Chris Lazarine breathed a sigh of relief on Thanksgiving. Just the day before as the new campus minister at the Newman Center at the University of New Orleans, he oversaw a Thanksgiving Mass and a feast that fed upwards of 200 college students.
“It was the largest turnout ever,” Lazarine said, adding that he ran out of food.
Serving as campus minister at the Newman Center since August has been fulfilling for Lazarine. He’s able to share his faith experiences and leadership skills culled from altar serving at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish (now Divine Mercy) in Kenner and in campus ministry in high school and college.
“I love the students and love working with them,” Lazarine, 25, said. “This is one of the best opportunities I’ve had to use the Catholic faith while reaching out to them.”
Lazarine sees the Newman Center as a gathering place, a place to find respite in others and in God, a place to help students develop their personal faith from where they are.
“There exists a wide range of faith development among them, so it is important to meet those formed in faith as well as those who are searching for faith, even non-Catholics,” Lazarine said. “It could be sitting with them and having a conversation about life or looking through the Bible and finding their connection with the Catholic faith; reaching them through literature, personal experiences or life in general or through the Mass.”
Lazarine was an altar server until he was a senior at Archbishop Rummel High School. He has been a lector, sacristan and extraordinary minister of holy Communion and earned the St. John Baptist De La Salle medal for involvement in high school ministries such as Operation Head Start.
While at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, earning a business administration degree in 2013, Lazarine’s faith deepened as he immersed himself again in service leadership through campus ministry. He organized service immersion trips to Nicaragua and Belize; conducted Jesuit retreats for 40-50 college students twice yearly through Spring Hill’s Awakening Program (SHAPE) and was its president and a retreat rector.
He also brought students to New Orleans to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in a program called “Tots Rebuilding New Orleans.”
Lazarine said Maureen Bergan, Spring Hill’s director of campus ministry, encouaged him “to challenge the students. I learned leadership skills I can still use today.”
Spring Hill recognized him for living Jesuit ideals through community service with the Spirit of Spring Hill Award and the Ignatian Award, and he was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa national honor society for academics and service leadership. Lazarine also conducted confirmation and CYO retreats for local high school students in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida through a program called “Taking Action for the Greater Glory of God” or TAG3.
Building a flock
After a few years in the workforce, he returned to the University of New Orleans to earn an MBA while working in the Student Involvement and Leadership Office on campus. The contacts he made in the Student Involvement Office have helped him gain inroads to a student base as campus minister.
“The largest difference is that UNO is a largely commuter university versus Spring Hill, where most students live on campus,” Lazarine said. “For them to give up a Saturday to come to an event is challenging.”
Lazarine said he’s very hands-on as campus minister, going to the University Center at least once daily to talk to students he knows and cultivate new relationships with those he doesn’t know.
“Creating that student connection and meeting their friends who invite others to come to events make it more likely they will come,” he said. “My goal is to get more persons in the seats (at daily Mass).” Currently, about 10 to 15 students attend daily Mass. More come on Sundays and on holy days and feast days.
He oversees the Catholic Privateers student organization and is planning to establish a retreat for students during exams and participate in the Martin Luther King Service Day in January sponsored by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“It will be nice to work with them and let students see other like-minded university students,” Lazarine said.
He plans to continue collaborating with other on-campus ministries and work their events, instead of trying to compete. One such example was working with Student Leadership on a drive to help victims in Haiti.
“I know the importance of partnering with other organizations,” he said. “They are looking for members. We are looking for activities.”
Lazarine said he’s always available to students, especially when they need him. He is grateful to Father Paul Desrosiers, pastor of Transfiguration of the Lord Parish under whose jurisdiction the Newman Center falls, for allowing him the freedom to structure his day to best help students.
Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates its weekend liturgies at the former St. Raphael Church at the corner of Elysian Fields and Prentiss avenues, a few blocks from UNO.
“Chris was highly recommended for his strong background in spirituality and a person who fit in with students very well,” Father Desrosiers said. “When I met him, I saw a welcoming person in his job at Student Affairs, and I found him committed to the church and spirituality.”
The Newman Center celebrates Mass Monday through Thursday at noon and on Sundays at 6 p.m. It’s “Mass and Munch” on Wednesdays with food following the noon Mass, and on the last Thursday of the month, it’s Newman Night with prayer and fellowship between 5 to 5:30 p.m. Lazarine wants to live stream Masses on crowded days so the overflow crowd in Msgr. Thomas Dowling Hall can more fully participate.
Game nights are also held for students to hang out at the Newman Center and get to know one another and more evening events are planned for spring.
“I’m really trying to help students develop their faith. That’s my calling every day,” Lazarine said. “I want them to feel welcome here, so I’m trying to find simple ways to reach more students.”
To reach Lazarine or find out more about the activities at the Newman Center, call 288-6336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.