Thirteen Mercyhurst students and two members of Campus Ministry staff made the trip to Grove City, PA, to share a meal and participate in an open discussion with Bishop Lawrence Thomas Persico last Friday, Oct. 30.
The dinner and discourse, which occurs annually through the Diocese of Erie, had Catholic students in attendance from a number of local colleges, including Gannon, Allegheny, Grove City, Clarion, Edinboro and Mercyhurst.
The event typically features a question and answer session for students to engage with the bishop. This year, Persico was particularly interested in getting feedback from college students.
“This year’s dinner was different in the sense that the bishop focused on the Diocesan Pastoral Plan and wanted to add the perspectives of college students to the developing plan for how Church will be lived out in the Erie Diocese in the coming decades,” Greg Baker, director of Campus Ministry, said.
After a buffet-style dinner, Deacon Stephen Washek, director of Campus Ministry at Gannon University, presented the results of a survey that the Diocese of Erie had distributed to campus ministers earlier in the semester to give to Catholic students. The surveys asked students about their involvement in and feelings towards the Catholic Church, as well as their own schools’ campus ministry programs.
About 20 of the 60 student responses came from Catholic Mercyhurst students, according to Baker.
The Erie Diocese and individual campus ministries can utilize the information provided by these surveys to help shape their plans and programs to young people’s needs and desires.
Persico then took the floor to discuss the future of the Diocese of Erie, including the recent decision to restructure the diocese’s Catholic schools. He also recognized the desire to strengthen Catholic education programs designed for students who attend public schools.
“The most important thing that the bishop talked about, in my opinion, was the need for witness,” said Father Jim Piszker, university chaplain, who attended the dinner. “We need to express to one another what our faith means to us and how we can see God working in our lives.”
Baker said he thinks dialogue with the bishop is beneficial for students because it allows them to see how students seek to live out their faith on other campuses.
“It was also especially valuable to recognize, as Bishop Persico alluded to many times, that young adults cannot just ask the church to provide services and make changes; young adults need to step forward to lead and to take an active role in parishes and ministries with which they are involved,” Baker said.
Sophomore Ryan King, who said he enjoyed the dinner overall, had similar views.
“I thought it was very informative and it was encouraging to see so many people who take their faith seriously,” King said. “I also thought the Bishop was very personable and easy to talk to.”
Senior Michelle Ahrens, who attended dinner with Perisco her freshman year, was pleased with this year’s event.
“Freshman year when I went, it was within the first few months of him becoming bishop, so it was a lot of questions like, what’s your favorite color, that kind of thing. I appreciated how this one was a lot more dialogue about relevant issues,” Ahrens said.