BY CAILIN POTAMI
New Campus Minister Fred Mercadante hopes to be a welcoming presence to students all over campus. After working in ministry for college students in South Carolina, Mercadante returned to his hometown of Chatham, N.J., to care for his ailing mother. After her recovery, he sought work in nearby colleges and was attracted to the inclusive, comprehensive spirit of faith life at The University.
“It’s not just a club for the few,” he said. “It’s not a clique of ‘religious kids.’ All are welcome.”
Mercadante is filling a position left open after Brian Pelcin’s departure last year, and he enters with no specific job description. Rather, the Office of Campus Ministry plans to look at his talents and apply them wherever he is needed. Right now, he plays an instrumental role in the on-campus Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and confirmation programs. He plans to approach the integration process for new members of the Church by focusing on the existing community. To do this, he and other members of University Ministry have begun the Breaking Open the Word or BOW program following 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mass times on Sundays.
The BOW sessions, which are open to students in the RCIA programs as well as those outside of it, open with a student speaking about the day’s Gospel and its role in his or her life. Ideally, this leads into a discussion about a corresponding Catholic doctrine. Mercadante hopes that this format will educate students by example.
“Students will learn what it means to be part of the community from the community,” he said. “[Learning through discussion] is the tradition. It goes back 2000 years. We’re just joining the fold, and keeping the tradition going.”
In addition to these programs, Mercadante also acts as the coordinator to all wilderness-related retreats, including the upcoming Born to be Wild retreat. He said that he believes that exploring the spirituality in nature is important not only to the Ignatian tradition of finding God in all things, but to Christianity and religion as a whole. The earliest believers understood their relationship with God through observable nature, even before the written Word.
“Creation,” Mercadante said, “is, in fact, our first Bible.”
Mercadante has undertaken several other projects so far on campus. He will be participating in the Connections retreats for first-year students to help them build a faith foundation and make friends at The University.
Additionally, he has started an e-newsletter to go out to those who sign up as companions. It includes a reflection on the Gospel each week, as well as links to upcoming events. Finally, he hopes to become more involved with The University’s athletic teams to provide for their ministry needs.
Though Mercadante has been consistently impressed by the variety of people who participate in ministry events, he wants to attract more students from varying social and religious backgrounds.
“There’s something for everyone here. No one is too cool for University Ministry. I can guarantee it, because I’m cooler than everyone here,” he said.
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