By Jerry Duggan
As director of campus ministry at Spring Hill College, Colleen Lee cherishes the opportunity to develop personal relationships with students and witness their growth in real time.
“A lot of people don’t get to see the fruits of their labor at their job – being able to observe tangible, meaningful results – but I see the growth that takes place in the students that I have the privilege and joy of interacting with every day,” she said.
Her goal is to accompany students on their college journey by providing both structured and unstructured support. Much of her day is spent planning events such as service opportunities, retreats and immersion trips, which are returning this semester after a hiatus due to COVID-19. She also relishes the unplanned, spontaneous conversations that take place when students drop in.
“Throughout my development as a minister I’ve learned from my mentors that ministry is about relationships, community, and meeting people where they are,” she said. “This is what we strive to do in campus ministry: to create a welcoming environment where all are welcome to be part of this community of faith.”
She tries to remember what is most important, even when her to-do list gets long.
“I could easily fill a lot of my day with paperwork and administrative tasks, but it’s important for me to remember that the work I’m doing serves a much bigger purpose – accompanying students in their faith,” she said.
Conversations with students about faith often dovetail into larger discernment discussions.
“Helping students figure out what they want to do with their lives, how they see themselves balancing their various interests, desires and passions and accompanying them, often by means of prayer, through those ups and downs, is most meaningful for me,” she said.
Her passion for this line of work came naturally after she experienced a similar welcoming environment in the school’s campus ministry department as a student.
“When I was in college, campus ministry was a safe place for me, but also a place where I grew in my faith and understood it on a deeper level,” she said. “I had mentors that accompanied me on my own spiritual journey and I want to help the students I work with today in a similar way.”
Born in a predominantly Catholic small town in coastal Mississippi, Lee has always been strong in her faith, but her Jesuit education at Spring Hill helped her connect her inherent passion for service and justice with her faith.
In her sophomore year, she saw a flyer the Ignatian Family Teach-In in the school’s campus ministry department. At the time, the event was located in Columbus, Ga., a reasonable drive from Spring Hill. At the Teach-In, Lee learned more about the “faith that does justice” philosophy promoted by the Jesuits.
“Growing up, I was that kid who did community service on the weekend, not because anyone made me but just because I felt like I should,” she recalled. “At the time, I didn’t really know how to explain why I did what I did, but after the Teach-In, it made more sense: faith, service and justice are interwoven. I try to help today’s Spring Hill students make that same connection.”
She finds her weekly meetings with the 13 campus ministry interns on campus to be particularly rewarding. It is the interns who program many of the activities for their fellow students.
“Seeing the ways in which our interns are coordinating all of these meaningful activities – retreats, service opportunities, Masses, etc. is very moving, because I know that their efforts will awaken the rest of the student body spiritually.”
These meetings help her to see those aforementioned fruits, which for her, is what it’s all about.
“Connecting with young people, seeing their growth, and accompanying them along their journey —both the campus ministry interns and students that I interact with – is what makes it all worthwhile.”