Campus Ministry taking strides to modernize

Janelle Harb

Features Layout Editor

Christ the King Chapel is located at the heart of our campus, signifying its importance to Canisius’ firm roots in the Jesuit tradition. Campus Ministry’s mission is to empower the individuals Canisius community to discover their spirituality.  This semester, Michael Hayes, the director of Campus Ministry, along with the help of select students and the rest of the department, has begun to reach out to students through more platforms of social media.

Janelle Harb: Where is Campus Ministry at right now?

Michael Hayes: We animate the mission of the school.  I think students who know us well really like us and continue to hang around.  For us, a presence on social media was lacking.  This summer, Meg Cook and I got together to try to put together more of a social media plan like changing our Twitter handle to “CanisiusSpirit.”  We went really slow, we haven’t really gone full force with it yet.  We’ve enlisted more students, to ask how to engage students more effectively, and how [they] already engage in social media, as well as how they think we can do this stuff better just so that people get the idea that. Campus Ministry isn’t a scary place, and that we’re open to all people.  While we’re certainly involved in the Catholic perspective many ways, we run masses on campus, things like that, and we’re pro-that, you know. But we’re also about helping people discover what their own personal spirituality is. How can we help people do that more effectively? And how can we use social media to help us do that kind of thing?


JH: So you’re trying to provide more of an outreach to students in trying to help them discover their own spirituality?

MH: We really want to be able to support a more holistic view of education, I’m always talking to the staff about well what did students learn at that event? I always say we’re in the experience-making business.  So how do we make these experiences that we’re giving people come alive? How do we make these rich experiences the students are having come alive so that more people will know about them, and so that the usual suspects that just come to us naturally aren’t the only people to come to us, which they’re not generally.  But how do we spread this message just a little bit wider than we normally would? And how do we do that with students help? I always say, I’m 45 years old and I could scream this from the rafters, no one wants to hang out with me, and that sounds kind of sad I know, but students want to hang out with other students.  So how can we facilitate that in more of a mentorship role?


JH: So some of your major changes will be becoming more active on sites like Instagram and Twitter to be able to better reach people?

MH: I think that we can inspire people enough with these things so that we get them interested enough that it becomes a part of their social calendar.  So they’ll say “Hmm I noticed that a lot of my friends are posting a lot of pictures from the community service project they just went to.”  I find that when students go on Kairos, they come away with that experience saying “why did I wait until I was a senior to do this? Why didn’t I think to do this before? Why was I afraid to do this?” I think they find that we’re not their grandmother’s Catholic church.  And they’re able to come in and engage just a little more with us because they’re a little more open. So I say “how can we make people a little more open, and how can we use social media to do that?.”  


JH: How will Campus Ministry be different from the past? How is it evolving?

MH: I think that we’re certainly moving into a place that’s certainly different, even from 10 years ago when I first started doing ministry, and even 25 years ago from when I was in college.  All the research shows some of the following things, those who disaffect from what the religion they were born into, do so around the age of 21, so right where we are!  I think there’s also an assumption made by so-called “religious people” that young people aren’t interested in religion.  And I think that it’s been proven false, nevermind assumed by others to be false.  UCLA does this great study talking about how they surveyed a whole bunch of people, around 2008-2009, where they asked them “do you want to have conversations about spirituality and religion?,” and the great majority of people said “yes.”  Then they sent that same question to all of the professors, and the professors said “no, they don’t want to have that conversation and I’m way too afraid to do that,” and so here I am! So I think what Campus Ministry can do is that it can help people facilitate those kinds of conversations, to make it less scary for professors to have those kinds of conversations.  And there’s a lot of professors here who really want to have those conversations, even those outside of religious studies and philosophy.  I think there are people in the business school who really want to have those conversations, there’s certainly people in sociology who want to have them, it fits right in there.  Social media is great, but it can’t just live there.  The idea is that social media promotes engagement, and not necessarily just stopping there.  In the next phase, we want to encourage students to come to an Agape Latte talk, how can we encourage someone to think about going to 8:30 p.m. mass for the first time, even if they’re not even Catholic, just to go and see.  I remember we were talking about how do we become more inviting to people, and someone threw out the term that we don’t want someone to do something that makes them uncomfortable, and I said “no, I do! That’s exactly what I want to do!,” I want people to come into a space and experience something different, and stretch themselves a little more, and if we never did that, no one would go to Poland for an immersion trip, no one would go to El Salvador. Those are the hard ones! You know, going on a Kairos retreat isn’t scary! I think you can do that really easily! And you do it, and you wonder “why was I ever afraid of this?” Or do the sandwich ministry, that’s an easy one, just go down and make some sandwiches on Sunday nights and go out and talk to people who you’re handing them to and find out that they’re not really much different than we are.  I think those are the kind of immersion things we want to have, so how do we immerse that into social media?  


