Collaboration with local religious boosts outreach to students

Saturday, February 29, 2020 - Updated: 3:44 pm

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Gary Slifkey, campus minister at Robert Morris University, feels blessed to have been surrounded by many religious during his formative years. It gave him a deep appreciation of what they do.

His home parish while he was growing up was staffed by Benedictines, he noted, and his grade school was run by the Sisters of Mercy. In addition, the Spiritan order had a great influence on him while he was a student at Duquesne University. And now for more than 20 years, his spiritual adviser has been a Sister of St. Joseph. (For more about the work of women religious in the region, see the column on Page 4 and story on Page 8.)

So it is fitting that Slifkey now collaborates with the Pittsburgh Religious Vocation Council in his ministry at Robert Morris in Moon Township. He said that research shows many young people today have not encountered consecrated religious, so it was a goal for him early on to involve as many religious as possible in the university’s campus ministry program.

His first call after being appointed campus minister 10 years ago, he said, was to Franciscan Sister Althea Anne Spencer, asking her to introduce the Busy Person’s retreat to the campus.

“I knew from the beginning I needed help if I were to evangelize today’s college students, and members of the Pittsburgh Religious Vocation Council were the best place to find it,” Slifkey said. “Over the years our program has grown way more than I could ever have imagined. Much of the credit for our growth goes to the unwavering support of the PRVC.”

He added that over the years he has come to see the PRVC as de facto members of the campus ministry staff. They collaborate on retreats, support leadership efforts, offer weekly spiritual direction and mentor student peer ministers. In return for their outstanding support, he said, they have the chance to interact with and influence young adults as they learn how to navigate the world.

“I see our partnership as a win-win for Colonial Catholic Ministry and PRVC,” he said. “However, most importantly, our students benefit by being exposed to those who have discerned a religious vocation.”

School Sister of St. Francis Lorita Kristufek has been active with retreats, leadership programs and discussion activities. She spoke of how students flock to Slifkey and have great respect for him. He demonstrates, she said, his compassion and ongoing concern to bring the church to them.

“We are blessed by his presence on that campus and in our church,” Sister Lorita said. “He is blessed by the fire of the Lord. The Spirit is working through him very strongly.”

In addition to working with retreats, Sister Althea participates in other activities such as leadership programs and liturgies. “It puts us in immediate contact with young people,” she said.

Sister Althea Anne noted Slifkey’s perseverance in drawing students into ministry events and his passion for building relationships with them and the wider campus community.

“He’s got a knack for bringing people together,” she said. Liturgies that once drew a handful of students are now filled, she said.

In addition to campus activities, members of the Colonial Catholic Ministry have traveled to the March for Life in Washington and the diocesan mission in Chimbote, Peru. They also participate in monthly volunteer work. Information on the program can be found at catholicsoncampus.wordpress.org, on Twitter (@rmu.ccm) and on Facebook (RMU Colonial Catholic Ministry).

The PRVC is a collaborative effort of women’s and men’s religious communities in the Pittsburgh area. Information can be found through the Office of the Delegate for Consecrated Life at www.diopitt.org. or by e-mailing prvc.info@gmail.com.

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