For the past 100 years, Catholic students at William & Mary have found a church home-away-from-home through Catholic Campus Ministry. While the name and approach to ministry has evolved over the years to meet the needs of each generation, the mission of Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at William & Mary has remained the same: to make Christ known on campus.
The roots of CCM at William & Mary date back to September 1923, when Mexican immigrant and professor Carlos Eduardo Castañeda arrived at the College of William & Mary to teach Spanish. He was surprised to find that there was no formal Catholic student group on campus, nor was there a Catholic church in Williamsburg.
Castañeda and about 30 students gathered together to form the Gibbons Club, chartered on Dec. 11, 1923, and named for prior Bishop James Gibbons.
For nearly a decade, Masses were celebrated for students and local community members in homes, until in 1932, through a bequest from the estate of Margaret Burns of Staunton, the Catholic College Chapel was constructed to meet the growing needs of the Catholic community at William & Mary.
The chapel was dedicated to Benedictine monk St. Bede the Venerable in October 1932, and in 1939, the chapel was officially dedicated as a parish. On Feb. 1, 1942, St. Bede’s first pastor, Father Thomas Walsh, dedicated the parish in a special way to the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Growing Catholic community
Even as St. Bede continued to grow to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding Catholic community in Williamsburg over the decades that followed, the parish remained ardently supportive of Catholic students at William & Mary, and a Catholic student group continually remained active at the university with the support of the clergy and community of St. Bede.
The name of this group was later changed to the “Newman Club” (in honor of St. John Henry Newman, patron saint of campus ministry in the United States).
By the late 1970s, the ministry’s name had once again changed. Under the title of “Catholic Student Association,” the ministry for the first time had priests formally assigned as campus ministry chaplains, and over the next three decades, the ministry’s activities and offerings began to expand significantly. Retreats began to be offered for students as a way to deepen their spirituality.
Masses for students were often celebrated on campus in academic buildings by dynamic and well-loved chaplains such as the late Msgr. Charles Kelly. During this time the parish also set aside a room in the church basement as a gathering space for Catholic students, affectionately known as the “Catacombs.”
In the late 1990s, St. Bede hired the ministry’s first lay campus minister, MaryEllen Pitard, to serve alongside the campus chaplain, supporting students pastorally and coordinating the ministry’s programs for students. Student leadership in the ministry was also expanded and formalized during this time, and the name of the ministry once again changed, this time to its current name, “Catholic Campus Ministry.”
In 2003, St. Bede opened a church at its present-day location off Ironbound Road in Williamsburg, less than four miles from the original chapel. While the title of St. Bede Catholic Church passed to this new structure, the old church reverted, in a sense, to its original identity as the Catholic College Chapel, returning to its primary purpose as the Catholic church serving the William & Mary community.
The church, which remains part of and is managed by St. Bede, eventually adopted the title of the “National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham,” acknowledging the special dedication which was the intention of its first pastor.
Ministering to Catholics today
Today, CCM continues to reach out and minister to the 800+ Catholics on William & Mary’s campus with weekly opportunities for students to pray, learn about the faith, serve those in need, and connect in fellowship with other Catholic students. The sacraments are abundantly available to students in the form of three Sunday Masses, daily Masses, and hours of confession and Eucharistic adoration available to students in the shrine.
A modern, 3,500-square-foot Catholic Student Center has taken the place of the original Catacombs as the ministry’s gathering place, a home for ministry events such as Sunday Supper, a free, home-cooked meal served to 100+ students that serves as a weekly rallying point and a gateway into other opportunities for engagement.
Multiple retreats are offered annually for students, and 23 small-group Bible studies are currently active on campus, serving as a weekly touch point for 150+ student participants.
In addition to a full-time campus chaplain, a professional staff of three laypeople and four FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Missionaries serve the pastoral needs of students and work actively with a team of student leaders to further evangelize the campus and grow the Church’s reach.
Celebrating 100 years
Nov. 3 and 4, CCM will gather to formally celebrate this milestone. On Friday, Nov. 3, Bishop Barry C. Knestout will join with current and past chaplains, alumni priests and religious, students, parents, alumni and friends of the ministry for a special Centennial Jubilee Mass, immediately followed by a gala dinner celebration at the William & Mary Alumni House. On Saturday, Nov. 4, a special golf outing will cap off the celebratory weekend. All are welcome to join for this special celebration.
Editor’s note: More details, including ticket information, are available at tribecatholic.org/2023.