This past year, just before one of the small groups I was leading as an intern at Old Dominion University’s Catholic Campus Ministry, I received a call from Father Jack. If there is one thing that you learn very quickly as a member of Youth Apostles, it is that when the director calls you, he usually has something important to say. Father Jack did not disappoint, as he told me of the opportunity that the Bishop of the Richmond Diocese, Bishop DiLorenzo, had presented to us. Youth Apostles had been asked to serve at Virginia Tech’s Catholic Campus Ministry, and I was asked to discern whether or not God was calling me to join the team of members our community would send down there.
Father David Sharland had agreed to come on as the new Chaplain and Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech and Chris Hitzelberger and his family had discerned to move to Blacksburg so he could join staff as the Assistant Director. Father Jack made it clear to me that our mission at Virginia Tech would be more fruitful if we had at least one more brother join Chris and Father David–in particular, a single member who could live in community with Father David. At the time there were no ministry positions available to offer me, so the idea was that I would move to Blacksburg with my room and board taken care of by the community and I would find employment somewhere in the area. After a period of discernment, I knew in my heart that God was calling Youth Apostles to do ministry at Virginia Tech and I felt the call to move to Blacksburg for the first year of our new assignment.
A few months went by as I finished up my Year of Volunteer Service interning at ODU and at a nearby parish youth ministry. I did some research into job opportunities in the Blacksburg area and looked at openings at Virginia Tech. Nothing grabbed my interest, and as the spring semester came to a close my girlfriend and I decided to do a novena to St. Joseph the Worker. As a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary, St. Joseph the Worker is the patron saint of her “MPD” (Mission Partner Development) efforts, so we prayed both for my finding a job and for growth in her support team for the coming year. Little did either of us know, God was about to lead me down a path that I had not even considered yet.
On day five of the Novena, Our Lord led me to recognize my desire to do full time ministry for another year. I was a little confused as to exactly what it would look like, but the peace and clarity I received in prayer showed me that it was without a doubt the best thing for me to pursue. I realized that helping found a new community of Youth Apostles, being available to pray Liturgy of the Hours and do a holy hour with Father David each day, and volunteering at the Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech in addition to a 40 + hour job (that would not necessarily accommodate any–let alone all–of those things) was simply too much for one person to handle.
Campus ministry has had a special place in my heart ever since I got involved in George Mason’s campus ministry my freshman year of college. I realize and understand the importance of reaching out to students at this critical point in their lives because it was through campus ministry that I began building upon the catechesis I received as a child as I learned how to take ownership of my faith and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If I was committing a year of my life to helping Youth Apostles minister at Virginia Tech, it only made sense for me to go all in with my efforts. The questions that remained were:
1. How could I work at a ministry that has no open positions?
2. How would I (and Youth Apostles) afford my NOT having at least a part-time job with some sort of sustainable income?
The answer to both these questions was to ask Father Jack to be open the possibility of doing something new in Youth Apostles. We had spoken a few times in theory about starting a new program to supplement the college ministry we already do, so it was only a matter of logistics once I asked to become the first “Youth Apostle Missionary” in the history of our community.
You may be thinking: Why choose to call this a “missionary” endeavor? A dream that Youth Apostles has had for some time is to have members ministering at the campuses we serve at that have non-administrative roles, freeing up their time and energy to do what Youth Apostles does best: relational ministry with young people. Saint John Bosco, one of the three patrons of Youth Apostles, recognized the importance of intentionally spending time with young people in order to witness to them and bring them closer to Christ. It is through the inspiration and intercession of Bosco that I am creating this new campus ministry position.
I realized that using the title “missionary” would remind me to concentrate my efforts on strengthening the campus ministry through building relationships with the students and leading them to encounter Christ in a real, personal way. Whether it’s grabbing lunch or coffee with a student, attending on campus events, leading and empowering students to lead prayer opportunities on campus, or lending a listening ear to whatever problems they are having within their faith, family or school lives, the opportunities I have as a missionary serving along with my Youth Apostle brothers at Virginia Tech are endless.
With an established vision for my position in mind, the only question left to answer was the financial one. The answer came through my familiarity with FOCUS. As Catholic missionaries at college campuses throughout the United States, FOCUS missionaries raise 100% of their salaries by asking friends, family members and anyone interested in partnering with them in the mission of spreading the Gospel to become their “Mission Partner.” A mission partner is anyone who prays and/or financially supports a missionary. By inviting others to become their mission partners, a missionary provides a tangible way for the mission partner to fulfill the great commission* that Christ laid out for His Apostles — even though they may not be able to give of their own time and effort on the “battlefield” for souls on college campuses.
*The great commission is the blueprint for evangelizing that Jesus gives His apostles with His last words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” –Matthew 18:19-20
It is through a Mission Partner’s prayers and (typically monthly) financial support that we missionaries are able to spend our time investing in the lives of college students so that they can come to know the great love Our Lord has for them. Without an understanding of how God has a plan for their lives, that they are not simply a particularly intelligent “machine” measured only by how much they can produce in their lifetime, it is easy for college students to lose the sense of meaning in their lives and begin trying to fill the void in their hearts with things that can never make them truly happy. But it is our hope that through the outreach Campus Ministry can offer to students, they find a sense of belonging in the Church, and begin to realize that their time, talent and resources are needed to help build up the body of Christ.
This is the first post of a series that I will be writing throughout the year. Please feel free to leave comments, send prayer intentions or inquire about how you can become my mission partner and join in the efforts of the New Evangelization on today’s college campuses. I humbly ask that as you follow my journey this year as a missionary at Virginia Tech, you keep both the students and the efforts of our Campus Ministry to bring students to Christ in your prayers.
In Christ, all things are possible.
Andrew DeCelle is a Youth Apostle missionary serving the Newman Community at Virginia Tech. He raises 100% of his salary to cover personal and ministerial expenses so he can spend his time bringing students to Christ through relational ministry.
If you would like to support his work, please e-mail him at
To follow Andrews DeCelle’s journey and get more information, please go to: //www.youthapostles.org/our-ministries/youth-apostle-missionary