This article originally appeared in ZU News.
There are over 600 Catholic students on Azusa Pacific’s campus. These students go through the same classes and chapels that all APU students go through, but their experience is not the same. That’s why two professors from the Honors College, Barbara Nicolosi Harrington Ph.D. and Diana Glyer Ph.D., are conducting a survey to find out how Catholic students feel about school, chapel and any positive or negative experiences they’ve had.
“The provost put out to the faculty that he would give little research grants if anyone came up with a concept about some area of life at APU. Diana [Glyer] contacted me and said, ‘I’m thinking we could do a question on Catholic life here at APU, from the standard of why don’t we get more Catholic kids here?’ I brought up the idea of whether we retain Catholic students or not,” Harrington said. “For me personally, over the years of working here, I’ve experienced a few things that are bothersome as a Catholic. Mostly, it’s been tremendously positive here.”
The survey was emailed to a list of Catholic students on March 27. Harrington said they hoped to have a 20 percent response rate, which is about 120 students. They received over 100 responses in the first 24 hours.
“We want to know, as a Catholic, is APU a comfortable place to be? Your head goes to chapel because it’s mandated. APU says you must go and pray three days a week,” Harrington said. “The question is, when you mandate something and say we have to pray like this, and that’s not the way some people pray in their tradition––can you mandate that for something as personal as prayer? We want to ask the Catholics how they feel about that. Is it getting in the way of prayer for you? I’m interested in hearing. I, myself, have real issues with that because it’s just not the way I pray.”
When asked about liturgical chapel, Harrington said that it wasn’t what the students needed.
“Every single person says that about liturgical chapel. When you talk to the chapel people, they say it’s not for Catholics, that’s not why we have it,” Harrington said. “Liturgical chapel is actually worse from our standpoint because it looks like a fake mass to us.”
Lauren Bashoura, a senior psychology and honors humanities major, agreed with Harrington on liturgical chapel.
“The elements of it are there but it’s just a little bit of a different feeling because the meaning behind it is a little bit different,” Bashoura said. “I’ve heard the same from a lot of Catholics I’ve talked to, where they were told Liturgical is the chapel for you, and then they went and didn’t like it.”
Bashoura, a Catholic student, is an intern helping Harrington and Glyer with the survey. She said she’s not able to get into the worship at any of the chapels. That’s one of the questions asked in the survey.
“We’re asking questions like: ‘Are you a Catholic? What was your spiritual life like before coming to APU? How has it been since coming to APU? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What are some of the good things about APU that’s been fruitful for your spirituality? What do you think of chapel?’ Those kinds of basic questions for establishing the groundwork for what being Catholic is like at APU,” Bashoura said.
Bashoura said she’s had a good time at APU, that it was an easier time for her than high school.
“I’ve loved my time here. I came here knowing that it was not a Catholic school. I wasn’t shocked by that. I grew up going to public schools. I had never gone to a Catholic school so I had to practice my faith on my own for most of my life anyways. For me, it wasn’t that difficult of a transition,” Bashoura said.
Bashoura is a part of the Catholic club at APU, Quo Vadis. This club was founded by Keith Major, a graduate student in the pastoral ministries program. Major started the club after hosting a Catholic young adult conference at APU last year.
“I heard that there were over 1,000 Catholic students here. What’s happening on campus for Catholic students? There’s nothing specifically catered for Catholics. So I made a pitch to start a Catholic club. I just wanted to have a place where Catholic students could connect because I don’t think we know who each other are,” Major said. “You have to get voted in by the presidents of other clubs. They approved the club and afterwards I had three presidents of other clubs come up to me and say, ‘I’m Catholic and I didn’t know something like this was going to happen.’ Each of them said they only knew like two or three other Catholic students. After talking to them, it seems like they kept their Catholic-ness to themselves.”
Major compared the situation to The Scarlet Letter, saying students didn’t want to walk around with a C sewed to their shirts.
“They would say that they were afraid if other students knew they were Catholic, they would try to convert them,” Major said.
Major said he spoke to Catholic students about what they wanted to see at APU.
“At the conference, we asked students what they would want here, a wishlist. They said it would be really nice to have mass, like once a month or to have confession,” Major said.
Major said he tried to hold an adoration service for the club, but since it involved bringing a bishop from outside of APU, it was denied.
“There’s certain things that require a priest, to make it Catholic, but there are no Catholic pastors at APU. There’s no one that could hold a mass, or have an adoration ceremony, things that these Catholic students are begging to have,” Major said. “I know this is a school, but the students here are paying customers, paying five figures a year to go here. To ignore the aches and pains of the paying customers is not good. I’m fully aware that this isn’t a Catholic university, but the students chose to come here and are just asking for this like once a month. I think this survey is one of the first times that their voice is being heard.”
Major, Harrington and Bashoura all spoke about the misconceptions non-Catholic students have about Catholicism.
“In my time with Evangelicals, I’ve had many people say things to me like, ‘Wow, you’re Catholic but you really know the lord,’ or ‘I’ve never met a Catholic who knew the Bible so well,’ or ‘do you really pray to Mary and the Saints?’ There’s a few things out there, mainly rooted in misconceptions,” Harrington said.
Harrington said she’s curious to find out what the perception of APU is among Catholic families.
“We have to ask- why don’t more Catholics come here? What’s the perception of APU? There are certain things here that are appealing to certain traditional Catholic families, like the Honors College. This is a traditional curriculum that is valued among Catholic circles,” Harrington said.
Harrington said that parents of Catholic students might worry about sending their kids to APU.
“The question Catholic parents would have when they’re sending their kids to APU is ‘are they going to be proselytized out of their faith?’ I don’t think that happens at APU. I think institutionally, APU is not doing that,” Harrington said. “Whether or not that happens among the students is a different issue. Let’s face it, if one student wrote a racial slur on somebody’s car, that was a big issue, even though the whole thing turned out to be false. But why wouldn’t that matter if a student said bigoted anti-Catholic things to another student. Isn’t it the same thing? It should be. To me, bigotry is bigotry.”
While Harrington has heard a few anti-Catholic remarks and incidents, she didn’t feel comfortable sharing them. However, she and Bashoura clarified the survey is not in response to any one incident.
“This survey is not in response to any acts of aggression or anything we’ve noticed on campus,” Bashoura said. “It’s just that we really want to give Catholic students a voice and a chance to talk about their experience, because that’s APU’s focus, to start creating a space for an open dialogue. We’re just trying to start a conversation on campus that we feel hasn’t really been started yet.”