Colby Catholics: Building a faith community on campus

For Maggie Blake, a fourth-year student at Colby College in Waterville, being able to remain connected to her Catholic faith has been an invaluable part of her college experience. Maggie has been a member of Colby Catholics, the campus ministry group, since she first arrived at the school.

“I decided to come here because I liked the school a lot, but I wanted to make sure I had an outlet to be involved in a Catholic environment and meet other Catholic people on campus,” she says.

Maggie says with so much going on during your college years, it’s important to have your faith to ground you.

“It’s not a Catholic college, so it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day,” she says. “There is so much happening all the time, and I think it is important to have a group of people with whom you’re able to come back to the faith and reflect on what is really important and get away from all the crazy things [that are] happening.”

Second-year student Giovanna Novi, who says her faith life came alive through high school youth ministry in her home country of Brazil, says she feared losing that connection while in college, but says, thanks to Colby Catholics, that has not been the case.

“It was really nice when I got here and saw that we had a group of people who wanted to deepen their faith. I feel like that is my journey,” she says.

Giovanna and Maggie are among the leaders of Colby Catholics. Under the guidance of campus minister Dan Spofford, OFS, they plan and organize faith-enriching and community-building events for Catholic students. That includes offering a shuttle and carpooling to Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Winslow every Sunday, faith formation gatherings on Thursday nights, and monthly porch events, usually held at St. John.

“They are reflection sessions on a different faith topic,” says Maggie. “We have meals together, and then, we talk about a different faith topic after Mass. The last topic was the Eucharist.”

The students also join the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament for eucharistic adoration and sometimes for meals, and they participate in retreats, including one led last fall by Father William Clark, SJ, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Held at the St. Joseph Center in Winslow, the retreat, which focused on different ways to pray, brought together Catholic students from several different campuses in Maine and New Hampshire.

“I like coming here and hearing more theology and just learning more from the people we invite like Father Bill Clark,” says Jackie Legutko, one of the student leaders of Colby Catholics.

“I feel like I’m a daughter of retreats. I really like retreats, and I feel like major points and decisions in my life were made during retreats — having this deep connection, a moment to forget everything else and just reconnect and refresh,” says Giovanna. “I come to actually have the time to forget everything else and to focus on deepening my relationship with the Lord.”

Providing opportunities for students to grow in relationship with the Lord and to spend time with Him is at the heart of campus ministry, which the Catholic Appeal makes possible at six colleges and universities in Maine.

Joann Torres, a first-year student, says being part of Colby Catholics has given her something that was lacking in her life.

“In the sense of faith and the connection that I have with God, it’s not something that I felt was as strong as I wanted it to be when I was in high school,” she says. “It was something that I wanted to start in college, and I feel like I found the community that can help me.”

“In college, it’s really helped me to see the world differently. And I’ve really dived into my faith more,” says Maggie. “College is all happening, but this is what really matters.”

“If we did not have Mass, I would have left. I would have dropped my quest for a scholarship. I would have gone back home. It means a lot to me to have these retreats and for me to be able to go to Mass because it’s tough. I feel like I’m having a hard time balancing my faith life with schooling and social time, so having this is amazing to me,” says Melinda Mojica, a second-year student.

Spofford says it is exciting to see the Catholic faith so alive in the Colby students.

“There is so much going on. It is a very vibrant group of students, and they are very much on fire for the Lord. It is beautiful to see,” he says.

In addition to helping the students develop a schedule of events and gatherings for the school year, Spofford says he and campus ministers at other colleges work together to try to provide additional opportunities for students.

“We’re trying to cross-pollinate across the state where students from one college can participate with other campuses and do things together,” he says.

Another goal has been connecting the students with the Corpus Christi Parish community. In addition to regularly attending Mass at St. John the Baptist Church, Colby students teach faith formation. This year, Giovanna and Madeline O’Neil are leading the middle school class.

“I think that time is a turning point for a lot of people. A lot of my friends either got into the faith or fell away from it during the ages of 14 to 20, so I think it’s an important moment for us to talk about the faith and try to bring people closer to God,” says Giovanna.

“It is really cool the way Father Dan [Baillargeon] has done things. On Sunday morning, they have faith formation before the 10:30 am Mass, and then, the children and their parents go to the 10:30 Mass, so everybody is together, and the Colby students are there, too. So, there is really a sense of community, and you see a lot more young people at Mass,” says Spofford.

You’ll also see the Colby students participating in parish events, such as the Taste of Corpus Christi, during which they did face painting.

“Colby can feel a little bit isolated from the community at times and vice versa, so I think just interacting with people here and integrating into the parish really helps with that a lot,” says Maddie.

Maggie says the Colby Catholics group has become more structured during her years at the college, something that has increased student involvement and something that she thinks will continue thanks to Spofford’s guidance.

“Having a campus minister is amazing. Dan is awesome. He’s been instrumental in all this. He is going to be someone who is going to be able to continue on as the leadership changes,” she says.

Maggie says she wants to see Colby Catholics continue to grow because of how much it has meant to her and others.

“It’s been really awesome,” she says. “It is always a joy to be with the group. It brightens my week.”

Colby College students attend Mass
Middle school faith formation class
Madeline O'Neil and Giovanna Novi
Face painting at the Taste of Corpus Christi