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 | By Theresa Stratford

A lighthouse of hope and connection

There’s something to be said about forming meaningful relationships. Sure, we have them with family members or mentors, co-workers or even neighbors. But what about the relationships we have with people who can relate to us exactly where we are? Where are the people who truly understand and connect with us?

For young adults, especially college aged from 18-23, social circles tend to be large, but often show less meaningful connection. Plus, this age group was thrown into the depths of social media at a young age, where it’s normal to say we know someone based on their account, without ever having met or spoken with them.

Then there is the harsh reality that many of the peers in college may have very different life and moral values. As it turns out, college can be an especially lonely place.

Tom Gregory is the campus minister for the Catholic Student Association (CSA) at the College of Charleston. He took on the role two years ago and said he has seen a hopeful shift in this paradigm. At a time in life where many students may not prioritize faith and values, Gregory said in recent years large groups have formed more meaningful relationships through Christianity and the Catholic faith.

“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “We have members coming over to join our group from Charleston Southern, the College of Building Arts and many other local schools. Just two years ago, CSA only had about four core members. Now we have about 20 core members and it’s growing.” 

He added that they have 120 student members on the books and 80 attend Mass.

“I’d say about 20% are highly engaged, 50% are moderately engaged and 30% come to Mass. Overall in our service projects and Mass attendance, we’re looking at around 300-400% growth.”

Two years ago the CSA didn’t have a home. They were utilizing random classrooms, which wasn’t ideal since students were already stuck in classes all day. In the spring of 2022, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone designated Drexel House on Wentworth Street as the CSA’s student center. Drexel House was already home to the Diocesan Missionary Team, but luckily there was room for CSA to utilize some of the space, plus the dining room and library.

“In last year’s iGiveCatholic fundraiser, we raised over $160,000 for the CSA and extensive renovations were done on the Drexel House property,” Gregory said. “If things continue like they are now, we’ll outgrow this space quickly.”

He noted that the men’s group only had two or three members two years ago and now there are 20. The group’s Sunday dinner, always held at Drexel House, used to only have about 10 people regularly and now there are 40 attending.

When speaking about the growth of CSA in recent years, Gregory said the students “loved it when it was nothing. There is something to be said about that. It was put into their hearts to love it when it was nothing. Now it is something great,” and he attributes the greatness of CSA to the students.

“Some students come to CSA, and they are looking for what it can do for them,” Gregory added. “I always ask them what they can do for CSA. I ask them what gifts they can contribute. This is a call for participation. We have to love sacrificially. We want it to become more than what it is.”

He said that he knows that it isn’t easy living out our faith presently.

“We had our pro-life signs vandalized. But I want the students to know that it is OK to make waves with your faith,” he said.

And making waves is exactly what they are doing. CSA members volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Lowcountry Food Bank and Hope House. They also plan to start a Right to Life organization on the campus in the near future.

“We have a wealth of resources available to students for formation, such as weekly Bible studies, men’s and women’s groups and we launched RCIA for the first time this year with two catechumens and one candidate. Our ministry is also proud to be one of only two campus ministry programs which have produced vocations … one of our former students is entering his second year in seminary,” Gregory said.

He added that going into the fall of 2023, they already have six catechumens registered and are expecting more.

“RCIA is a process, and we always tell our catechumens to think about their unique relationship with Jesus,” he said. “ You wouldn’t believe how many young people just never completed their sacrament journey. We try to teach them to look at it more deeply, rather than just learning about the Catholic faith from a textbook standpoint.”

CSA’s designated parish is St. Mary of the Annunciation on Hasell Street, and their new chaplain for Campus Ministry is Father Paul Lacombe, who was ordained June 16.

“We are a lighthouse for these students. We want them to know they are not alone. CSA is their safe harbor,” Gregory concluded.

Theresa Stratford is a freelance writer for The Miscellany. She lives in Charleston with her husband and three children and attends the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Email her at