At seven o’clock on Wednesday nights, Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) hosts Good Cheer at Bouré. In the side room upstairs, about two dozen students talk and catch up while eating hors d’oeuvres.
Half of the evening is relaxed socializing amongst the Catholic students while the other half is reflection and devotion led by Brad Noel, who leads the campus ministry, or occasionally a guest speaker.
Good Cheer is one of the many ways the Catholic Church reaches out to the Catholics on campus. It gives students the opportunity to get to know other Catholic students and bond over their shared faith, as well as reflect on Catholicism and what it means to each of them. Mimi Rankin, a sophomore, has become close to friends she has met through the Catholic Church. She said in an email interview, “I even went on Spring Break with a friend from CCM and we sprinted from the beach when Pope Francis was elected so we could watch the news!”
Father Joe Tonos, the Pastor at St. John’s the Evangelist, explains that as a priest, his job is to reach out to his community. He said, “If I don’t make each individual feel welcome to the congregation, that’s my fault,” stressing that the Church has a duty to reach out to Catholics rather than making them come looking for the Church. This does not exclude college students.
Father Joe is known for his sometimes humorous 5 p.m. sermons at the frequently packed church. The energetic priest, whose cousin Mike teaches journalism at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, is famous for his own story-teling from the St. John’s pulpit. He usually manages to connect artfully to the stressful lives of college students with homilies based on his own experiences.
While five o’clock Sunday mass and Good Cheer at Bouré are directed towards students to help them feel at home, Ole Miss catholics are not limited to that mass time or the Wednesday gatherings. Father Joe explained, “You won’t look for a mass that caters to you — you’ll just come.”
Parishioners won’t exclusively attend mass at a certain time, but they might find a particular time and style of mass caters to them more than others. Rankin adds that attending mass regularly can be a way to find peace of mind in a hectic schedule. “Going to mass in college is almost easier that it was in high school,” he said. “With all the stress in my life as a college student being pulled in a million different directions, I find so much peace in attending weekly mass.”
While many students attend mass at five on Sundays, many also attend at eleven o’clock and sometimes even eight on Sunday mornings. Because of this, Father Joe said, “I want to be relevant to everyone at all times.”
Because the majority of the South is not traditionally Catholic, it can sometimes be difficult for Catholics to distinguish themselves from other Christians. Father Joe said, “Sometimes Catholics in the Southeast see themselves as just one more denomination and lack that introspection.” He stresses that it’s sometimes important to reaffirm the pride of being Catholics — another reason he strives to reach out to every member of the congregation. Father Joe is proud of the parish’s tagline: “Southern Fried Catholicism.”
Rankin said, “The Catholic community has been so welcoming to me and so many other students at Ole Miss,” he said. CCM and St. John’s has become a huge part of my life at Ole Miss.” Like any Christian denomination, the Catholic Church strives to reach out to the Oxford/University community.
St. John’s Website is www.Stjohnoxford.org
Elizabeth Ervin is a journalism student at Meek School of Journalism and New Media.