Investing in Young Leaders at St. Albert the Great
“As we respond to what the Archbishop is asking of us in the Unleash the Gospel movement, we have to invest in future leaders. If anyone could see the young adults at St. Al’s, you would feel hopeful about the future of the Church,” shares Michigan Technological University (MTU) alumnus Dave Gelwicks of Monroe, Mich.
St. Albert the Great University Parish is a vibrant, growing parish that is home to students, faculty, staff and alumni of MTU, Finlandia University, and Gogebic Community College in Houghton in the Upper Peninsula. It offers abundant student-led ministries including retreats, faith-sharing groups, bible studies and service events for more than 900 student parishioners and 50 year-round households.
Over the past five years, with the arrival of FOCUS missionaries, Mass attendance has increased by more than 50 percent. The increase in involved students has led St. Al’s to become a contender in the university’s annual Winter Carnival.
Winter Carnival is an internationally-known six day event at MTU each February that includes a variety of festive events and competitive activities including constructing ice statues, broomball, human dog sledding and a queen pageant. In 2016, St. Al’s students built the first snow chapel for Winter Carnival, in which an “Ice Mass” was held; this year’s “Ice Mass” had over 450 Mass participants and for the first time the chapel included a confessional. In 2019, St. Al’s was the overall Winter Carnival winner. These events have made St. Al’s well-known on campus and have become a creative opportunity for evangelization. Non-Catholic students join their Catholic friends for the opportunity to build a church and worship together.
“As pastor, my heart is full of joy because of all the hours I’ve spent shoveling side by side with students while working on the Ice Chapel, deepening my friendship with veteran statue builders and getting to know new students. It has been beautiful and joyful to experience profound reverence and prayer in the Ice Chapel. God is very much at work in all this camaraderie and fun!” shares Fr. Ben Hasse, Director of Campus Ministry and pastor of St. Albert the Great.
In addition to engaging joyfully and creatively in Winter Carnival, St. Al’s offers many other opportunities for evangelization from the moment they welcome new students. The parish pre-arrival team sends welcoming messages in the summer to all new students who have identified as Catholic. There are summer meet-and-greet events in over a dozen cities for new students to get to know the parish community. The first weekend after school begins there are hikes, a bonfire and Mass on the shore of Lake Superior. These events invite new students into the community for friendship and a place to call home.
“We see a strong leadership team under Fr. Ben, and we need all alumni to step up and sustain this ministry for future situations,” shares Dave. He and his wife Carrie were both MTU students and members at St. Al’s until they graduated in 1982. They are now co-chairing St. Al’s current fundraising campaign, Multiply the Mission.
“I’ve had a great career as an engineer and retired this year. Our family has been blessed, and with the gifts we’ve been given, we are able to give back to those who helped form us in our early years. This is how Carrie and I are helping to unleash the Gospel,” Dave shares.
Opening an endowment is part of St. Al’s current fundraising campaign, to provide a place for legacy gifts that will sustain their ministry for years to come. Dave and Carrie provided the seed money to start an endowment with the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, and Dave described the process of opening the endowment as seamless.
“At a time that some people are timid about giving their money to the Church, sending money to this campaign is a sweet spot,” Dave encourages. “We hope other alumni from St. Al’s will join us with a donation to the St. Albert the Great Student Parish Evangelization Endowment or the Multiply the Mission campaign.”
St. Al’s hopes the endowment will provide long-term funding for their FOCUS missionaries and sustainability for their overall evangelization efforts. “We are so grateful for the endowment, and the opportunity it brings to invest and plan beyond the next five years. I’m incredibly grateful to the Gelwicks and all those who will give to this endowment to help it to grow,” shares Fr. Ben.
Dave urges that in addition to financial support, prayers for all of the formation at student parishes is also vital. There have been 19 graduate members of St. Al’s who have entered religious life since 1963. “For young people who are discerning religious life, it’s important to have a parish home. They definitely find that at St. Al’s,” Dave says.