June 24, 2016
When you think college students, “morning” and “prayer” are not the first words that spring to mind. At 8:30am on Tuesday mornings, a couple white-robed Dominican chaplains and campus minister Julie Bellefeuille of the St. Catherine of Siena Parish Newman Center at the University of Utah gather at a central on-campus plaza with a handful of students to pray Morning Prayer.
For those unfamiliar, Morning Prayer (or Lauds) is a part of the daily prayer of the Church called the Liturgy of the Hours. The prayers don’t literally last hours (each “hour” takes about 15 minutes), but prayers are said at different times (morning, midday, evening, and night) as a way of “sanctifying the day.” At their ordination or profession of vows, priests and many religious brothers and sisters promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, or Breviary. However, all the faithful in the Church are encouraged to join in this form of prayer, and Julie and the Dominicans have found it an attractive and meaningful experience for a growing number of college students.
Julie Bellefeuille first encountered this form of prayer as an undergraduate herself. Before coming on as the Campus Minister in Utah, Julie attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where she and around 30 other students regularly prayed Morning Prayer. Seeing the fruit in her own college years, she wanted to bring this to Utah. The Newman Center began this ministry of prayer in the fall semester of 2015.
Morning Prayer has the advantage of being a very flexible and adaptable experience of the liturgy; it can be said anywhere and led by anyone. Around eight in the morning, Julie and the Dominicans grab some books of Christian Prayer from their Newman Center and find a spot on campus, usually a central plaza or picnic table. Anybody with a phone can also join in by downloading one of the Liturgy of the Hours Apps that exist- the most popular are “iBreviary” and “Divine Office.”
At the same time, Julie’s experience so far shows that many students actually grow to appreciate the schedule and structure of prayer. Young people experience prayer grounded in an authentic tradition that compliments more spontaneous forms of prayer. Combining the elements of flexibility and structure, the Liturgy of the Hours forms a simple bridge between the busy and transient lives of students and young adults with the universal life of the Church.
Morning Prayer is a new thing for many college students, not usually experienced at the parish level, so it takes some explanation and teaching at first, but the Newman Center leaders welcome that opportunity. Julie notes that many of the students at the University of Utah are commuters and don’t usually come to campus except for class. It’s been a challenge to reach these students, and growth has been slow, but using Facebook and other social media has helped create awareness of communal prayer opportunities.
Most of the regular attendees at Morning Prayer, however, started coming through a personal invitation from another student or other group event. Of course, seeing two Dominican friars in white and black habits walking and praying in the quad also attracts its own attention as well.
The witness of Morning Prayer, Julie adds, sends a message of peace on campus, that is slowly reaching the spiritually hungry hearts of college students.
By: Evan Ponton, Assistant to the Pastor, Church of the Nativity, Timonium, MD