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Priestwatching on campus: Who’s the new guy?

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Fr. Stan’s reserved parking space outside Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. Photo courtesy Mason Glanville.

Story by Mason Glanville, Reporter

Photo courtesy Mason Glanville

It is important to note that I am not a professed Roman Catholic, but I can distinctly recall the first two times in my life when I saw religious people wearing a habit: a Carmelite at Family Fare, and a Dominican in the cafeteria. 

In the course of my time at Aquinas, I have had the distinct privilege of getting to know some religious people as individuals, but I will still claim that spotting habits is not unlike spotting birds in the wild. Fortunately, the Dominicans know how to talk back, and quite eloquently to boot. 

I had a chance to sit down with the campus chaplain to get to the bottom of some things, namely the question ringing loudly around campus. “Where’s Father Stan?”  

I sat down with Father Bob Keller, O.P., the new guy, to clear the air. The answer is that Father Stan is on sabbatical, which means that he is taking a break from his regular priestly activities to rejuvenate his own spiritual life. The location of Father Stan’s sabbatical program is near Houston, Texas, which Father Bob reminds us is near the ocean, meaning that Houstonites can probably catch Father Stan going for a relaxing swim nowadays. 

In his absence, Father Stan is substituted by Father Bob, who comes to us temporarily from his current position as the novice master for the Central Province of the Dominican Friars in the U.S. 

Before his position as provincial novice master, Father Bob served 18 years in campus ministry at Indiana University, where he also helped shape Father Stan as a fellow campus minister. At a summer mass, before he left, Father Stan said of Father Bob: “If I know anything about campus ministry, I learned it from this guy.” 

In the course of conversation with Fr. Bob, it becomes clear to anybody listening that he cares deeply about the spiritual development of his student flock. I asked what his favorite aspect of student ministry is, and his response was “Questions.” Father Bob’s great joy is helping students plumb the depths of their faith and their minds to reach wholesome answers to the greatest questions of life. 

When confronting darker territory, Father Bob brings a graceful perspective to some of the loudest problems facing our world right now. Politically and economically, he says, “the ground rules are changing.” People aren’t playing like they used to. 

As anyone who has heard him preach knows, Father Bob will not shy away from the ugliest things in life, letting the single syllable “war” fall all the way silent in the sanctuary before taking another breath in. In a world that seems like all things might be falling apart, this Catholic voice keeps true to a powerful hope.

Returning to the topic of students, Father Bob sees one of the jobs of contemporary campus ministers as a dynamic response to the “pulse” of students’ ever-changing, deepest worries, and he acknowledges that this is done in concert with the professional counseling staff on campus. Lately, he has noticed that we are fighting a kind of “hyper-busy and distracted, but less integrated lifestyle,” a fruit of what he calls “marginal return parenting” methods. We are forgetting to look within.

Like Father Stan and all Dominicans, Father Bob sees his ministry as expansive and inclusive. He is comfortable working with the whole of humanity, Catholics and non- Catholics alike. “When you sit down to talk, Catholicism isn’t likely to be the first question we deal with. It’s going to be a conversation about the inner self.”

Coming from Denver, Colorado, Father Bob reminds us that there is beauty everywhere, even in urban Grand Rapids. Here we have clouds, frequent rain, and the color of maples in the fall. And, “Wherever you go, there are people of God whose lives are in motion.” 

Father Bob’s favorite car to drive is a Subaru Forester which he says has a transmission like no other. When asked about the title of his favorite read, he struggled to produce an answer, instead listing a few select authors he was particularly fond of. He said, “I guess I’m more of an author person than I am about ‘the book’.”

As we await the return of our own Father Stan next semester, the spiritual lives of us on campus are in good hands. Attending a religious institution affords the unique opportunity to step beyond ourselves and look deeply and honestly at our condition in the world, and I hope that we all take the opportunity to do just that before we ship out to the bustling lives that await us

Father  Bob is joined in Campus Ministry by Robert Gilmore, Terry Marshall, Eric Bridge, and a host of brilliant student workers. The Campus Ministry office is on the third floor of the Academic Building and Father Bob works from Father Stan’s office conveniently located just steps from Wege Cafe.

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