Sunday night mass service moves to afternoon

Curran Neenan | News Editor

The Catholic Student Center’s (CSC) weekly Sunday mass will now start at 4:30 p.m., breaking from its decades-old 9:00 p.m. start time, to reach a broader audience in light of a downwards trend in attendance.

In addition, the Sunday night mass service, which CSC Director of Ministry Troy Woytek calls “an institution on campus,” will include a dinner at the conclusion of services.

Woytek said the rescheduling came after CSC staff noticed “cultural changes” amongst the University’s Catholic contingent. Attendance has fallen at the weekly services over the past five years. According to Woytek, the average Sunday mass service last year had close to 175 attendees, down from five years ago, when 300 people regularly showed up to services.

Those numbers track with a worldwide trend of falling attendance at Catholic mass services, to which Woytek partially attributes the declining attendance at the CSC.

“It took a few years to trickle down. Since fewer parents were taking their kids to services, [it] led to fewer students attending,” Woytek said.

Woytek says the CSC also noticed an increased emphasis on sleep amongst students.

“We saw more students deciding that if they had homework Sunday night, and they had the choice between mass or a couple extra hours of sleep, they were choosing the sleep,” Woytek said.

Minister Sean O’Rourke agrees, noting in an email to Student Life that “students are taking steps to prioritize important aspects of self-care,” such as sleep.

“We want to honor this shift by giving students an opportunity to worship alongside their peers while having time for study, extracurriculars and sleep,” O’Rourke wrote.

Starting in spring 2016, the CSC held student focus groups to determine how best to remedy these changes. It also consulted peer institutions like St. Louis University, whose weekly Sunday mass draws about 1,200 people. Woytek said in almost every focus group, at least one student would bring up the idea of moving mass to an earlier time. The CSC then surveyed its constituents, and after encouraging results, the CSC staff got together last semester to make sure they could accommodate the change.

Woytek is hopeful that the new time slot will boost attendance, but doesn’t expect overnight results.

“We’re not expecting to get right up to 300 [people] in the next few months, or even the next year,” Woytek said.

Another change this year is the addition of a dinner following mass. Made possible by local business donors, it will be cooked by CSC staff. O’Rourke says the supper is a logical addition to bolster the CSC’s mission of hospitality.

“It’s our hope that the meal, which is open to students of any faith or no faith, will be a time to deepen community, and give a space for meaningful conversations,” O’Rourke wrote. “This simple act of sharing a meal together can be very formative over time, as it offers opportunities to encounter other people and share bits of our lives with one another.”

According to Woytek, the dinner’s community-building effects are vital in a time where smartphones and social media are increasingly replacing face-to-face interactions.

“With phones and social media becoming so popular, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we just wanted to give students some practice on making connections in person across a table,” Woytek said.

Catholic Student Union (CSU) President junior Kane Koubsky agreed that community-building is an important aspect of the dinner.

“This will form an even tighter bond between students,” Koubsky said.

CSU Outreach Chair senior Julia Praeger said the mass time change is just one way that the CSU is trying to reach a wider audience.

“We’ve been contacting and emailing students all summer, letting them know about our events,” Praeger said.

Praeger was apprehensive about the change at first, but came around to the idea after talking to CSC staff and other students.

Woytek said that while the time is changing, the nature of the service won’t.

“There aren’t many places on campus where you can come and just sit and be reflective for an hour,” Woytek said.

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