GREENVILLE, S.C. — On a recent visit by the Province’s Vocation office to Furman University here, several students expressed a genuine interest in going into church ministry.
“Four students are seriously considering becoming friars,” said Patrick Tuttle, OFM, head of Catholic campus ministry at Furman and pastor and guardian of Saint Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville.
This widespread interest is not surprising to Patrick, who said that religious life is nothing new to Furman students who are living out their faith against serious opposition on the predominantly Baptist campus. Students enthusiastically seek out religion at the former Baptist flagship college, according to Patrick, and are very engaged in their faiths.
The campus ministry page on the Furman Web site is filled with the names of chaplains representing most mainstream faith traditions — Baptist, Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, United Methodist and others.
Eight years ago, Furman transitioned from its Baptist tradition to be a non-denominational university. Still, most of the more than 2600-member student body is predominately Protestant.
Catholic Students Worship Regularly
Patrick is proud to say, however, that of the 202 Catholic students on campus, a minimum of 80 – nearly 40 percent — worship at Mass regularly. “That’s unusually large,” he said. “Most campus ministries get about 20 percent at Mass.”
Furman students are mostly high-achievers, “type A” personalities, said Patrick, putting their all into whatever they do, whether it is studies or pursuing the faith. The school has been rated one of the most conservative in the country, and welcomed President Bush as graduation speaker this year. “Yet, openness is on the rise,” Patrick said.
For the past two years, he has been the Catholic campus minister, and enjoying every minute of his work. Franciscan friars have been on campus for about 15 years, he added. “We enjoy funding from the university and share ministry with other faiths.
“I love working with the students,” he said. “I like working with young people in general. I find their quest for the truth and for inspirational examples in their lives very refreshing.”
Patrick’s enthusiastic ministry is valuable, according to vocation director Brian Smail, OFM, who visited Greenville last spring.
“Many people attend his gatherings,” Brian said. “When I visited, there were not only fine young people at the Mass, but professors there, too. He is responding to the growing Catholic population in southern United States.”
When Brian came to visit, he joined the Wednesday faith formation fellowship where a vocation night was held. Brian and Patrick joined four Dominican sisters in presenting a relevant possible lifestyle consideration for the students, Patrick said.
To feed the students spiritually, Patrick offers Sunday Mass and confessions, weekly food, fellowship and faith formation, RCIA, and counseling. Morning and evening prayer are attended by about 20 students, he said. On Wednesdays, close to 70 students participate in the food and fellowship program that offers religious education with a timely or catechetical theme.
Several of the Catholic students are gifted musicians, offering their time and talents to play at Mass. “Furman is a fine arts school of a high caliber where the students apply their skills in liturgy, producing a most excellent thanksgiving to God,” Patrick said.
Students Minister to the Community
The program also includes three apostolates, after-school care, tutor/mentoring and a housing initiative, all in cooperation with Saint Anthony of Padua Church.
“Our students are involved in every area of campus leadership,” said Patrick, “Moral, spiritual, athletic, academic, governance, orientations and campus facilities scheduling.”
This year, four students lead the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. In the past two years, eight students have become Roman Catholic. One student’s parents discontinued paying tuition over his conversion and the students and parishioners took on the payments.
While the faith is strong at Furman, Patrick views his role as that of facilitator.
“I see myself as a mentor in the faith and as a supporter of their search for the truth. I’m also an assistant to the faculty in understanding our world class religion. I try to be an animator of students to deepen their social consciousness.”
When school begins at Furman next week, Patrick and his team will be on campus with welcoming smiles and invitations to develop adult faith and to serve the wider Greenville area’s poor.
“It’ll help that we stuffed their campus mailboxes with refrigerator magnets showing Mass times as well as with candy and a prayer book the students made.”
Shown in the photo with Furman students are Brian, left, and Patrick, right.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.