Faith Seeking Understanding'<

'Faith Seeking Understanding'

Fr. Erps reflects on joys and sorrows of directing BC's Campus Ministry

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

The Christian intellectual tradition includes an ancient dictum that sums up the struggle students must face throughout the learning process: fides quaerens intellectum - "faith seeking understanding."

For Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ, the phrase was never more appropriate than last week.

With Holy Week approaching and a cadre of BC students preparing for a service trip to Mexico, Fr. Erps had plenty of obligations, including the task of overseeing Campus Ministry's daily responsibilities of providing pastoral care for BC's approximately 14,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

But with a single phone call at 3:30 a.m. on April 1, Fr. Erps found his attention suddenly refocused.

Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ, in his office with Michael Gewirtz, '01: "I am loving Boston College. There's a lot of energy here and our students have plenty of ideas and enthusiasm." (Photo by Justin Knight)

A popular sophomore named Brian Kielt had been killed by a hit-and-run driver earlier that morning, and as campus minister, and as a priest, it was Fr. Erps' responsibility to call the Kielt family and offer them his assistance.

"In all of my priestly life, that was the saddest thing I've ever had to do," said Fr. Erps, who was the principal celebrant at Kielt's funeral Mass in Wyckoff, NJ, on April 6 [see related story]. "It was then that I understood again why we have faith. In the midst of sadness, we can proclaim that it was not an end."

The week before, Fr. Erps, along with BC's 11 campus ministers, had helped students cope with the loss of another of their own. Ryan Farley, '03, who had waged a courageous fight against cancer, succumbed to the illness March 18.

As the University community grappled with the two tragedies, students held an impromptu service for Kielt on the Quad April 3. Later that night, hundreds packed St. Ignatius Church for a Mass said by University President Wiliam P. Leahy, SJ, in memory of Mr. Farley.

For Fr. Erps, who took the job as director of Campus Ministry last August, the year has been a period of learning and understanding even as he strives to keep his pastoral finger on the pulse of Boston College.

"I am loving Boston College," he said. "There's a lot of energy here and our students have plenty of ideas and enthusiasm."

Fr. Erps succeeded Rev. Richard Cleary, SJ, who served 11 years as University Chaplain.

Campus Ministry plays a large, sometimes unseen, role in the life of Boston College, and as its director Fr. Erps holds numerous responsibilities, from offering a place for a troubled student to find guidance to organizing retreats and service trips that span the hemisphere. He also takes part in University administrative and policy setting matters and, when the circumstances require it, must also serve as the "public face" of the University.

But for all its activities across the University and beyond, Fr. Erps says the Campus Ministry staff make every effort to stay attuned to the social pressures and academic-related stress many students experience.

Rev. James Erps, SJ, shown here with Danielle Cohen, '01, says that Campus Ministry's most important job is to "offer students a place to breathe."

"I've noticed that students here tend to be so busy," he said. "One thing that we do in Campus Ministry is offer students a place to breathe. I think that's our most important job."

A California native, Fr. Erps entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Santa Barbara in 1969 and was ordained to the Society of Jesus California Province in 1980.

"I almost went into the field of student affairs," said Fr. Erps. "But there was something about campus ministry that appealed to me."

Fr. Erps served as director of campus ministry at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, and as Newman chaplain and director of Catholic campus ministry at Stanford University. He also was a campus minister at Santa Clara University, and a teacher and counselor at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco.

His introduction to BC and the wider Boston community came in a unique fashion last fall with a cameo appearance on the NBC-TV drama "ER," where he played the part of a Catholic priest ministering to a couple whose baby is born prematurely.

Fr. Erps' appearance on "ER" stemmed from his friendship with Jack Orman, the show's executive producer. The two have been close since 1988, when Orman was a student at Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles, where Fr. Erps served as campus minister.

"The students absolutely loved my 'ER' appearance," said Fr. Erps, who has continued to work as a technical consultant on the show. "It made the introductions here a little easier. Most of the students already knew me as 'the ER priest.'"

But his Hollywood moment has in no way distracted Fr. Erps from his efforts to meet BC's pastoral and spiritual needs. He will continue helping Campus Ministry develop a heightened focus on the University's sacramental life to complement service and social justice programs that, he says, are outstanding.

"We do a number of things exceptionally well here," said Fr. Erps. "We just need to engage more students in more of our programs."


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