“We’re just trying to be another kind of support for students in whatever way they need us,” said the Rev. Luke Robertson, TOR. While their role remains the same, the Franciscan University of Steubenville dorm chaplains have increased their presence on campus since last year.
According to Robertson, there has been talk at the university for a number of years that someone should direct the chaplain program, and starting this year, he took on that position. Unlike previous years, Franciscan’s dorms now see a total of 19 chaplains who have increased office hours and, thus, a greater presence in the students’ lives.
“What we wanted to do in this program was increase the presence of chaplains in the halls,” said Robertson. “Pretty much every hall has at least two chaplains and sometimes three or four, depending on how much time they (the chaplains) have.” The chaplains and their hours are spaced throughout the week to ensure that all hall residents have ample opportunities to get the service they need.
In order to ensure that chaplains provide efficient service, training on certain disorders, abuse, loss, relationship issues and spiritual issues is and will be provided to them.
“A lot of our chaplains are certified spiritual directors, so they give spiritual direction quite a lot,” said Robertson.
Although hall chaplains are not classified as “Student Life” by the university, they work closely with resident directors (RDs) and resident assistants (RAs) to make sure communication is clear and that students are getting the assistance they need.
On top of organizing hall Masses, stations of the cross and holy hours, hall chaplains also aim to help individual students with prayer and spiritual advice.
“I think the important thing for a chaplain is — Are we present? Are we there to pray? Do we listen? Are we supporting the students and the RAs and the RDs in their work?” said Robertson.
One of the main priorities of the program is to revise and restructure the ministry in a way that contributes to greater awareness of student necessities. Whether the necessities are dealt with directly or through referral, the program aims to guide and help students who may be suffering or struggling in various ways.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as of 2018, 71% of young adults aged 18-25 have reported experiencing a form of psychological distress. In addition, according to the statistics, a fourth of college-aged students have a diagnosable mental illness. As these reports surfaced, a need for an active support system within the halls was visible; thus, the chaplaincy program was born.
“We’ve got priests. We’ve got a religious brother. We’ve got a number of sisters,” said Robertson. “What we’re trying to do is just provide spiritual support for our students in whatever way we can do that.”
With the new program underway, students can be confident that speaking with their chaplain will help them endure and overcome any issue they face. Whether the need is great or small, the chaplains are more than happy to help those who reach out.