by Elena Castello
The church was packed Jan. 29 when the Minnesotan priest began his talk. Instantly St. Augustine Church in Gainesville erupted into laughter as a crowd of students from Florida listened to Father Mike Schmitz. The event, called “Witnesses of Faith and Champions of Truth,” along with Friday Night Fever, left the University of Florida campus on fire for Christ.
“He’s relatable,” Natalie Molina, co-president of the Catholic Student Fellowship at UF, said of Father Mike. “He met them where they’re at and related to a college students’ understanding of the world,” she said.
He started off with “neurology for dummies,” telling the differences between men and women, and then moved on to the story of “The Fall.” Father Mike spoke about temptation in the garden and the role Adam and Eve played in early creation.
His talk moved the crowd. There was no denying the laughter that made the pews squeak in the sanctuary; but when things got more serious – there were tears.
Father Mike made it personal. He related the struggles that men and women feel in their hearts; the incompetence, the unworthiness and the shame – the same feelings felt by Adam and Eve.
The talk came back full circle to men and women as he challenged both genders to stand up for one another when the “lies” in society threaten to ruin the worth that is inherently in each one of us.
“Kill those lies,” Father Mike said.
“Whenever you see the crucifix, that’s your worth,” he said.
As the talk concluded, the applause roared.
Father Mike is a nationally known speaker and was featured at last year’s Eucharistic Congress in Jacksonville. He has podcasts, videos and recorded homilies that can be heard online.
Friday night was one of the biggest nights Catholic Gators had planned all year. The idea of bringing Father Mike to speak to students began last summer when the Catholic Gators staff met him at a training workshop at Ave Maria University.
The Catholic Student Fellowship, the student leaders who hosted Father Mike, advertised through social media and by word of mouth to invite people from campus and as far as Orlando and Jacksonville. Their aim is to offer large-scale events to students in an effort to evangelize and raise awareness of the faith. This movement spreads far beyond the walls of the church; in fact it is one that takes the Catholic Gators’ vision of “bringing Christ to the campus and the campus to Christ.”
Their work paid off. More than 350 people showed up for the hour-long talk, including many new faces.
“Father Mike’s talk was a new level for Catholic Gators,” said Chris Reuther, a student leader.
“This brought a lot of people into the community and proved to everyone that there’s a need and a desire for big-name speakers on a college campus.”
Bryan Cespedes a student at UF, who has heard Father Mike speak before, said this talk was even better because it was so personal.
“I think the night was really perfect,” Cespedes said. Adding because of Father Mike’s personal invitation, it brought people that probably wouldn’t be at church on a Friday night.
After the talk, people gathered in the courtyard, reflecting on Father Mike’s talk, while they waited for Night Fever to begin.
As students walked through the streets Friday night, student leaders handed them candles and invited them to pray inside the church. More than 400 candles were lit and the church saw its biggest “in-house” crowd. Kevin Gulig, one leader of Night Fever, credited the numbers to Father Mike’s talk.
Night Fever is an outreach ministry that begins with Mass at 9:30 p.m. and is followed by adoration, confession and music that continues until 1 a.m. With this being a Jubilee Year of Mercy, student leaders added a new element to their Friday evening program: a plenary indulgence.
Bishop Felipe Estévez designated St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center one of seven Jubilee Churches in the diocese for the Year of Mercy.
That means that following the usual requirements for receiving a plenary indulgence (complete detachment from sin (including venial), go to confession, receive the Holy Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the pope), as well as walking through the Holy Doors, eliminates the temporal punishment for sins committed. If detachment from sin is not sincere, then the indulgence is considered partial.
Reuther, who stayed until the end of Night Fever, saw the last person leave the confessional at 1 a.m. He told Reuther, “that [confession] was his greatest joy.”
“The students need the message of Christ,” Reuther said. “Big events like this allow us to reach both student leaders and new students in an impactful way.”