By: CJ Santosuosso SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Father Gerry Waterman knew the answer was going to be no. He arrived on campus last April prepared to say he would not be accepting the vacant Chaplain position at Syracuse.
Then he met with and went to mass with Chancellor Kent Syverud, and everything changed.
“The Chancellor, who I love to death, said to me, remember Father you’re here for a marathon, not a sprint,” said Waterman. It was clear Syverud wanted Waterman to lead the Catholic community on SU’s campus.
Waterman called Elon University home for 11 years, but after meeting with Syverud he knew he was going to have to brace himself for cold Syracuse winters.
Now Waterman finds himself in the middle of his long marathon. His goal is to bring change to the Catholic community on campus, which Waterman knows is a tall order.
31 percent of Syracuse students are Catholic. “When I say Catholic, I mean they’ve checked the box that says their Catholic,” said Waterman. A problem beyond the Hill, Catholic attendance in mass is decreasing, particularly when it comes to millennials.
Waterman wants to have a welcoming attitude within the Catholic community.
“My job here is to bring this community together,” said Waterman, “And I’m trying to do that by welcoming people.”
Waterman spoke about how the Catholic Center on campus had their own Wi-Fi separate from the school’s Wi-Fi. Waterman wants the Catholic Center to be a place where students can go and congregate and do work, but he saw the inconvenient Wi-Fi as a hindrance to that mission. He decided to reach out to somebody he thought could help with the matter.
Syverud understood Father Gerry’s concerns and now the Catholic Center has the same Wi-Fi that is available for all students on campus.
Waterman wants to be welcoming to all students, even those who aren’t Catholic. The Catholic Center has Thursday night dinners where people often bring guests, “Our Catholic friends are inviting their friends, and they aren’t all Catholic, so we are welcoming everyone.”
Waterman’s idea of welcome seems to stem from the individual. He is relying on one student at a time to help draw fellow students to mass.
“If I’m welcoming you and you feel you’re being nourished at mass with the homily, with the Eucharist, you might be willing to tell somebody else,” said Waterman. He wants one to one human contact to help build up and strengthen the Catholic community on campus.
With Holy Week upon the Catholic community, Father Gerry is looking beyond. Even with declining attendance numbers across the country, Waterman is confident change is coming.
“We are going to be the exception to that rule here on this campus,” said Waterman.
Time will tell if that claim will hold up, but with Waterman’s confidence and positive demeanor, Catholics in the SU community should be very excited for the future.