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The odd one out: Catholic at Bethel

Bethel’s Catholic Student Association provides a space for students like Jill Herman and Anna Heebsh to embrace their faith.

By Molly Wilson

Jill Herman watched silently as everyone around her walked to the front of Benson Great Hall to receive communion during Koinonia her freshman year in 2019. Planted in her seat, she already felt like the odd one out. 

Her floormates looked back at her and whispered, asking why she wasn’t coming. They were concerned– she could tell. They cared about her faith even after a few days of knowing her. Herman explained that because a Roman Catholic priest hadn’t consecrated this communion, she couldn’t take it. Some of her floormates were telling her that she could break the rules this time, but it just didn’t feel right. 

Now a junior communications studies and political science double major, Herman is President of the Catholic Student Association at Bethel. In January 2020 she walked into a meeting not knowing what to expect. Even though everything quickly went online as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Herman had found a place where she fit in. Upon Herman’s return to campus her sophomore year, she applied for a leadership position. At the end of that year, the president was set to graduate, and within minutes, her name was thrown into the hat as a replacement. 

“I was baptized Catholic as an infant,” Herman said. “I think, for me, really what brought me into the faith was going to Catholic school as a kid.” 

She remembers sitting in her classroom learning prayers like the “Hail Mary” and going home excited to show her parents what she had learned. By her junior year of high school, that excitement had worn off and she was at her lowest point spiritually. 

“God’s like, ‘You’ve got to come back. Come see me, come home,’ and I think, ever since junior year, I’m here, I’m back. Jesus brought me back and I’m ready to serve him again,” Herman said. 

She felt God calling her to Bethel. 

“[It was important], going to a Christian college that I truly do believe exhibits teaching the Christian lifestyle, having students actually live that Christian lifestyle,” Herman said.

Sophomore computer science major Anna Heebsh has been attending the same small parish her entire life and has found a deep connection there, even though it isn’t quite “traditional.”

On special occasions, sophomore Anna Heebsh wears a necklace depicting Saint Cecilia, whom she named herself after during confirmation. She is a computer science major at Bethel. | Photo by Jane You

“We kind of pick and choose what parts of the liturgy we want to celebrate in a more modern way and which ones we prefer to not,” Heebsh said.  

With a strong sense for social justice, community and engaging with different age groups, Heebsh has found her place both singing in the choir and being a Eucharistic minister, something her Catholic high school required. 

In elementary school classes Herman learned about MR. BEACH, an abbreviation for the seven sacraments: marriage, reconciliation, baptism, Eucharist, anointing of the sick, confirmation and holy orders. 

Also known as Holy Communion, the Eucharist is the act of taking bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe that when the priest consecrates the elements they turn to Jesus’ body and blood. The Eucharist is taken every Sunday at Mass, and the first time it is taken is an important step in faith.

Herman recalls walking down the aisle of her church, ready to join the Catholic Church of her own accord through the sacrament of confirmation several years after her First Communion. Her aunt, Jackie Brandeen, awaited her, placing a hand on Herman’s shoulder. The Archbishop drew a cross of oil on Herman’s forehead and gave her the name Therese, after the saint she had chosen for herself.

In Catholicism, there are prayers that are important and can be spoken before or after prayer including the “All Glory,” “Our Father” and “Hail Mary.” The prayers are represented by beads on a rosary and are intended for certain situations or to open or close a time of prayer along with crossing yourself. 

Jill Herman, president of the Catholic Student Association, is a junior communication studies and political science double major. Herman carries her rosary (pictured) everywhere she goes. A rosary is commonly used for prayer in Catholicism. | Photo by Jane You

It is also common to pray for intercession through the saints. This is not seen as an act of worship. It is a way for Catholics to know their plights will be heard and advocated for. 

Bethel’s Catholic Student Association is a place for students to come together and learn more about the Catholic faith and connect with each other. All are welcome to come to the meetings on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. or attend events on Fridays like observing God’s creation at the Como Zoo. The group also attends Mass and confession together on a regular basis. 

In Humanities II, Heebsh learned about the varying Protestant interpretations of biblical issues because her classmates and professors were willing to talk about the issues with a more relaxed approach. She took the opportunity to solidify her own beliefs, and she believes Protestants can learn a lot from the respect Catholicism holds for the liturgy. 

“There’s definitely a strong tradition of Catholic mysticism, but with Protestants, it’s a lot more in your everyday music and the way that you dress. When I got to Bethel, something I noticed was everyone’s Jesus t-shirts, and that kind of caught me off guard,” Heebsh said.  

Herman sees a big difference between worship at Bethel compared to the Catholic communities she grew up in. She thinks Protestants should take the opportunity to go to Mass sometime. 

“I would tell someone if they’re not Catholic to go to Mass at the cathedral because it’s this beautiful space to worship,” Herman said. “You’re in there and you just feel like you’re in the house of God, this beautiful sanctuary that was built just for him.”

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