Catholic Society reinstated at Wheaton

After a summer of meetings, revisions and changes in leadership, Wheaton’s Catholic Society was reinstated as an official school-sponsored club this fall. Over the course of several months, president sophomore Prisca Tuyishime fought for the existence of the club that had been so instrumental to her spiritual growth since it first began in 2013.
When Tuyishime took the general education class Bible and Theology 111: “Bible, Church and Culture” as a freshman last year, she, like many of her peers, felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the amount of new theological information she was learning. “There were so many terms I hadn’t learned about. And so I felt very inadequate.” While many other freshmen feel the same way on their arrival at Wheaton, most do not also share her Catholic background.
Sophomore Anna Krcek had the same experience last year as a first semester Catholic Wheaton student. “In all honesty, I was very ignorant in terms of differences between Christian traditions and denominations before enrolling here. Having been born and raised Catholic, I hadn’t really met people who weren’t also born and raised Catholic.”
That sentiment also drove Tuyishime to work hard to seek out other Catholics at Wheaton who had the same struggles and concerns as her. She started with the Church Unity Club, an organization that fosters conversations among a variety of church denominations. While she was encouraged by the community there, she still longed to find a place focusing on Catholic students. She asked Church Unity Club president senior Bret Heddleston, “Can you help me bring a bunch of Catholics together? Because I feel like I’m so alone in this.”
With his help, she found seven or eight other like-minded students from across Wheaton’s campus, and they began meeting for dinner and fellowship on Sundays. After several meetings, they decided their group was so beneficial that they drafted an official charter and petitioned to become a school-sponsored club. They were accepted by the SAO and began to officially meet under the name of The Catholic Society of St. John Paul. Their inaugural campus-wide event was a Catholic panel at the end of the fall 2013 semester.
Krcek, still seeking the kind of community that the Catholic Society intended to create, attended and was immediately drawn in. She soon began attending gatherings. Krcek said, “My friendship with the other Catholics that I met is why I was able to survive the rest of freshman year. The group helped me to approach conversations of faith.”
The group’s camaraderie also helped carry them through a period of backlash late in the second semester to an on-campus event educating attendees on the rosary. Shortly thereafter, the school board put their status as a school-sponsored club into deliberation.
“This is a Protestant school, so having a campus-wide event for praying the rosary was a huge no-no according to the administration,” Tuyishime said.
To resolve the conflict, Tuyishime, a resident of the neighboring town of Glen Ellyn, spent time in the summer and early fall talking with members of the administration about how to make sure the club could operate with Wheaton’s support.
After several meetings, the Catholic Society was re-instated this fall as an official club that fosters conversation between both Catholic and non-Catholic students. The process of preparing the club to restart this year was very specific, involving planning for its future and revising the charter. Tuyishime  said she hoped that the work they are doing now will benefit students who want to be a part of the club in the future. She added, “We’re trying to create a foundation so that (future members) know where to start from.”
Tuyishime and Kreck act respectively as the President and Vice President of the Society now and share a similar vision for its operation.
Tuyishime said, “We would hope that (the Catholic Society) would be a place for Catholics to come challenge each other to grow. But the main purpose of the club is to educate students and bridge the gap between what the differences between Catholics and Protestants are. It’s not just on campus. It’s global.”
For the time being, the Society continues to focus its influence here on Wheaton’s campus. The club meets on a regular basis and is open to both Catholic and non-Catholic students alike. The second annual Catholic Panel was held on Dec. 4.
Krcek finished, “We would just love to meet every one and grow in faith with each other. That effort is bolstered when minor differences are present. I can attest to a deeper relationship with God because of the challenges that I’ve faced here, and I wouldn’t give that back for the world.”

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