Labadie said UST does not just want students to be ministers here; Campus Ministry wants to train them to be leaders in parishes across the Archdiocese and beyond.

“We want them to experience the breadth of our Catholic tradition in a variety of cultural expressions and styles, so that wherever they worship in the future, they will not just be comfortable,” Labadie said. “they will have the confidence to lead the experience to contribute to that community.”

Thought Turns to Action

In his book “The Idea of a University,” Cardinal John Henry Newman taught that the depth of the Catholic intellect is found in its ability to include what is good outside the Catholic Church. It is not only what is passed down through tradition that matters, but how it dialogues with culture, carefully discerning and incorporating what is good and rejecting what is evil. In such a light, the Catholic identity of an institution is not so much the purity of thought but the ability for that thought to be in contact with the context of society.

In January of this year, Pope Francis reiterated this idea as he spoke about the mission of universities in Santiago, Chile:

“The educational community can enjoy an endless number of possibilities and potentialities if it allows itself to be enriched and challenged by all who are part of the educational enterprise. This requires an increased concern for quality and integration. The service that the university offers must always aim for quality and excellence in the service of national coexistence. In this way, we could say that the university becomes a laboratory for the future of the country, insofar as it succeeds in embodying the life and progress of the people, and can overcome every antagonistic and elitist approach to learning.”

With the diversity of Houston and the location of UST, our university is poised to be a think tank and laboratory for the whole of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. We look forward to putting ideas and opportunities in front of our students so they can be innovative, creative and inventive in utilizing our Catholic Social Teaching and the breath of our Catholic identity to spread the Good News and inspire others to action.

About the Author — Fr. Chris Valka C.S.B.

AvatarOrdained in 2009, Fr. Chris Valka is a member of the Congregation of St. Basil (the Basilian Fathers). Currently, he is the Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at UST as well as the Superior of the Basilian Residence on campus (Keon House). In addition, Fr. Chris serves on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the UST Board; as the President of the Archdiocesan School Council; a member of the Pastor’s Advisory Board at Interfaith Ministries; and a Fellow of Leadership Houston.

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