Father David Hasser has gone back to school! Well, sort of. Now that the universities are back in session, he has returned to making his campus rounds. What does he do on campus? Grab a Purvis burger at TripleXXX, go to football games? Some of that, but with a greater and higher purpose. I recently interviewed him in order to find out what it is that he does and why it is important for the Office for Vocations.
Father generally spends the weekends in Muncie at the St. Francis Newman Center at Ball State. Then, he makes the trek down to Indiana University on Tuesday, sometimes passing through the southern parishes of the diocese, Marian University and/or IUPUI. He stays overnight at the Newman Center Rectory at IU, then travels north again, this time heading to Purdue for the rest of the week. It’s a lot of driving (about 7-8 hours a week) but he uses this time to pray or for formation through audio sources. Before he even gets to campus, he has his work cut out for him.
Making contacts with students and setting up individual and group activities or meetings is the bulk of his “homework” before hitting the campus scene. He does this so that he can build relationships with the students and to be an available presence in order to encourage them and help them in their vocation discernment. Much of this is done around the Newman Centers on campus but isn’t limited to what is available there. In fact, much of his work needs to be done through social media. Students today are very plugged in and it is important that the Office for Vocations is present online as well.
Even though the social media tool is a significant part of reaching out, a personal relationship counts even more. Father is available to the students in order that he can build these friendships to connect and understand them in their daily experiences and discernment processes. These relationships are built through the activities on campus—yes, even grabbing a burger at a local hangout on occasion. Getting out of the office aids to focus on the individual, to break out of the stereotypes or presumptions that people have about religious life or priesthood, to get to real conversation about vocations, beyond what is available in a pamphlet. In fact, many of our current seminarians accredit their personal relationship with the Vocations Director, past and present, and/or other seminarians for their discernment towards beginning seminary. Father aims at being relatable to the students, while always professional in keeping with his priestly office.
While it’s not always possible to meet with each student individually, this time on campus and Father Hasser’s presence at activities at least lends itself to having familiarity with him, “a face with the name”, for when young men and women have questions about their vocation. It seems to be common that the young people often begin to discern when they are away from home and the comforts of their home parish and home activities. Many people don’t go to their childhood pastors with questions of discernment—it seems that this is a relationship that almost has to be rebuilt or re-established to allow breathing room for their discernment and for active discussion. Often the Vocations Director helps with this by his availability and openness, his presence on campus where the person is undergoing a process of self-discovery while away from home. Often Father Hasser encourages the young person discerning to reconnect with the priest at his or her home parish who has known him or her for a longer time.
I asked Father about the short and long-term goals of these campus visits. He said that the short-term goal is to increase the number of students from our Diocese that he can meet and with whom he can build relationships. The long-term goal is to help the priests in our Diocese actively invest in their college-aged parishioners who are away. So far he sees that the visits have borne fruit, in that relationships have been established, seeds are planted and nurtured, discernment is occurring. He is also helping with education, catechesis and awareness about joyful vocations.
A final thought that Father Hasser added was about discernment in general. He said that our human nature desires to understand the reality in which we live: we desire to understand who we are, where we come from, where we are going, what our gifts and talents are and how the Lord invites us to make ourselves a gift for others through words and deeds. Discernment is the activity of asking these questions of the Lord and seeking answers that will enlighten our perspective on life. He says that discernment is deeply personal and revealing of our inmost being. It requires a lot of vulnerability and courage, adventure and stamina, assets and forfeitures. When young people finally want to ask for help and guidance in their discernment, they will first look for a relationship in which they can put their trust. A relationship of virtuous trust isn’t something that is readily available or bought, rather something that is shown and proven through time in tangible ways. The activities and schedule that Father Hasser follows is an attempt to show this to the students, to prove his virtuous trustworthiness to as many of our potential discerners as possible. That is why he does what he does.
As a final note, there is something that YOU can do to aid Father Hasser on his campus visits. Encourage the college students from your parish to be actively involved in the Catholic communities on campus and to even find Father Hasser. It is often easy for the young people to slip through the cracks and become inactive while at college, due to many other academic and social commitments and activities. We, as a community, desire that none be lost. You may give a contact email to Father Hasser so that he can try to meet up with the student and visit with them while on campus, or give Father’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org to students while they are off at the university. And of course, prayer is always helpful too! Thank you in advance for your help in this important ministry!