By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
COMMERCE—A strong thread of purpose ran through the chitchat and laughter in the parish hall adjacent to St. Joseph Catholic Church on a recent Wednesday night.
Eighteen members of the parish’s Catholic Student Organization for the Texas A&M-Commerce campus discussed plans for the group’s Good Friday Living Stations of the Cross while the students ate a Mexican dinner prepared by parish volunteers.
“It brings everybody together where we can leave all the stress outside and concentrate on our relationship with God,” said Andrea Rodriguez, a senior psychology major from Guatemala who has held several offices in the CSO. “This was the first organization I joined at college. I wanted to share my Catholicism and keep growing in my faith.”
Rodriguez, whose four part-time jobs include working as a fitness instructor and a residence hall assistant, said that she also enjoys the fellowship.
Busy class schedules and job pressures keep some members from attending every meeting and event, said Deacon Joe Webber, the CSO’s adviser and a retired Dean of Students at TAMU—Commerce.
He said that many students commute to the campus, which is located about 65 miles east of Dallas and has almost 12,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
“When I see them at Mass, that’s really cool,” said Deacon Webber, a Virginia native who settled near Commerce in 1976. “Some years, we’ll have 30-35 members in the organization and, in other years, we might have 15. I’d like to make a difference in their lives, but I think that they probably are making more of a difference in mine.”
His wife, Kay, does most of the cooking for the CSO’s meetings, which follow the 6:30 p.m. Mass each Wednesday. Meetings usually focus on the Mass readings for the upcoming Sunday, Deacon Webber said.
Volunteers Angie Davis and Sandra Medrano prepared and served the Mexican food for the late February meeting, which drew members from nations including Ghana, Mexico and Nigeria. They mingled with students from Texas communities, sharing jokes and advice.
A gigantic smile illuminated Edosa Obaseki’s face when he thought back to his first experience with the CSO.
“This organization is where I made my first group of friends,” said Obaseki, who is from Nigeria. “I got a nickname for the first time—‘Eddie.’ It was like a miracle.”
Miraculous or not, Obaseki’s visible joy in shared faith and friendship rippled through the meeting room.
Jared Peckham of Wolfe City, said that the CSO’s camaraderie and teamwork kept him returning though he graduated last August.
Other members welcomed Peckham’s experience in preparing for the Living Stations of the Cross, for which the CSO has extensive plans.
“We’re looking at bringing in the Youth Ministry, other Christian organizations on campus and the Theatre Department,” said CSO member Ashley Griffey, a freshman accounting major from Celina, whose home parish is St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco.
Father Marcus Chidozie, the pastoral administrator at St. Joseph, called the annual Stations event a blessing for the parish and the community.
He said that members of other faiths found the Living Stations of the Cross so powerfully inspiring that some had cited the experience as their reason for entering the Catholic faith.
Father Chidozie said that the students gladden his heart.
“When I see them, it gives me joy and hope that the church has a future in them,” he said. “We cannot do without the youth.”
He said that he wants to help students who are homesick or troubled in various ways.
“For most, this is the first time they are on their own without their parents,” Father Chidozie said. “Some come to church because they want to be here. Some look at church as a coping mechanism. Some come only when they run into trouble and want spiritual guidance. I use that opportunity to walk with them as a counselor.”
eacon Webber said the CSO sets up an information booth on campus when high school seniors and their parents make Spring Break visits.
“We’re not just here for Catholic students,” he said. “We’re here for all God’s children.”