Story by S.L. Hansen
PERU (SNR) - Roughly once a month
during fall and spring semesters, parishioners at St. Clara
Parish in Peru host college students who are hungry for a
home-cooked meal and a chance to express their Catholic faith.
Students and parishioners gather
together at 6 p.m. on select Sundays for Mass. Then, they head
downstairs to share a pot-luck meal.
It all started a few years ago when
Valerie Abel was president of the Altar Society. While looking
at the history of the diocese, she discovered that St. Clara
Parish was formed specifically to provide sacraments to Peru
State College students in the town.
Mrs. Abel had to admit that the parish
wasn’t doing anything specific to reach out to local college
students. And it showed in how many were coming to Mass at the
small wood-framed church.
"None of them," she said, shaking her
With a little brainstorming, the
ladies of the Altar Society hit on the ideal solution: a Mass
scheduled in the evening so it’s easier for students to attend
after late nights of studying, work and socializing, followed by
Parishioner Peggy Groff works at Peru
State in student success services. She started promoting St.
Clara’s monthly Mass and dinner, and the students started
"I think we averaged six the first
year," Mrs. Abel said.
Miranda Decker now leads the Altar
Society’s efforts to reach out to the college students. She said
different themes are chosen each month to keep things
"It allows us to do something that we
ordinarily might not make," she smiled.
The parish has hosted Italian, Mexican
and holiday-themed meals, though nobody minds if a dish of
curried beef shows up on the Thanksgiving buffet. The important
thing is for the tables to be well-laden with a variety of
dishes so that students and parishioners can enjoy the meal.
While the Altar Society was planning
and hosting dinners, Riannon Jeffrey found herself in a common
situation for Catholic students at Peru State – a sincere faith
but little help in growing.
"I tried Campus Crusade but it wasn’t
quite right," said the Bellevue native, referring to an
evangelical Protestant college outreach program.
Over time, however, she found she was
not alone. Other students were in the same boat – not quite
comfortable at Campus Crusade, but longing for a community of
Miss Jeffrey was able to make a
connection with the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
in Nebraska City. Since the sisters focus on religious
education, working with a college group dovetailed nicely into
their existing apostolate.
"We help students deepen their
Catholic faith in a variety of different ways," explained Sister
Cynthia Young, O.S.F.
With the help of the sisters, Miss
Jeffery was able to organize a legitimate campus club, complete
with a constitution. The Peru State Catholic Union was
officially launched in in the fall semester of 2010.
Since then, St. Clara Parish has
encouraged the students to take an even more active role at
"They’ve invited us to lead the songs
and do the readings," Miss Jeffery said.
"Ultimately, it’s about serving the
students," Mrs. Decker said.
She noted that one of the tough parts
about keeping one’s faith active in college is having to go it
"To make that personal decision to go
to Mass is harder if they don’t have somebody to go with," she
That’s why the parish feels it’s so
important to offer a warm – and delicious – welcome to the
students at Peru State College. As the number of students
attending the dinners continues to grow, St. Clara Parish will
continue to cook… and set up more tables and chairs to welcome
All students are welcome to visit St.
Clara Parish for their monthly Sunday evening dinners, whether
or not they can come to the 6 p.m. Mass.
For more information about the Peru State Catholic Union,
students are invited to look for the group on Facebook, where
activities and other information are readily available.