New full-time chaplain, new location breathe life into Detroit campus ministry

Fr. Matthew Hood talks with Wayne State University students after Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Detroit on Sept. 12. The Midtown church serves as a meeting space for the newly unified Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, which rebranded this year to serve all college students in the area. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic) 

Our Lady of the Rosary’s former convent serving as home base for ministry that’s in ‘rebuild mode’ after a year spent remote

DETROIT  With more students back to in-person classes, college is starting to feel more normal in Metro Detroit. 

At Wayne State University in Detroit’s Midtown, that includes the Catholic campus ministry, which is beginning the academic year with signs of hope, including a new location, a new website and a new priest. 

The Catholic campus ministry at the university, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Detroit, is making changes to broaden its reach and become a hub for Catholic college students across the region. 

For one thing, the Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry office moved this summer from the seventh floor of the Wayne State University Student Center to nearby Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Woodward Avenue. The center’s location is part of a move to make campus ministry accessible not only to Wayne State students, but students at surrounding colleges in the area, primarily Wayne County Community College and the College for Creative Studies. 

“Wayne State’s campus was cracking down on a lot of stuff — primarily having students from other colleges on campus for events — and we wanted to reach out to more of the surrounding colleges,” said Blake Smith, a senior electrical engineering student at Wayne State who serves as president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry

Blake Smith, president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry and a senior at Wayne State University, mans a root beer keg during a social event on the grounds of Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Smith said this is a year of transition for Catholic campus ministry, which is no longer headquartered at the Wayne State Student Center, but instead on the church’s grounds.

Moving the campus ministry student center to the former Our Lady of the Rosary convent is part of an effort to create student centers as “open houses” for Catholic college students to come to pray, study, socialize or just relax around like-minded students. 

“This is really a year of building; that’s the theme of the year,” said Fr. Matthew Hood, installed July 1 as Catholic campus ministry chaplain for Wayne State and the surrounding colleges. 

Fr. Hood is the first archdiocesan priest to be assigned as a full-time chaplain to Catholic college students — at least in several years. Priests from the Companions of the Cross religious community previously ministered at Wayne State, but Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s decision to designate a full-time diocesan priest isn’t lost on Fr. Hood. 

“Over the past year, it’s been difficult to have campus ministry after there wasn’t a whole lot of events on campus. Before I came here, there was no in-person learning. So, this year, what I’m mostly working on is trying to build a community to work to reach out and evangelize college students,” said Fr. Hood, who previously ministered at St. Lawrence Parish in Utica. 

The unified Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry is currently operating out of two locations: the center at Our Lady of the Rosary and the Gabriel Richard Newman Center next to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, which also serves students at nearby Schoolcraft College and Henry Ford Community College. 

The effort has been bolstered by the presence of FOCUS — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — which sent missionaries to Wayne State last year. The vibrant campus ministry apostolate, which has more than 800 missionaries serving on more than 170 campuses nationwide, was vital in helping ministry efforts stay active during last year’s pandemic-induced shutdowns.

“FOCUS has had a tremendous impact on our community,” said Lucy Bemiss, a senior at Wayne State and vice president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry. “At the beginning of COVID, we lost our two full-time chaplains when they were relocated. Our chaplains really did everything from marketing to evangelization on campus; it was never a student-run organization. 

“When FOCUS came in, with Blake and I on board, they were incredible with putting our community back together with what was left of ministry during the (pandemic),” Bemiss added. “From there, they really cemented relationships and formed a community we can continue to build.” 

The rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary now serves as a student center for Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry. The center is open five days a week and intended to be a place of prayer, study, recreation and socialization for Catholic college students from Wayne State, the College of Creative Studies, Wayne Country Community College District and other institutions. 

With students finally back on campus for classes and activities, many are looking for more person-to-person contact after a year of remote classes and now-tiresome “Zoom happy hours,” Smith said.

“It’s been so good to have in-person classes and stuff like that,” Smith said. “As a Catholic group, we went to the Wayne State student organization fair, and everyone was there. It’s great for our organization to get our name out there, to meet students who haven’t connected with us yet or who are looking to reconnect after a year of being distant.” 

Getting back to the basics with regularly scheduled Masses, confession times, Bible studies, adoration opportunities and fellowship is really the goal for the rebuilding ministry, Fr. Hood said. Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry also has a new website and Instagram account where events and liturgies are posted.

“One of the first priorities is trying to make sure both student centers are open as much as possible (Wayne State’s is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; while UM-Dearborn’s is open Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.),” Fr. Hood said. “We want students throughout the day who are looking for a home base on campus to stop by and meet other students who are seeking to grow closer to the Lord.”

Fr. Matthew Hood, in his first year as full-time chaplain for Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, said having a robust, unified campus ministry is crucial to helping Catholic college students find fellowship and a place to grow in faith during their first years away from home. 

Fr. Hood participated in student fairs at Wayne State and UM-Dearborn, working to re-establish campus ministry at both schools and be available for students with questions about campus ministry or the faith in general. 

“We reached out to a good number of students at the fair, informing people about the changes,” Fr. Hood said. “The goal is to be present on campus as much as possible because that’s where the students are.” 

An effective campus ministry is critical to the Church’s missionary evangelization efforts, Bemiss said. 

“I think this is the perfect time to recruit young adults in one of the most crucial formation moments of their lives,” Bemiss said. “This is a time when students are either falling away from the Catholic Church or growing in it. And they need supportive communities, resources to grow in the faith.” 

Away from their parents and home for the first time, college is often the first chance for many students to find themselves and who they are, Fr. Hood said.

Catholic college students socialize during a “root beer kegger” at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Detroit on Sept. 12. Blake Smith, president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, said face-to-face events are critical this year after last year was filled with online classes and remote happy hours. 

“College students are at a point in their lives where they are trying to figure out questions about their careers and make big life decisions,” Fr. Hood said. “They are asking deeper questions about their life — questions all of us have in the depths of our hearts, looking for truth, looking for answers. 

“Campus ministry, I think, can be an opportunity to meet students at that level who are looking for truth, looking for direction, so they might come to know Christ as the answer to those questions and grow in relationship with Him.” 

Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry

To learn more about Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, including Mass and confession times, Bible studies, social events and volunteer opportunities, visit