How a Catholic student brought Mass back to a Presbyterian college

It happened at Hastings College in Nebraska.  Details:

The service was once a regular offering at the college. It was moved off campus to Holy Cross Chapel at the Crosier Park Professional Center about a decade ago.

Eventually, the college Mass was replaced in its evening time slot at the chapel by services for the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities.

Jenna Diedrich, 20, a junior biology major and ACT [A Catholic Thing, a club on campus] member, helped initiate the movement to reintroduce Mass on campus.

Aided by her older brother and fellow ACT member, Jordan, 22, she pitched the idea to the Rev. Andrew Heaslip, parochial vicar at St. Cecilia’s, and [religion professor David] McCarthy after learning that Mass once had been offered on campus.

“I wanted to start Mass to unify Catholics on campus,” she said. “I know there are a huge amount of Catholics who attend Hastings College, and I thought this was a good way to get them together.”

Heaslip said the process took a few months of planning to get off the ground. After clearing the idea with his pastor at St. Cecilia’s, the Rev. Joseph Walsh, and with McCarthy, he set some conditions in place for Diedrich to address before continuing.

“I wanted to see if it could be sustained,” Heaslip said. “I tried to see if (ACT) would be able to do the different roles for the Mass: Get liturgical ministers, servers, sacristans, people to open up and close down, and musicians.”

Diedrich was equal to the task. Overcoming the lack of interest expressed by some, she eventually was able to find enough volunteers to fill most of the necessary positions. Those she couldn’t, she assumed herself with help from her brother.

“It’s actually not been that easy,” she said. “Before Christmas, Jordan and I contacted a bunch of people and their response was not that great. We had a ton of readers, but not a lot of people for music or serving.

“As far as sacristans to set up and tear down, we took on that ourselves. We didn’t want to have to teach someone to lock and unlock and set up microphones because we had already been through it.”

Despite a scheduling blunder, the first Mass was surprisingly well-attended.

“We made a mistake and scheduled the first week on Super Bowl Sunday,” Diedrich said. “We still got over 20 people.”

The following week, attendance doubled. And that, Heaslip said, is an encouraging sign.

“When we were first trying to get the ball rolling, I wasn’t sure if this was going to work out or not,” he said. “We just decided to trust the Lord and see. It’s looking pretty good.”

Encouraging fellowship is at the very heart of offering Mass on campus, Heaslip said.

“It gives students here at the college a chance to be aware that there are other Catholics here at the university,” he said. “Sometimes we keep our faith hidden and when we do that, we can’t grow in our faith. But when we live out and express our faith, not only can we grow in it, but other people can grow in it, too.”

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  1. This is so instructive on so many levels. Kudos to Hastings College and to the group’s faculty advisor, associate religion professor David McCarthy.

    But look at the way these young Catholics went about it: respectfully and responsibly. They did NOT treat their desire for an on-campus Catholic Mass as an entitlement; did NOT demand special treatment from the college; did NOT hire a lawyer and sue the college; did NOT run to the media and whine (like a Barbara Johnson); did NOT beg Congress or the President to intervene and interfere with a private college’s prerogatives (like a Sandra Fluke) ; did NOT “Occupy” anything!

    Rather, they assessed the situation they faced, reached out for help on the campus, worked with all parties in a respectful manner, avoided bashing their hosts (the college) and went about their business cheerfully and with grace!!

    We should be proud of them! They bear effective witness for Christ and His Church.

  2. Great news, and well done. But… who is McCarthy?

    [Religion prof. In editing, I'd left that out. My bad. It's back in. Dcn. G.]

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