Baylor: a place Catholics can feel at home

by Sinda K. Vanderpool, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Enrollment Management at Baylor University and Leadership Council member at St. Peter Catholic Student Center

Baylor + Catholica friendly relationship

Baylor Catholic students with Fr. Daniel Liu, chaplain at St. Peter Catholic Student Center

The phrase “Baylor Catholic” may sound a little odd to the ears. After all, Baylor is the largest Baptist university in the world, and while we Catholics and Baptists share a common Christ-centered faith, the two traditions have demonstrably divergent practices and some different beliefs. Yet Catholics on campus have experienced the most significant increase of any religious group in recent years: as of this past fall, approximately 16% of students and 12% of employees are Catholic.

Catholic growth at Baylor

Baylor Catholic students in prayer during a talk by visiting speaker Sarah Swafford in February 2019

That’s over 3,000 Catholic students! I’m amazed by the deep and broad demonstrations of the Baylor Catholic presence, from a vibrant Catholic Student Association to daily Masses, prayer services, Bible studies, confessions, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament—all just past the Panhellenic Building at St. Peter Catholic Student Center. We even have a faculty and staff fellowship group called Confraternity of Mary that meets regularly for coffee as well as seven full-time FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries who evangelize students under a Catholic discipleship model. God’s work among the Catholic faculty, students, and staff is evident.

Why the Catholic growth at Baylor happened

Baylor Catholic students at the annual Texas Rally for Life in Austin, TX in Janurary 2019.

So, why has this growth at Baylor happened, and what does it mean for us in the Baylor community? In the interest of brevity, I’ll highlight just two of the numerous factors that have contributed to this important shift. First, Texas will be a majority-minority state in the next decade, with the Latino population experiencing the highest growth. Baylor is blessed to attract many Latino students, and Catholicism remains the number one faith with which this population identifies. Second, beginning in the 1990s Baylor began embracing the idea of being more broadly Christian in an ecumenical sense.

Students gather for a discussion group in the Narthex at St. Peter Catholic Student Center

And, under the strategic plan “Baylor 2012” there was an intentional effort to hire faculty acutely interested in the integration of faith and learning, an enterprise with deep roots in Catholicism. This hiring wave created an intellectual atmosphere more amenable to Catholic tradition and ways of thinking, which in turn attracted more Catholic students, faculty, and staff to find Baylor a hospitable place.

The important role of faculty and staff

Now, what might this mean for the Baylor community? Certainly, our Christian faith expressions and intellectual traditions are both broader and deeper than they were, say, in 1979.

Students and faculty chat at Baylor Catholic Connect, an annual event for bringing the Baylor Catholic community together on campus.

The Office of Spiritual Life and St. Peter Catholic Student Center are working to reach these Catholic students early on. I see that my role as a faculty member complements their work.  To faculty and staff interacting with students in and outside of the classroom, you might consider engaging them in conversations about their faith tradition and offer to help connect them to the great community at St. Peter’s.

Regardless of where you may find yourself on the spectrum of Christian traditions, I hope you welcome the increased Catholic presence on campus as an important intellectual and spiritual contribution to the magnificent ecumenical expression of God’s kingdom we are blessed to have here at Baylor.

St. Peter’s is where the food is at…often prepared by our Baylor Catholic servant leaders.

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