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Opening new frontiers

Tracey Edstein  |  18 February 2020

How do we identify and support the next generation of leaders in the Catholic Church? An innovative ACU program might provide an answer.

Imagine you are a student pursuing a vocational degree, anticipating a satisfying career path that offers much more than a secure income.

Surely your chance of achieving this would be enhanced if your university offered a program matching you to a mentor who had not only made the same career choice, but shared your values and commitment to faith?

This is just one of the benefits of Australian Catholic University’s Frontier program, now entering its third year.   

ACU’s Campus Ministry Manager, Brother Michael Callinan FMS, explains that the program was conceived as a way of tapping into the students’ strong interest in ministry – although the students might not have used that term. They do now.

‘We had a small Campus Ministry Team on each campus and students were gathering around us and clearly attracted to ministry, but we didn’t really have a way of enlisting them. We needed a program with many entry points, levels of involvement and tangible achievement, and not always requiring the Campus Pastoral Associates.’

POPULAR PROGRAM

The innovative Frontier program has exploded in popularity across six of ACU’s Australian campuses, with some 100 students now having participated.

An individual student’s commitment can involve something as simple as handing out ‘chocolate + challenge’ cards in random acts of kindness, through to leading a Bible study group, Alpha group, or gaining frontline experience in event management and liturgy.

The program is streamlined into three tiers: bronze – the entry tier; silver – the second-year tier for ongoing students; and gold, open to a handful of students who lead peers within the other tiers.

Each student receives individual spiritual accompaniment and formation, and this support helps to integrate him or her into a well-functioning local evangelising team.

‘The program requires a commitment to 60 volunteer hours a year, plus formation, undertaking tasks in a team environment under the direction of a Campus Ministry Pastoral Associate’, says Michael.

Second year physiotherapy student, Edan Pereira, is committed to the opportunity Frontier offers him to express his Catholic faith openly, and to engage with other students who may be less confident doing so.  

‘I enjoy playing the violin so during events like the commissioning Mass at the beginning of the year, and at the Easter Triduum, I’m involved in the music ministry. I also serve at the altar.

PASSIONATE ABOUT THE CHURCH

‘My friends like to see people witnessing to what they’re passionate about. I’m passionate about the church so I tell people. And I think my friends appreciate that.’

While he has experienced negative responses, Edan is philosophical: ‘You have to look past it. Have respect, but also be firm in your foundation and your beliefs. I think others will respect that too.’

Michael says this burgeoning ability to lead with confidence in the ‘faith space’ is a hallmark of Frontier participants, and bodes well for continuing evangelisation beyond university days.  

Third year student Rachel Spackman is preparing to teach Drama and Religious Studies. While bowling up to fellow students and initiating faith conversations is not her strength, she’s seen it happen.

‘Initially I focused more on helping plan and run events, and I found that I enjoyed it. It was really nice to dive into that space. I also ran a Connect group, which is ACU’s version of faith discussion. It was quite personal, and I could sit and journey with the people there − and then when I saw them around campus I could reconnect.’

HABIT FORMING

Rachel’s attitude demonstrates that while Frontier participants may initially focus on how best to accumulate their hours, the inclination to make the most of what could begin as casual encounters becomes a habit. And Rachel likes the Campus Ministry T-shirt so much, she often wears it even when not intentionally ministering!

A significant element of the program is matching students with career mentors. Rachel was mentored by Sarah, a religious education teacher and a mother of three. Rachel says, ‘I still speak to Sarah regularly – she’s living my dream vocation and I’ve learned a lot from her.’

Edan was mentored by Joachim and found that enormously valuable. ‘That connection with a mentor opens not only the door to the reality of the job, but also the reality of being a Catholic in the industry. It gives me hope that that there is a future for ministry in my profession.’

Campus Pastoral Associate for Students at Brisbane’s McAuley at Banyo campus, Adam Burns, highlights another aspect of the program.

UNDERSTATED POWER

‘Frontier has an understated power – so much that is incidental and relational happens outside formal programs. When Frontier students are on campus and the Ministry Team might be setting up for an event, they’ll just stop and introduce us to their peers, and all of a sudden we have four or five more relationships. Among other things, Frontier’s about capturing these opportunities for encounter.’  

Clearly ACU’s Frontier program is stretching boundaries beyond the present student cohort and individual campuses. Indeed, Michael believes it’s of benefit for the whole Church. 

‘Communities like Australian Catholic University have much to offer in bringing people back, in offering a bridge of reconciliation, or perhaps opening a door tto Jesus that students never knew was there.’

 

The program is on the lookout for new mentors for the students. If you are a Catholic professional who would like to mentor an ACU student studying at a campus near you, please contact Brother Michael Callinan, michael.callinan@acu.edu.au.

 

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