Maintaining a Connection To College Students
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 20, 2023
OVES PARK—The College Care Ministry at St. Bridget Parish has been staying in contact with college students and military personnel from the parish for the past seven years or so, says 
the current director of the ministry, Karen Brunner.
“I thought this (ministry) was aligned with my skills and what God wants me to be doing,” Brunner says, explaining that what began as a service provided by a parish couple who assembled the care packages at their dining room table has “morphed into a full-on ministry at the church.”
“We now have a committee of 20 active people,” she says, adding that the support means it is “not a lot of work for anybody … Committee members jump into what they want and can do.”
Some do the shopping, some make labels, several help assemble the packages, others work at the sign-up table and someone volunteers to take the packages to the post office. Msgr. Stephen Knox, pastor, was involved in the Newman Center at Northern Illinois University and is “very drawn to (serving) college age students and young adults,” Brunner says, crediting him with taking photos at the latest assembly day.
Some 60-100 care packages are sent twice a year, for the fall and spring semesters. Parents, grandparents and others sign-up their students or military personnel in the back of church or via email.
These care packages are not just a matter of sending treats.
“Our philosophy is that every item has a faith-based message (to it), connecting them back to the church,” Brunner says. That connection begins with the “St. Bridget green” of the package itself.
There is a “framework” to whatever items go into the care package, developed over the years, Brunner says. Each includes a personal care item, a sweet snack, a savory snack, a “tool of our faith,” and a letter from the pastor, personally addressed to each recipient.
“We want to send things they really want to receive, that are not too heavy-handed (because) everybody comes to their faith from a different place,” Brunner says. “We make it fun.”
A box of microwave popcorn may encourage students to “Pop into your local church” with a link to help them find their local church. A pack of gummy worms has included the message to “stay hooked on Jesus.” 
During Catholic Schools Week, students at St. Bridget School have made cards and bookmarks for the packages. Other faith items have included a prayer journal, parishioner-made rosaries and, recently, pocket-sized crosses handmade by woodworking parishioners. The handmade items “had meaning,” says Brunner, sending a “powerful message that you are still thought about even when you are not here.”
Parishioners with or without student recipients cover the cost of postage and also have donated items, such as “all the Rice Krispie treats” from a recent package.
“People are completely generous,” Brenner says. “They think this is a good thing.”
The feedback from students reflects that. The most recent care package was mailed March 23.
Brunner’s own college students told her, “This is the best yet,” she says.
Msgr. Knox has gotten “several emails from parents,” Brunner says, noting that one guy called and told his parents about each item in the package, while another young woman, a nursing student, told Msgr. Knox in an email that the package “really helped remind me why I’m really doing this.”
Over the years, students have remarked that their package “came on the perfect day” or “gave me the encouragement I needed,” Brunner says.
Comments like that keep them going, she says, adding, “This is really about trying to get that age group to stay connected or to connect back (to their parish and their faith) … It’s so reassuring that we’re on the right track.”
Parishes interested in starting such a ministry are welcome to contact Brunner at
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