Friday, May 25, 2007

Being a University Chaplain

What is a Chaplain? And what do they do? You may well ask: I once had a very confused Norwegian girl, with her English-Norwegian Dictionary in hand, convinced that I couldn’t be Catholic as her dictionary assured her that ‘Chaplain’ means ‘Priest’…another identity issue comes up when the caretaker at one of the London Campuses always spells it as ‘Chaplin’!

A bit of background: Catholic University Chaplains are pretty much always employed by the Diocese to work in the Universities, so we are not actually University employees, which confuses people. The University authorities seem to sometimes welcome, sometimes tolerate our presence, sometimes just not notice at all that we are around! Although recently as the issues of religious belief are becoming more centre stage they seem to value having some ‘experts’ around.

I am employed by Diocese of Westminster under the umbrella of the Catholic Chaplaincy to the Universities of London. I have been assigned as Catholic Chaplain to 4 specific institutions: the University of Westminster and 3 smaller specialist institutions within the University of London, the Institute of Education, the London School of Pharmacy and the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Also I form part of the pastoral team of Newman House which is a Catholic Student residence which houses about sixty students.

As you might imagine what I actually do is incredibly varied. At the beginning of the year there’s a lot of welcoming of new students, speaking at inductions and sitting at stalls at fresher’s fairs, helping to connect especially overseas students with church life in England (recently a Ugandan student told me that she’d been assured that there were no Catholic Churches in England!). Then everything from meeting students who seek me out to talk about some particular issue, organising some ecumenical or even interfaith activities with the other Chaplains, running a sharing-discussion group with students at Newman House, drinking quite a few cups of tea…and sending lots of emails. One of my favourite things has been to organise Mass at some of the campuses: to transform a classroom for an hour into a place of prayer where Jesus is actually present, is really quite special and I think very meaningful for the staff and students to see that God is really interested and part of their life at University. Recently we had Mass at the Institute of Education, in a room which had huge windows and as it was evening the priest in his vestments was very visible and we could see people in the hotel over the road staring at us!

One way of describing what I do, is trying to be God’s opportunity in places where people are not necessarily expecting to find him… trying to bring people together to express and explore their faith. And as a Verbum Dei Missionary, trying to be God’s opportunity to speak a word of hope and encouragement, where people are often feeling stressed and also a bit lost in a big institution.

Thanks very much for reading this and please pray for me in this work!

Sr Catherine Cruz fmvd is the Catholic Chaplaincy to the University of Westminster, Institute of Education, School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the School of Pharmacy. She also works in close collaboration with Fr Joseph Evans to gather the 'Bloomsbury Catholic Students' for Mass once a month (this includes many of the smaller institutions of the University of London, other than UCL and SOAS).


Anonymous said...

do you preach 'Jesus'?

Fr Peter said...

Do you preach 'Jesus'?

As opposed to what? Buddha?