Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center is a bustling intersection of faith, community, academics, youth and maturity — all at the heart of the University of Kentucky in downtown Lexington. For decades, it has provided a bedrock Catholic presence on the campus, one that has formed countless young people. But an environment such as this one doesn’t happen accidentally. The UK Newman Center has a team of staff and students working together toward an evangelizing goal. And among them are a handful of students-turned-staff, such as Brian Duggan, who holds the title of Newman Missionary.
Duggan graduated last spring with a bachelor’s in materials engineering from UK but decided to commit his life right now to college ministry. He married his high school sweetheart, Annie, in August of last year, and the couple welcomed their first child, Judah Joseph, earlier this year.
Brian spoke with Cross Roads about his formation at Holy Spirit Parish, the importance of investing in campus ministry and his role in that community of faith.
CR: What does a Newman Missionary do?
BD: The role of any college missionary is to encounter as many students as possible to give them the opportunity to know Christ before they leave college. We, as Newman Missionaries, do this by getting coffee with students, taking students to lunch, talking to new faces at social events, leading Bible studies, leading discipleship, etc.
However, Newman Missionaries are unique in that we do the administrative planning for the organization as well. The social events, Bible studies, discipleship programs, liturgy, service opportunities — we are the people behind the scenes creating, organizing and orchestrating these things and more to make them happen.
CR: Why is missionary the right word for your work?
BD: When people hear I am a missionary, the most common question I get is “What country are you going to?” True, a lot of missionaries travel to other countries to meet the physical needs of those who are in need and help them know Christ. “Missionary” is the right word for our work because we meet the spiritual needs of those who need it most and help them know Christ.
In our world today, those who need it the most are college students. College is the easiest time of your life to drop your faith and lose sight of Christ. We are here to prevent that. More than this, though, we have a vision to transform college into the time of your life where you are ignited and can be the flame for everyone around you in the next stage of your life.
CR: What led you to stay at Holy Spirit Parish and pursue this path?
BD: Being born Catholic, my wife and I practiced the faith well, but we practiced it out of habit, not out of conviction. The Newman Center helped transform our private and habitual Catholic practice into a social and intentional faith. We want to give back to that community and help change students’ lives in the same way our lives were changed.
Newman provides social events and community for students to openly talk about Christ. More than this, our Bible studies and discipleship program provide opportunities for students to be formed in their faith so they can grow in intentionality in their practice.
CR: Why college? Why is this chapter of people’s lives something the Church should be investing in?
BD: College is the battleground of the faith. You send young adults off alone to college, and statistically 80 percent quit their faith by the time they graduate. Satan has a grip on the college campus. He is choking out the next generation.
College ministry is worth investing in because we have missionaries fighting for these students’ souls so that they can be the next generation to change the world. Christ did promise after all that “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” This means that when the Church is on the offensive, the gates of hell won’t prevail. College ministry is the Church’s offensive move against Satan.