Donors aim to spread the word, fund endowment to continue fulltime chaplaincy
CORAL GABLES | When University of Miami alumnus Edward Easton told Father Phillip Tran that he didn’t want him worrying about money to sustain the campus ministry, but instead concern himself with the souls of the students, Father Tran smiled.
It was not the first time since taking the position of fulltime chaplain at UM that he had heard that. One of the first times, it had come from Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
Easton and his wife donated the initial funding for the fulltime Catholic chaplain position, as well as money that will help sustain the UCatholic campus ministry suite in Pentland House. The archdiocese hopes to create an endowment of $1 million to keep everything running for years to come.
“St. Augustine [Church] and the student center meant so much to me and it was so valuable to all of the kids who were here at the time,” said Easton during a visit to the suite Oct. 22, where he was joined by other potential donors to the cause.
“I want to expand our presence. I believe in my heart that this is going to be one of the best things to ever happen to the University of Miami and the archdiocese. This is the Holy Spirit in action,” Easton said.
Father Tran says he has seen the Holy Spirit in action in the three months since he started his ministry. He has made himself totally available to students, whether at Mass, for coffee, or even football games. He and others, including Archbishop Wenski, also point out — only half-jokingly — that the Hurricanes football team is so far undefeated.
Father Tran has made it his mission to connect with students during a key moment in their lives in hopes of guiding them and reminding them to keep God and the Church on the horizon not only during their collegiate journeys but forever.
“By the time kids turn 23, about 80 percent stop going to church,” Father Tran said. “You see why college ministry is extremely important,” he added, because if the Church can’t persuade them that “our Lord and Savior can transform their lives and give them that happiness and that peace that the world cannot give them in any other way, then we have lost them for years and generations to come.”
Grace Lopez-Aguiar, a parishioner, lector and extraordinary minister of Communion at Little Flower Church in Coral Gables, said she wishes campus ministry and a Catholic chaplain had been more available at UM 40 years ago. It would have brought her closer to the Church sooner.
“There really wasn’t anything here established for Catholic students, but there was a Methodist church,” said Lopez-Aguiar, who moved to Miami for the first time as a college student.
Similarly, many students who leave home for college suddenly find themselves independent and often, Lopez–Aguiar said, “naked and without direction.”
“With what there is now in place there’s going to be a continuation of what these students learned as children in their parishes. Their faith and love for Catholicism is going to continue building, even while they’re away from home, now that this ministry is in place, and I am grateful for that.”
Randy Fitzgerald, a freshman UCatholic originally from Fairfax, Va., said he is already feeling at home in Miami thanks in large part to the welcome he received from his fellow campus ministry students.
“Being removed from our families is a test of maturity,” said Fitzgerald. “As a freshman, there are a lot of different things going on, a lot of different directions you can get pulled in, and [campus ministry] is a great place to be centered. They were a really great group of friends from the get-go and they are the group of people that I keep coming back to.”
Fitzgerald wants to become a doctor. He is double-majoring in biochemistry with a specialization in molecular biology as well as political science, while also pursuing minors in French and chemistry. He admits work and studies can get overwhelming but took comfort in the message preached by Archbishop Wenski at the Mass that followed the reception Oct. 22, the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit marking the start of the academic year.
“As Archbishop said, prayer is so important in every stage, as well as having hope in general,” Fitzgerald said. “But prayer is also accepting you’re not in control of stuff, but God is. In my personal faith, it is reaffirming that I am putting my trust in God because God controls all things. I can study my rear end off for an exam, but at the end of the day, it’s all in his control.”