With over 2000 undergraduate students, three daily Masses, and three priests hearing confessions for one hour every day, Benedictine College, a Catholic liberal arts college on the banks of the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas, has a dynamic and thriving campus faith life. And Fr. Ryan Richardson, LC, who serves as the school’s full-time chaplain, believes that he gets to work at the best Catholic college in America.
Fr. Ryan’s chaplaincy role at Benedictine College is a diverse one; besides offering the sacraments to the students, faculty and staff, he also provides a general pastoral presence on campus. Benedictine College also has an active Regnum Christi section that runs as an official college-affiliated club, and was formed over five years ago by a group of former RC Mission Corps members. Over the past year, Fr. Ryan, along with Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, Tammy Grady and Mary Schwarz, have accompanied the section throughout their various events and activities, such as weekly Encounters, street missions, spiritual exercises, the Christ the King Mass and Association ceremony, and regular spiritual direction.
But one of Fr. Ryan’s favorite duties as the chaplain of Benedictine College is ministering to the school’s various sports teams. Growing up, sports had always been a big part of Fr. Ryan’s life: he was the captain of his high school football team and has always had a love for the game. This past year, Fr. Ryan had the opportunity to give a weekly virtue talk to the entire team on the football field after practice, and provide a blessing before the games. He also celebrated a team Mass before every home game, and led the football team through a Bible study. And this presence that Fr. Ryan has been able to have in team life can have a profound impact on the players’ faith lives:
“These moments with the team have really allowed me to get to know the guys. I stay after practice, and they come up to me and have questions. Some ask me to hear their confession, others have questions about the faith. It allows me to step into their daily lives and bring faith to the field. Their response to this initiative has been super positive!”
This year, Fr. Ryan also attended the national championship game for the women’s lacrosse team, held in Southfield, Michigan. The team won the championship, and the first thing they all did when they got back to the hotel was to celebrate with a Mass of thanksgiving! “It has really been a joy to serve a fantastic group of students!”
This commitment to spend time with students both on and off the field is, for Fr. Ryan, a pastoral response to one of the greatest needs of young adults today: the need for accompaniment. “Students today are seeking guidance and direction, they are seeking spiritual fathers who can point them in the right direction,” says Fr. Ryan of the diverse and integral role of the campus chaplain, which he has found to involve much more than saying Mass and hearing confessions. “The students are also seeking real relationship – they seek to be listened to, to be loved, and to be known. They not only seek the sacraments from their chaplain, but they also seek his attention and affirmation.” For this reason, Fr. Ryan considers one of the most important skills of the chaplaincy job is to be a good listener; it’s the key to making the students feel known and heard.
One of the unique features of faith life at Benedictine College is that the campus ministry is almost entirely student led. There are approximately 50 student leaders who are part of the campus ministry team, and it’s the students themselves who serve at Mass, lector, and provide music for the liturgies. The students also organize the various faith activities and events on and off campus, such as retreats, mission trips, and service opportunities. While campus staff members, and Fr. Ryan as chaplain, provide the students with guidance and feedback, their main goal is to empower the students to lead themselves and others, and give them the important experiences that will help form them to be leaders of the Church well beyond graduation.
Benedictine College is an academic community sponsored by the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey and the sisters of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery, and offers over 50 academic programs, including architecture, engineering, theology, as well as a wide range of arts, humanities, STEM fields and sciences. Heir to the 1500 years of Benedictine dedication to learning, Benedictine College is ordered to the goal of wisdom lived out in responsible awareness of oneself, God and nature, family, and society. Its mission as a Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts, residential college is the education of men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.