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‘Priest on duty’ ministers to Indiana University community

‘I really enjoy this time when I can meet new people and let them know that the St. Paul Catholic Center is a place the students can call a home away from home,’ Catholic priest says

A Catholic priest with the Dominican religious order ministers to the Indiana University community in a unique way.

Simon Felix Michalski, a Catholic priest with the Dominicans, serves as an associate pastor at the St. Paul Catholic Center. But he has been making himself available to the student body through his “Priest on Duty” ministry to offer prayer, the sacrament of Confession, and conversation – right in the middle of campus.

His fellow priest Patrick Hyde, posted a photo on Twitter of Michalski near his sign with the caption, “First day of school=First day of Fr. Simon spending time as a priest on duty on campus.”

“A prerequisite of evangelization: spending time where the people are. It’s easy to make ourselves busy with work in the office, but the work is out on campus,” he wrote in a follow-up tweet. “Who knows? Fr. Simon Felix may be the only reason someone thinks of God today and that’s worth it,” the director of the campus Catholic center tweeted.

The College Fix spoke with both Catholic priests via email about this ministry.

Michalski told The Fix that currently he is the only one on campus doing the “Priest on Duty” ministry, although all of the priests from the Newman Center minister to the campus in different ways.

His ministry began 10 years ago, when he was first assigned to the St. Paul Center.

“At the time, our campus ministry was at the beginning of a complete rebuilding process,” Hyde told The Fix. “In order to engage students and to witness to them, Fr. Simon Felix was inspired to go out on campus with a ‘Priest on Duty’ sign.”

“He sat near the student union (like in the picture) with a large sign and an empty chair as well as in the coffee shop in the union with a smaller sign,” Hyde said. “It was a simple effort to meet the students where they are, to let them know there are people who love them on campus, and to create opportunities to engage with and interact with students, faculty, and staff who may never step foot in our Newman Center.”

Michalski said the sign “invites people to interact with me if they choose, or ignore me if they prefer not to speak to me.”

“I want to show the IU community that we care about them and that we want to be connected to them in a prayerful and meaningful way,” he said. “I am there to listen and respond in a loving way with our Catholic Dominican tradition of sincere spiritual friendship. One of the mottos of the Order is: to praise, to bless, and to preach. This is the heart of what is happening in each encounter.”

The sign is not meant to attract Catholics only, however. People of all faiths and worldviews stop by to pray and talk.

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“I have met with people from all the major faith traditions as well as agnostics, atheists and of course Catholics,” Michalski told The Fix. “Sometimes, it is only a question as to how I see a theological issue, or sometimes it is a question of the spiritual life, and sometimes it has to do with relationships.”

“I always ask if I can pray with them and bless them,” he added.

When asked if he has faced any criticism for his ministry, Michalski responded that he has never received a “negative complaint” or “adverse comment.”

“In my experience so far, and in the past, it seems that people are delighted that I am there,” he said. “I get so many smiles, nods, hellos, and compliments. The sign generates a lot of good will.”

“I really enjoy this time when I can meet new people and let them know that the St. Paul Catholic Center is a place the students can call a home away from home,” he said. “I have met many sincere people who may just need a little encouragement, prayer, or blessing on this often difficult journey of life.”

“I hope I am a sign of God’s love for His people,” he said.

MORE: Bishop wants to see more priests come out of Ohio State University

IMAGE: Patrick Hyde/Twitter

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About the Author
Mary-Grace Byers -- Franciscan University of Steubenville