By Joanna Puddister King
STARKVILLE – Catholic faith is alive and thriving in colleges in the Golden Triangle area through an outreach of St. Joseph church. The church’s Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at Mississippi State University also serves students at East Mississippi Community College and the Mississippi University for Women.
Students are the heart of this peer-led organization that believes college is a time for growth and formation for the whole person – body, mind and spirit.
College is truly a time for social growth and community, an avenue that CCM excels at with – free food, a language every college student understands. Tuesday Night Dinner (or TND as it is more affectionately known) hosted at St. Joseph is a great way to feed hungry students bellies and give them spiritual fuel to get them through the week by hosting interactive talks ranging from relationships, vocations, apologetics and more.
“When I first moved to Mississippi, I knew approximately three people here. I … learned about Tuesday Night Dinner (TND) and free food – every college student’s dream! As I started going to TND, I met lots of new people, learned about other CCM happenings and joined in on events and volunteering,” says Mississippi University for Women senior, Maggie Rodriguez.
“Over the past few years CCM has become my second family, a home away from home.”
In addition to free food, CCM has two important Catholic figures in their corner – Mother Teresa and Pope Francis – well, life-size cut-outs that is. The pair have been a main feature since the summer at campus events.
“At the New Maroon Camp, a freshman orientation type set of events, we were the first table people saw as they came into the auditorium filled with representatives from the clubs at MSU. With the cowbell in hand, Pope Francis received lots of smiles from Catholics and non-Catholics alike; likewise, Mother Teresa and her ‘Hail Mary, Hail State’ flag got plenty of positive feedback,” said director of campus ministry, Meg Kanatzar.
“They’re fabulous conversation starters! People come over just to take selfies with them.”
The “Hail Mary, Hail State” phrase ignited a powerful fundraiser that has Catholic Mississippi State fans near and far sporting the phrase on the groups signature t-shirt. Former student Joseph Kerstiens helped come up with the idea for the hugely popular shirt, with the silhouette of Saint Pope John Paul II with a cowbell and rosary in hand, with the slogan.
“We really wanted to have something that incorporated MSU and the Catholic faith, and it wasn’t long before we had the slogan ‘Hail Mary, Hail State,” said Kersteins.
Though there are a lot of fun and games, like Catholic intermural sports and monthly trivia night, the group finds time to allow students to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ with Eucharistic adoration and Bible study, in addition to service to others.
Mini-mission trips to Smith Park in Jackson with Deacon John McGinley is one way the group ministers to others. Often times, the group come on a Sunday so that they can invite the people they meet to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter. They also make plastic bags into beds and pillows and distribute to those that need them.
In addition to serving the homeless in Jackson, the group also ministers to their local community with volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, working in the St. Joseph food pantry and serving home-bound individuals with a food box delivery on a monthly basis.
“I want to give back to the community that has given me so much over the past four years,” says co-president of CCM, Jeremy Irwin.
“I had a tough time sophomore year and my CCM family still managed to make my time here at State enjoyable, while still growing in my faith. My hope is that I am able to help bring others the joy CCM has brought me, through Christ.”
That joy is the fuel that keeps director of the campus ministry, Meg Kanatzar going.
“Seeing someone come back on fire for their faith after attending a retreat or observing one student counsel a peer in a difficult time, or entering a chapel or church filled with students praying during Adoration. There are countless moments when I am privileged to witness students making God a priority in their lives,” said Kanatzar.