I moved into my UAB freshman dorm a week earlier than other students for Greek sorority rush. On a Wednesday, I decided to try the Catholic College Ministry that I learned about during my previous tours. It was just me and maybe two other people who were there for daily Mass, and I was worried that I would feel the same disconnect as I did at the church I grew up in.
As the year went on, I accepted invites from my friends who went to other churches to see if I could find a community, and it never clicked until I met a FOCUS missionary on the Green. She was always so welcoming to me, and texted me a lot of reminders for their events and gatherings. After a couple months, I felt that I could fit in and started participating in communications with Catholic Blazers. The Catholic Blazers Board, Frederick (our music director), and student musicians ended up putting together a small, musical, worship gathering with a quick message from soon-to-be-graduate students. At that time, it turned out to be the most attended student event that Saint Stephens had ever hosted. We were proud and felt like family.
To expand the family, I went to a FOCUS conference in Texas where I befriended and grew with even more students. The conference really helped me heal from emotional wounds that I brought to college and gave me a direction to move forward as an adult in the Church. It also gave me my discipler, Mary Kopp. She taught and showed me what a raw and aweing love for the Lord and Mother Mary looked like, and how to grow closer to them.
Unfortunately, I became distracted by life and started to fade away from involvement with the Church, but I never stopped going to Mass. Saint Stephens always made me feel welcomed, with a non-judgmental dress code. There was Confession before Mass, friendly waves, friends to sit with, and a place to cry. After my absence, I joined the hospitality team and became a door greeter and a liturgy reader. I loved it and it gave me a sense of belonging again. I loved welcoming people into Mass and making sure that they felt like they made a lovely choice by making time for Mass, and that Jesus was excited to see them in His house. I also loved, and will always be thankful for, all the dinners after Mass and other events. Every broke college student is grateful for a free meal. Saint Stephen’s has given me many sweet friendships, wisdom, and wonderful diverse perspectives.
Thank you, Saint Stephens, for always being there to welcome me back, encourage me, and continue my growth in the Faith.
-Caroline Davis, Class of 2020
From my perspective, identifying as a Roman Catholic at a university like Samford is a blessing and something I am very proud of. Despite being recognized as a minority within a student body composed predominantly of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and non-denominational Christians, I have found that the fellowship and community within Samford’s Catholic Student Association is undeniable.
While some might be overwhelmed by the presence of non-Catholics on campus, especially at a school located in the south, I have learned so much from my peers who do not identify as Catholic, and in some rare instances, do not identify as Christian. It has allowed me to learn more about my faith and grow as a person, developing an ability to inform others about the complexity and depth of the Catholic Faith.
At first, it can appear as if you may not interact with any Catholics who take the faith seriously, but if you choose to get involved with CSA, which I did early in my freshman year, you will meet friends that change your life for the better. There are so many opportunities to get involved in CSA, ranging from Bible study and home group to social events, such as cookouts and game nights.
In my three completed years as a member of CSA, I have worked, prayed, learned, and enjoyed activities with a multitude of incredible students and staff. I was lucky enough to have the leadership of three fantastic CSA presidents: Madeline Fric, Becca Weatherford, and Liz Harris. It is not often that you find yourself with a group leader who cares so much about your well-being outside of Catholic events, but each of our presidents has done an amazing job leading the Catholic group on campus. I would also like to mention that I am confident that our new president, McKenna Martignoni, will do the same this year and expand the reach of CSA on campus.
Although everyone’s personal relationship with God and experiences within the Catholic Church vary, it is important to remember that you are never alone in your faith journey, even at a school like Samford. I came to Samford knowing nobody, and CSA has provided me with a solid platform on spiritual, academic, and social levels. I hope to call the people I interact with from CSA on a regular basis my friends for life, and I look forward to meeting new students in my final year at Samford.
-Gunnar Sadowey, Samford, Class of 2021
Let me begin by introducing myself: Hello! My name is Elizabeth Pryor and I am a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I am a Pre-Nursing Major and a proud member of Catholic Blazers. I devote a lot of my time to hobbies including reading, crafting, cooking, exercising, and enjoying time in nature. I also love board games! Throughout my life I have grown to love prayer and service, but most importantly, I have become aware of my identity in Christ and of the relationship that He desires to have with me.
My journey at St. Stephen’s started before my first semester as a UAB student. During the summer after I graduated high school in 2019, I found an intense longing to grow deeper in my relationship with God. I knew that a lot of students, after the new freedom and independence found from leaving home and beginning college, lost their faith. I never wanted to forget the love that God has for me or the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, so I sought ways to ensure that I would be able to cultivate and grow my relationship with God. I found FOCUS missionaries online and reached out. I looked online at churches near UAB and once I found St. Stephen the Martyr Chapel, I wrote all of the events listed on their calendar into my planner. I knew that I wanted to grow closer to Christ and His Church during my time in college. What I didn’t know is that Christ’s Church, specifically in Birmingham, at St. Stephen’s, wanted the same thing for me.
The moment I walked into the student lounge before my first Mass at St. Stephen’s, I was overwhelmed by the love and joy that each student had. After Mass, I got to meet all of the FOCUS missionaries and other students from Birmingham. I found myself at a table full of holy men and women who wanted to know about me and desired for me to grow closer to Christ. It was such an incredible encounter and I felt so overwhelmingly loved and appreciated. I immediately felt like I had a home. As the semester progressed, the parishioners of St. Stephen’s taught me about fellowship and that God literally made each one of us to be in relationship with others. They invited me to prayer and taught me that there are many different ways to pray. I was encouraged to love my neighbors, especially the ones that I did not get along with. I met friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The people at St. Stephen’s love God and their neighbor, not only at Church, but in the community as well. I never felt judged by my peer or as if I had to prove myself to anyone. I was simply loved and welcomed as a daughter of Christ because that is who I am.
I was so excited to have met such a wonderful group of people and I felt like nothing could take away the fire within each one of them. Even after school was shut down due to the Coronavirus, Bible Studies, fellowship, and communal prayer never stopped. I would get texts regularly, amid the stress of everything, asking how I was doing and if there was any way that people could pray for me. It was incredible to see such wonderful examples of how to live like Christ throughout a global pandemic. While some communities struggled to stay connected, the students at St. Stephen’s showed what a family was and exemplified resilience and strength rooted in God and His Church.
I am so excited to have had such an amazing first year of college. In my upcoming years, I can’t wait to see other students have similar experiences as I did!
-Elizabeth Pryor, UAB, Class of 2023