instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Just doing his job

Recently, I heard a talk by Fr. Bill Byrne, Chaplain of the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland. (Some of you may have listened to the homily he gave to the 20,000 who attended this year's Youth Mass for Life in January.)

Inspired by (among other things) a slogan he saw at the campus Hillel, Fr. Byrne decided he would operate the CSC by a straightforward rule: the Center would be about Catholic kids doing Catholic things with other Catholic kids. If it wasn't 100% Catholic, he wasn't going to invest time, money, or effort in it.

One good thing about a culture in which tolerance is the only virtue is that it's easy to recognize how radical is the claim, "God loves us, and His Son is here in the tabernacle." Fr. Byrne began with that 100% Catholic claim, and once (but not until) his flock got a firm handle on that, he worked his way out from there.

He says weekly Mass attendance has gone from 350 to 1,000 in the eight years he's served as chaplain; attendance has also increased from 12 at the one daily Mass to 50 across the two daily Masses. Not phenomenal numbers, but very encouraging under the circumstances, I think. (Plus, next year there will be something like 11 men from UM studying for the priesthood.)

What's particularly heartening to me is the means Fr. Byrne has used to accomplish what he's done. He didn't set up a program devised by professional catechists; he didn't invite a New Movement (or even an old Order) in to run things (though the CSC does sponsor some organizations); he didn't find out what Catholic students were interested in and then get interested in that.

He preached Christ present in His Church.