JH: Because you do so much, and so little is seen to a point.

MH: There’s a lot going on, and you’re a good example, there’s so much going on that they can’t decide what to do, and what to choose, so how do we help them choose the one that fits them best.  If I chose to go to Canisius then maybe I should try to immerse myself in the Jesuit tradition so that I come away learning something about that and taking that into my everyday life.  If people take the Jesuit tradition into their everyday life, that’s kind of what we’re after.  How does this experience make me a different kind of doctor if I went somewhere other than Canisius? A different kind of lawyer, a different kind of businessperson, and what does that mean. Then how is this making the choices to discern what I want to do in life?  What choices do I want to make with religion and spirituality in my life, you know? Let’s start with God, and go from there.  


JH: I’ve even noticed that within the first few weeks of the semester I saw the Moonlight Confessions posters, and now the Blessing of the Brains mass being advertised, that has been great to see.

MH: I’m happy you brought those two up because we worked hard on those.  We kind of allow our students to engage with us to move those projects forward. Like how do we get some people who know more about this [advertising] stuff than we do?  Our marketing department has been really great in helping us out.  There’s something that I’m sensitive to called “sign-blindness,” where you see so many signs that you just don’t see any.  So we’ve been collaborating to go further, with a little more eye-catching, attractive posters, and that’s really hard to do on a college campus because people are so media savvy.  I think our students are sensitive to that.  It can’t just be “that’s cool,” that’s not it, in fact, trying to do that means that you’re not cool, that means you’re trying too hard.  I think that’s where our students will contribute in this direction.  


JH: Where do you hope to see Campus Ministry in the future?

MH: With lots and lots of students engaged.  To make it be a place of joyful, pastorally, sensitive ministry.  A place where people can kind of feel at home, where they could come in and feel relaxed.  For me this is a job, so I worry about things like how liturgy or mass looks, and I have to relax about that more and more to let the students engage.  A place where healing can happen, it could be a safe place for people, where they can come and talk about the things that are going on in their life that maybe they can’t talk to their professor or other adults in their life, but they come to us.  I think we offer people people the chance to look at the great questions that come before them as college students.  I got into this when someone invited me to go on a retreat when I was 20 years old.  And they said “you should go to this,” and I said, “weekend of my 20th birthday? No way,” and he was like “you can go out and get drunk at any night of the week, why don’t you come out on this retreat and decide what the next twenty years are going to be like.” That’s what I hope we can facilitate here.  We hope we can be a place where people really want to come and engage in these questions.  I also just hope people come here to have fun.  There comes a time like no other time, I’m always pushing the staff, I say “okay we have two masses on Sunday, one is at 11:30 in the morning and the other at 8:30 at night, how can we provide the best two hours of the week for anybody.  If we can do that and make it a time like no other time, that’s what we’re after.  That’s just for Catholics, now we have to think about for everybody else.  I mean 500 people go to Community Day, that’s not an accident.  People really want to be engaged in this stuff.  Our job is to give them the opportunities to engage in that. We need to let people know what’s going on, and in terms of social media, give them a reason to participate.  The priority here is to be present, to allow people to engage a little bit more is what they pay me to do, and don’t quote me to the President on this, but if they paid me nothing, then I would still find a way to do it.  


To learn more about Campus Ministry visit them on the Canisius website, or through their various platforms of social media, @CanisiusSpirit.




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