Ministries strengthen community, faith

Ministries strengthen community, faith

A Catholic Mass was celebrated Feb. 27 at Whalley Chapel. Masses are held at 5 p.m. every Wednesday.

Sean Sauro, Managing Editor

Mainstream media often depicts college students as booze-guzzling, mischief-making delinquents, but a number of Pitt-Johnstown student organizations are working to defy negative connotations.

Pitt-Johnstown Campus Ministries, representing both Protestant and Catholic faiths, along with other campus religious groups work to strengthen the community.

While the groups hold weekly Mass and prayer services, Protestant Pastor Jim Gay said their worshiping is not limited to the chapel.

He said the Protestant Campus Ministy holds faith-strengthening retreats each semester. This semester’s was held  last  month at Camp Harmony in Hooversville.

“The idea of our retreats is to be able to get away from studies and the hustle and bustle of college life,” Gay said. “It’s nice to unwind and work on some relationships…with God and each other.”

Gay said the retreats focus not only on enhancing spirituality but on having fun, too. He said sled-riding, football games and card games are common retreat pastimes.

“Then, at times, there are games that teach a message,” he said.

Similarly, Catholic Campus Minister Jonathan Jerome said the Catholic Campus Ministry holds biannual retreats.

“It’s a cool way to get away from school pressure,” Jerome said.

This year’s theme will be sacrifice because it coincides with the Lenten season, he said, adding that he expects many students to attend.

“Last year, 31 students attended,” Jerome said. “This year, we hope to (get more).”

In addition to the retreat, Jerome said the group also is participating in a six-part discussion series.

Each discussion is hosted by a different religious leader and looks into a different sacrament. Participating students are welcome to free food and drinks.

Though the group is distinctly Catholic, Jerome said students do not have to be Catholic to join.

Pitt-Johnstown student Breanna Brubaker, who is also president of Time Out Christian Fellowship, said the Protestant-based group also welcomes members of other faiths.

“We aren’t just a group or a clique,” she said. “We’re open to everyone. We have a Jewish student who comes in often and Catholic students come by, too.”

She said, in addition to weekly services, the group hosts a number of off-campus events, including gatherings at a Starbucks Coffee shop where they discuss Bible verses.

Although spiritual enlightenment and prayer play a large role in ministry activities, the groups also perform philanthropy.

Gay said the Protestant group rarely passes up an opportunity to help the community.

“We have often gone to elderly homes to do work,” he said. “We made valentines and distributed them to the elderly who wouldn’t normally get them.”

Brubaker said they also rake leaves in the fall and make Christmas cards.

Jerome said the Catholic group makes trips to a Boys and Girls Club of America and encourages campus wide participation in charity events.

“During the Lenten season, we hand out paper bowls for people to put their spare change in,” Jerome said, adding that that change is then donated to families in need.

He said the group usually raises around $70.

Though the groups often work independently, each year they come together to participate in a spring break mission trip.

This year, the groups are to make a trip to New Jersey to help with Hurricane Sandy relief, Gay said.

While these groups continue to operate in the community, one religious group has disappeared from the Pitt-Johnstown campus.

Father Miles Zdinak said he used to lead Pitt-Johnstown’s Orthodox group, but, as of this year, the group is no longer in existence.

He attributes the group’s disappearance to all members being graduated, as well as changes in the freshmen-orientation process.

“Religious-preference cards used to be given out at orientation,” he said, “but, this year, they didn’t put them out.”

Jerome said incoming freshmen are required to fill out surveys, and the religious groups used to deliver the religious-preference cards during the survey-taking process.

However, the survey was moved to an online format, so, this year, the groups were unable to distribute the cards, he said.

“We had to get creative with it,” Jerome said. “We decided to host an ice-cream social. We actually ended up getting more cards. We just didn’t get any Orthodox students.”

Zdinak said he remains optimistic that the group will be reinstated.

“Hopefully we’ll get some students interested soon,” he said.

The campus website also lists additional religious groups, including a Jewish organization and a Christian-athlete group.