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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Rebecca Siar



Gordon: When did you attend Roanoke College, what degree did you earn, and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

 

Rebecca: I attended Roanoke College from 2011-2015, where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry with a French minor. While I was there, I was able to do a May Term in Paris, France, which was definitely one of my favorite memories. May Terms involved taking a single class for three weeks during the month of May in an immersive environment, whether internationally or locally through smaller day trips. Since I was already pursuing a French minor, the idea of going to live in Paris for almost a month was an absolute dream. I loved getting to be a “local” there for those few weeks, experiencing the food, the history, the people, and the culture!

 

Gordon: When did you attend University of Notre Dame, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite class, and was it your favorite?

 

Rebecca: I attended the University of Notre Dame from 2015-2017, where I earned a Master’s in Theology through the Echo Program. The Echo Program is a two-year service-learning program, where young adult Catholics can earn a Master’s in Theology while serving in a parish or school in one of the Echo partner dioceses located throughout the United States. Echo students participate in an intentional formation program that integrates their work, study, and life of faith in order to serve the Church and to explore a career in ministry, all while growing as a disciple and a leader in catechesis and evangelization. I was placed on a team that served in the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois, and specifically, I worked at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville.

 

Gordon: What did you enjoy most about your work at St. Margaret Mary Parish?

           

Rebecca: I learned a TON during those two years in ministry, especially thanks to my mentor (the Youth Minister of the Parish), the entire staff at St. Margaret Mary Parish, and all of the parishioners. I primarily worked with the middle school and high school teens while I was there, and it was such a joy to accompany them along their spiritual journey, especially when they finally understood a certain Church teaching or when they had an opportunity to encounter Jesus in a profound way. It was beautiful because I was getting to encounter Jesus myself right alongside them, so it was very much a “Road to Emmaus” experience, where we were walking alongside one another while unpacking scripture and breaking bread together.

 

Gordon: You are currently Director of Campus Ministry of the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) located within the Archdiocese of Chicago. What are your primary responsibilities there?

 

Rebecca: I absolutely love my job at the St. John Paul II Newman Center, and I often say that I have the best job in the world. I’m essentially the “Newman Mom” for the college students there. I primarily advise and form student leaders for ministry, coordinate faith formation and retreats, and direct evangelization and outreach events, but I also serve as a spiritual director for several of the students and help run all of our marketing and communication channels. Follow us @jp2newman!

 

Gordon: What is a Newman Center, and who do you primarily serve?

 

Rebecca: Newman Centers were inspired by writings of St. John Henry Newman. He desired a Catholic presence at secular universities, especially as they are places for those who are pursuing Truth – “Religious truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge.” God reveals Truth to us, so you can’t leave Him out in the pursuit of Truth, hence the creation and development of Newman Centers. Our particular Newman Center exists to help college students encounter Christ so that they can be fully alive in Him. Our current building has existed since 1980, but the Newman Center apostolate at UIC has existed since the 1940s.

 

Gordon: In a world in which the Church seems to be hemorrhaging young people, what sources of hope have you been able to witness through your work at the Newman Center?

 

Rebecca: I've personally witnessed how much the Lord has been working at our Newman Center, even just this year alone. Our Chapel is packed for daily Mass and daily Adoration. There are long lines for Confession every day, an hour before every Mass. Our in-house coffeeshop, Cor Coffee, is completely filled with students who are craving community, many (if not most) of whom aren't Catholic. There have been MASSIVE encounters with Jesus through our retreats and Bible Studies. God is SO good, and we want to share His goodness with as many people as possible so that we can keep pursuing our mission of helping college students encounter Christ so that they can be fully alive in Him. The world may say that the Church is hemorrhaging young people, but I see the exact opposite happening here. I want to be a part of continuing to build the Church and bringing people, especially our young people, closer to Christ every single day.

 

Gordon: What does evangelization look like on your college campus? How are you preaching the Gospel to students not coming to Mass? 

 

Rebecca: We are blessed to have five amazing FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries at UIC, and they are instrumental in helping us reach students on campus. FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach organization whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the gospel with college students. Through Bible studies, outreach events, mission trips, and one-on-one discipleship, missionaries inspire and build up students in the faith, sending them out to spread the good news and to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). One of our students once said that she wanted to be a “fisher of students,” so that’s essentially what we train our student leaders to do. Our students see their peers walking around campus like zombies, so they desire them to encounter Jesus and become fully alive like many of our students already have.

 

Gordon: What challenges do you face when training college students to be evangelists and missionary disciples?

 

Rebecca: There is often initially a spirit of fear among the students. They are afraid to bother someone. They are afraid of rejection. They are afraid to be judged. Also, from the moment of our birth, we have been conditioned not to talk to strangers. Not to mention that growing up and living during a pandemic only heightened our sensitivity to being around people we don’t know. We were told to stay six feet apart from one another and to keep to ourselves, so we have lost the art of talking to strangers. It is important to recondition our brains to be able to talk to others without fear, with confidence, and by default because every single person walking on this Earth deserves to know who Jesus is, and the reality is that many of them don’t know him or have chosen not to. There’s a lot of work to be done! 

 

Gordon: You also serve as Social Media Strategist Archdiocese of Chicago Vocations Office. What is the most successful way to encourage discernment, particularly for the vocation of the priesthood? How have you been able to foster discernment among the college students through your work at the Newman Center?

 

Rebecca: Through social media (@chicagovocations), we are able to highlight the beauty of the priesthood and plant seeds of curiosity among young men to a potential call to be a priest. Honestly, the best way to encourage more Vocations to the priesthood is to literally ask the question, “Have you thought about the priesthood?” Even being specific and affirming certain gifts that a young man has that would make him a good priest is helpful because it plants a seed to strengthen their “yes” if God actually calls him to that Vocation. I think a lot of young men might briefly think about the priesthood but then immediately shut it down either out of fear or a lack of self-confidence that they’re not good or holy enough to be a priest. And many of them won’t consider it until someone actually asks them. I think we need to be better about being bold and planting seeds simply by asking. At the Newman Center, we encourage discernment of all Vocations by teaching the students how to engage in daily prayer, build their relationship with God, and be ready to say “yes” to whatever He calls them to do. How can they know what God wants them to do if they aren’t willing to regularly talk to Him about it? How can they be ready to say “yes” if they don’t fully trust and believe that He has great plans in store for them? 

 

Gordon: Thank you for your helpful insights into evangelization and vocations.

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