Seated below the St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel in Fairfax is the office of the chaplain of George Mason University's Catholic Campus Ministry. Father James Searby, appointed chaplain in June, exudes excitement as he talks about the future. With the help of the staff, faculty and students, he hopes to continue the legacy of the established ministry and to evangelize through friendships.
“That's how we meet people isn't? We don't walk up to people and go, 'Have you heard of Jesus?' We walk up to people in the midst of ordinary life and participate in their life,” said Father Searby.
We don't walk up to people and go, 'Have you heard of Jesus?' We walk up to people in the midst of ordinary life and participate in their life." Father James Searby.
Father Searby is the third chaplain to serve at Mason. His predecessors Father, Peter Nassetta, now chaplain of James Madison University in Harrisonburg had served the university for 16 years; before him was Father Bob Cilinski, chaplain for 14 years and now pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Burke.
“When (Father Cilinski) started the chaplaincy, all that was there was the small little farm house … with a chapel in the living room,” said Father Searby.
Father Cilinski and Father Nassetta molded something that had not existed before, a presence that was attractive and alive. Now, the Catholic Campus Ministry is the largest student organization at Mason, claims Father Searby.
With increasing members and regular involvement in campus life, the St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel and its office and hall were opened in 1994.
“It's funny once (the ministry was) packed in that small living room, now we're packed in this small hall,” said Father Searby. Yet space for the ministry doesn't seem to be a problem to the new chaplain. Though much has been accomplished, there is still plenty to focus on, including continued growth and helping students live as authentic Christians.
“How did the early church grow? It didn't grow through programs, it didn't grow through having the latest and greatest and neat gimmick or tagline or slogan … . It worked because Christians were in life, they were living reality with people and yet they were introducing them to a new way of seeing reality. It was the Christian imagination,” said Father Searby.
Father Searby explained Christian imagination as one that provides the sense of wonder to the human experience that can be lived in relationship with God and others, cultivating a unique culture that won't be sidelined or labeled a “special interest group.
“A Christian who studies well, a Christian who lives an ordered life, a Christian who has a deep sense of peace and handles stress well - these are people who make friends. These are people who are happy,” said Father Searby.
The campus ministry hopes to help students in human, spiritual and intellectual excellence and as disciples of Christ.
Among the events listed on the campus ministry website -
- is a talk about Mary's example called, “Who's Yo Mama?” Sept. 8, as well as two retreats. The ministry's annual Luau kicked off the new school year Aug. 26 with more than 1,500 students attended.
Father Searby says prayers and donations are needed to fuel more successful activities.
Future talks, workshops and access to the sacraments will spark attention and hopefully new members. One way the campus ministry is making their presence known is daily Mass in a classroom for students and professors. As Father Searby puts it, Mass in a campus classroom brings “the Sacred Heart to the university's heart.”
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