Catholic student movement expands to Western Sydney University

By Jordan Grantham, 8 November 2017
Bernadette Meney and Christopher Wilks, Vice-President and NSW Chair, Australian Catholic Students Association 2017-18. Photo: Jordan Grantham/Diocese of Parramatta

The Western Sydney University Catholic Campus Ministry is affiliating with the national movement of tertiary Catholics students – the Australian Catholic Students Association, ACSA.

Martin Habib, President of the WSU Catholic Society, told Catholic Outlook the group will meet to affiliate some time this year.

The Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) is the local branch of the International Movement of Catholics Students, headquartered in Paris.

Several members of the current Executive are from the Diocese of Parramatta, including Vice-President, Bernadette Meney and NSW Chair, Christopher Wilks.

They attribute their practice of the faith as university students to their upbringing and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney University Chaplaincies.

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“I attribute a lot to my family. They’ve always really encouraged the faith in us and without them we wouldn’t take it so seriously,” 21-year-old Bernadette said.

“And then also, all the chaplaincies at the universities have been a big help. It’s been a way to form friendships with other practicing Catholics so you don’t feel so alone and go off-track,” she said.

Bernadette also serves as Social Coordinator at the Macquarie University Catholic Society and attends Mass at St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley.

Christopher Wilks, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Baulkham Hills, concurred.

Michael Khairy (left) and Martin Habib enjoy sharing their faith on campus. Image: Diocese of Parramatta/Jordan Grantham.

“Catholicism, being a tradition, has to be passed down from parent to child and if it’s not practiced at home then it doesn’t matter how much a school does.”

“The children won’t follow through because if they see their parents don’t care – ‘why would I care?’ That’s the situation,” Christopher, 20, said.

Christopher has also served as Secretary to the Sydney University Catholic Society and sees the ongoing benefit of large campus chaplaincies.

“The chaplaincies are quite literally a godsend because you’re on campuses that encourage you to indulge in your pleasant vices, as it were, and the chaplaincies keep you grounded and develop you further,” he said.

Events with intellectual and social elements are successful at young adult formation, Christopher said.

“It’s essential that Catholicism be taught and instructed at an intellectual level,” he said.

“If you appeal the lowest common denominator or dumb it down then you disengage people because it doesn’t become interesting and you don’t get into the intricacies of it all.”

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The greatest thinkers from the past two thousand years mostly came from Catholicism, Christopher said. This was inspired by a willingness to engage intellectually with the truth of the Faith.

“It’s very hard to be a practicing Catholic if you’re not engaged in the intellectual life of it all,” he said.

The Sydney University Catholic Society has several intellectual formation courses, including a Metaphysics class and ‘Theology Thursday’.

While it may seem young people only want to enjoy themselves, behind the everyday hedonism of youth is a search for happiness, Bernadette said.

“Youth, at the end of the day do want the truth. It might hurt initially but it’s what they’re craving,” she said.

“They don’t know that it’s what’s going to lead to eternal happiness, essentially.”

Christopher said “St Augustine summed it up, when he wrote: ‘You have made us for thyself, O Lord and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.’”

Young adults can receive more of this intellectual formation at the National Conference of the Australian Catholic Students Association, which features solemn liturgies, international speakers, parties and sport.

The National Conference brings together Catholic tertiary students from across the country, including the ACSA branchces in QLD, VIC, WA, SA, TAS and the ACT.

ACSA Executive members have recently had successful meetings with the Archdiocese of Sydney University Chaplaincy leadership teams. They also engage strongly with Campion College Australia.

“We are expanding nationally and getting a lot of interest from university groups to affiliate with us,” Madeline Gilbert said, President of ACSA.

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