By Michele Jurich
Staff Writer, Oakland Catholic Voice
The vista of San Francisco Bay is no doubt spectacular from the Bayview Room of the new student union at California State University East Bay, high in the Hayward hills, but no less memorable than the event there at noon on Wednesdays, when the university’s Catholic Club gathers for Mass.
On this particular Wednesday, Father George Byarugaba, a priest in residence at nearby All Saints Church, celebrated Mass for a gathering of about 40, staff members and students. Three musicians, including two guitarists, provide a lively beat for the students seated in two rows of office chairs, facing a long folding table that, with white cloth and crucifix, becomes an altar.
After Mass, one young woman quietly approaches the priest, who, upon learning this was her first time at the weekly Mass, asks her name and tells her, “You are welcome.”
New, too, is Ian Crueldad, 18, of San Jose, a freshman who plans to study political science. He was invited by his friend, Vincent Arcega, one of the guitarists. Arcega, 20, and a health science major, said he has also played for a retreat the Catholic Club had at All Saints. Active in Youth for Christ at his home parish of St. Anne in Union City, Arcega said he sees the noon Wednesday Mass as “another place to pray.”
That’s the opportunity organizers of this incarnation of Catholic campus ministry hope to cultivate for young Catholics on the campus of approximately 13,000 students.
The Catholic Club is one of eight faith-based organizations at the campus, according to a university spokesman. The others include Koinonia (Asian Baptist), Korean Bible Studies, Muslim Student Association, Secular Student Alliance, Compass College Fellowship, International Student Fellowship and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
There has not been an active Catholic ministry on the East Bay campus in at least a generation of college students. This time, the campus ministry is part of a parish, nearby All Saints Church.
The parish-based model is the vision of Steve Mullin, parish life director at All Saints. It’s based on the theory that after young Catholics experience student-centric Newman Center activities on campuses, they may find parish life difficult to navigate after an intensive faith experience. Centering the campus ministry in an active parish provides students with a sense of what their roles in their after-college parishes may resemble.
For Mullin, the number of students to be served was a motivating factor. Of those 13,000 students, about 1,500 live on campus in residence halls and apartments. With plans in the works to increase housing units on campus to as many as 5,000, there were needs to be filled.
“I knew we had to create a Catholic presence up there,” Mullin said. He had seen evidence in the pews at All Saints. “We had a few college students, but transportation was difficult.”
Mullin asked All Saints parishioners for their help. Three hundred responded, offering assistances from giving money to hosting dinners for the students.
Students have responded by being leaders in the teen confirmation program at the parish, and taking part in some of the liturgical ministries, including cantor and lector.
With assistance from a three-year grant from the Y&C Soda Foundation, the parish has hired a full-time campus minister, Eunice Park.
“One of the challenges we have is funding it,” Mullin said. Efforts are being made to reach out to alumni, faculty and friends of campus ministry for support. Two decades ago, a vibrant campus ministry through the Holy Cross Fathers who were based at St. Clement Parish flourished. Longtime observers recall Masses attended by 150.
Deacon Jeffery Burns, a faculty member and historian, said he hopes the campus ministry will give today’s students “a sense of ownership, a place to go where you can be Catholic.”
Beyond that, he said, “it’s giving them a sense of how to be Catholic on a secular campus.”
Monica Nunez, a junior from Corona, has been a part of Catholic Club since last year.
“The Catholic Club at Cal State East Bay brings joyness, and a secureness that I have not been able to gain from any other place ever since I have been here,” Nunez said.
At a faith formation gathering after the Wednesday Mass, the theme of what it means to be Catholic on the public university campus was the topic of discussion by a half-dozen students. The session was facilitated by Park and by Sister Mary Therese Perez, a Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose novice.
“We’re hoping we can develop faculty mentors, people who live their faith and work in academia,” Burns said.
The nascent ministry has been chosen to be a site for the ESTEEM — Engaging Students to Enliven the Ecclesial Mission — a Yale Catholic Center-based program to develop Catholic leaders in parish life.
In the meantime, it’s clear the students are taking an active role in the ministry. Take its website, for example, where there is an apology for the work in progress. “Patience is a virtue,” reads a message on the Catholic Club’s website, “It’s mid-quarter for the webmaster.”