It’s over a decade ago now a bunch of students met in the CASOC rooms in the Commerce Quad at the University of New South Wales to discuss plans for a Catholic student society. Unfortunately most of the students there were either due to graduate or transfer to another campus in a few months. Except one.
That one wanted to name the society “the Pope John Paul II fan club” but this was lacked a certain gravitas and so the name “Faith and Reason Society” came into existence.
So next year we had a stall at Orientation Week to garner support for the fledgling group. O Week stalls were pretty good fun. We collected a box of materials to hand out, generously donated by the Servants of Mary Help of Christians and Helpers of Gods Precious Infants. Lots of plastic rosary beads, that were surprisingly popular. One year we were set up next to the Medieval reinactment group who had a CD player and happily played our gregorian chant discs.
We soon had enough members to form a society, thanks to the help of contacts in certain colleges with Catholic leanings. The plan was to organise weekly talks and meetings to help make the treasures of Catholicism available to your average UNSW student. It was heartening how many great speakers were happy to come talk to our small audiences. Each week there would be posters to design and post up and down campus. The campus is on a slope so it is literally up and down. The Student Union/CASOC gave each registered group a photocopy allowance using this mammoth old green photocopier. There were recipes for making paste, but that never seemed to quite work, so it was usually sticky tape. An email message would go out announcing the speaker.
On the day there would be the juggle over parking or meeting someone at the bus stop and show them to the room. Hoping that more people would show up. Sometimes taping the talks to summarise in a later email. Always taking notes.
One plan that never eventuated was to have a marian procession right through the middle of campus. UNSW Kensington is situated between two beautiful churches – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Randwick and Our Lady of the Rosary, Kensington. What if we could process from one to the other? Both Churches are in the care of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who have a monastery nearby.
There were some great moments. Walking with a Franciscan Friar past the feral socialists outside the library was pretty good, but totally eclipsed later when a young student heckled him over predestination – off topic, but much more important to help this guy who was genuinely worried about the whole thing. They continued after the meeting, who knows how long for. The predestination thing came from the Campus Bible Study crowd – the radical evangelical group with Calvinist leanings. They were Huge. They had a great preacher, great support network, lots of resources…
We’ve been tidying up and these posters came up. They still have the masking tape around the edges from where they hung, maybe along the Basser steps. I thought I’d scan them in, blog about them then they can go in the paper recycling. It was a great time. I should also mention the Society of St Peter at USyd. They started around 1995 I think? A bigger group and better organised. They helped us a lot, along with Lumen Verum and the Centre for Thomistic Studies. Also it was surprising how much help you could find after Sunday Mass at the Maternal Heart of Mary Church, Lewisham.
I learnt a great deal. At first my focus was on apologetics. Try to counteract Campus Bible Study. Then we had a Psychologist speak on Mental Prayer. He was brilliant, all this stuff that was scarcely on my radar and turned out the most important sort of thing to get your head around. Also meeting people from Opus Dei. People dedicating their lives to God, but living very much in the world. Learning to put Faith into practice – not just sweet words.
We had the facilities to screen movies – we could hire any spare lecture theatre and use the data projector. At the time I didn’t have any great movies I wanted to watch. This one, the Reluctant Saint, was ordered from Ignatius Press in America. The movie itself was a bit disappointing. If you want a good life of St Joseph of Cupertino look up Saints for Sinners by Alban Goodier. He wasn’t a ‘reluctant’ saint at all. He was trying his hardest to get into the religious life. But from memory the lecture theatre was empty, so maybe nobody really noticed. Now, there are so many good movies – the Thirteenth Day, Padre Pio miracle man, There be Dragons, how cool would that be to see them on the big screen.
But the thing with student societies is that your average student is only there for 3-4 years – the first year is a bit of a write off getting settled in, the last spent trying to get your thesis in order. There’s only so much a student can do – I heard that the compulsory Student Union levy is gone so that would mean a lot less funding available for things like photocopying. But all that is the details. Think big and do the little bit that’s within your grasp. Trust in God and love Him madly. Build up treasure in heaven where rust and moth can’t get.
God bless you.