Dominican University receives grant to create ‘culturally responsive’ campus ministry network

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, February 17, 2022

College students, faculty and adults visited the National Museum of Mexican Art on Aug. 1, 2018, as part of the "El Futuro is Here!" organized by Dominican University in this file photo. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Dominican University in River Forest has learned the value of culturally responsive campus ministry over the past several years, and now it has received a nearly $1.5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to build a network of Catholic colleges and universities that are doing the same.

“Culturally responsive” campus ministry means understanding and incorporating the ways students engage with their faith, said John DeCostanza, Dominican’s assistant vice president for university ministry.

“It’s campus ministry that’s done with a lot of humility,” DeCostanza said. “We do our work by listening to our students, by engaging them in the things they care about and really learning about who they are as whole human persons: their culture, their racialized experiences in the United States, all of the ways their communities are affected by the world, all of those things matter. We seek to draw those things in and make it part of their regular theological reflection.”

Dominican has been designated a “Hispanic-serving institution” since 2011, and this academic year, more than half its student population is Hispanic or Latino for the first time. It hosted “El Futuro is Here” conferences in 2018 and 2021, bringing together students, campus ministers and faculty members from institutions around the country to learn about and share culturally responsive practices for Latino students.

“Dominican is a leader in this space,” said Glena Temple, Dominican’s president. “That’s why think we were competitive for this grant. There is a need here for more focused efforts. We can help be a national center to help develop those.”

Working to help colleges meet the ministry needs of their students helps the students in all areas, she said.

“Intentional leadership development and faith formation helps students on their path,” Temple said.  “Their own development is essential to the work we’re doing. This all about student success.”

Dominican has used grant funding to develop its programs already, and this grant will allow it to help expand those efforts both within the university and at other schools.

Many of the River Forest school’s students are deeply committed to their faith communities in Chicago or its suburbs, and campus ministry at Dominican seeks to build on those ties, developing partnerships with faith-based institutions and non-profits in the area.

“We have really emphasized that our partnerships with the communities our students are from are grounded in mutuality and stem from a deep respect for who our community is,” DeCostanza said, noting that the university offers paid fellowships for students to work with those community partners.

Working within students’ existing communities helps students understand what God may be asking of them or telling them, he said.

“It’s important for campus ministry to be culturally responsive because the way God communicates with us is always in a particular time and place, and that particular time and pace is always culturally bound,” he said. “There is no such thing as culture-less campus ministry. … Part of this grant is about Latino pastoral leadership. Latino communities are very diverse in and of themselves. What we’re trying to do is create spaces where students can bring their own particular lived experiences to the fore.”

Doing that is in line with Pope Francis’ call to create a more synodal church, one that walks with its people, DeCostanza said.


  • dominican university
  • campus ministry

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