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Sharing the Gospel – making uni connections and accompanying students with ACU campus ministry

Campus team: Patrick Donnelly, Colleen Tracey, Franciscan Father Harry Chan and Adam Burns are all working to build relationships and live their faith. Photo: Joe Higgins

COLLEEN Tracey was holding her newborn at Mass about 20 years ago when she heard a reading from the Gospel which told her to put God before everything else.

“I was really challenged, holding my newborn, thinking how can you say that?” Mrs Tracey said.

She said she was holding new life in her arms, and she couldn’t understand how she could put God before her baby – so she asked her priest.

The priest told her not to simply drop her baby and turn to God, but to be the best mother, wife and teacher she could be.

“I just went – okay, I get it now,” she said.

That message lit a fire in her that she wanted to share with others, and 20 years later, Mrs Tracey is still sharing that fire on campus as Australian Catholic University McAuley Campus staff pastoral associate. 

She and student pastoral associate Adam Burns said they both worked with the movement of the Holy Spirit, dynamically ministering to and accompanying staff and students on their journeys.

Integrated into uni life

Campus ministry is integrated into the life of the university, and is at the heart of enlivening the mission of the university.

Relationships were the key to campus ministry.

Mr Burns said it came down to the four Bs – belonging, becoming, believing and being supported.

“A lot of our student ministry is creating that sort of belonging, as a place of launching into faith development, and believing, and also that personal development and becoming,” he said.

This work is supported by the campus Frontier Team – a group of student volunteers who, from their own experience in campus ministry wanted to share that experience.

Evangelisation was embedded into this culture of accompaniment.

Mr Burns said a lot of words were often thrown around when it came to evangelisation, but ultimately they were all just abstractions. 

“The challenge for us is making it real, because you’ve got people here who are on real journeys – students who are on a real journey towards a career path, staff who are in the midst of work,” he said. 

“We’re really dealing with people in real situations so the challenge is to go from the abstract … and drawing out the things that are real for them. 

“I think that’s the big challenge for me and students is (that) this stuff isn’t just a name … it’s a real thing that you can incorporate into your life that really makes a difference to who you are and who you’re becoming.”

Mr Burns said for students his primary message was simply – you matter.

A time of flux

“Their life is in flux, whether it’s moving away from family, being in significant relationships, balancing work and study, and all of those other things that have to happen,” he said. 

Mr Burns said people in their 20s were still discovering the answer to the big questions like “Who am I?”

“A big part of what we built into our programs and activities is asking those big questions but also having a model of pastoral support that we can walk with and journey with them,” he said.

Mrs Tracey said if you said “evangelisation” to the average person, they wouldn’t actually know what it meant.

She said when she was out ministering to staff, she kept everything in everyday language so people could better relate to it.

Mrs Tracey’s work in staff ministry was different to student ministry in a number of ways.

She said staff were already well-formed, educated adults who would likely be at ACU for much longer periods of time than students.

For her, staff ministry was about building authentic, transparent and long-term relationships. 

“Usually my biggest encounters personally with people pastorally is through sickness, through themselves (or) family, or a death in the family,” Mrs Tracey said. “And being with people at that time is a gift for us, to help them come through those difficult times.

“It’s a real privilege to be able to be there but it’s also a time when you can help them discern their unique gifts they bring to such a diverse community and to be able to share them.

And the primary message she tries to get across to everyone was about unconditional love. 

“(It’s) that God loves them no matter who they are, what car they drive, where they went to school, how much money they earn or don’t earn, where they went to university, no matter what they’ve done in theirpast, they are unconditionally loved, God wants to do life with them,” Mrs Tracey said.

It was through this message and accompaniment that people could see that both Mrs Tracey and Mr Burns were coming “from a place of genuine love” and began to ask questions about their faith.

Mrs Tracey said her proudest moment in ministry was when someone said they thanked God she was around. 

“(They said) that they’ve been praying for me in my role,” she said, “that I added a lot of value to their life.

“I think that’s it for me – making a difference to one person means the world.

“I know there are lot of people here but, for me, I’m all about the one, that one person – making a difference to one person is great.”

ACU Campus Ministry was intentional she said, “not fixed on location or waiting for people to come to us, we proactively reach out to those around us, staff and students alike.”

Written by: Joe Higgins
Catholic Church Insurance

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