Bahai News -- At Aquinas, statistics defy reality Thursday, November 21, 2002

At Aquinas, statistics defy reality

by Elizabeth Gibson

Dan GotkinThe Dartmouth Staff
Despite a decline in the number of incoming students identifying as Catholic, the Aquinas House chapel remains as busy as ever.
Fewer Catholic '04s, '05s and '06s submitted optional religious affiliation forms than did students from previous classes, but campus religious leaders said that Catholic activity on campus is still strong.

Religious affiliation forms are mailed to students after their admission to the College, and a student may use these forms to indicate interest in a campus religious organization.

When a student returns the form, his or her name is sent to the religious groups on campus. That way, the groups have a list of contacts when freshmen arrive on campus.

Generally the Aquinas House, the Catholic Center on campus, receives 230 to 250 forms per year from Catholic students.

The number received from the Class of 2004 dropped to about 175 students, and hovered between 175 to 185 for the classes of 2005 and 2006.

Though the decrease might suggest a decrease in the number of practicing Catholics on campus, "I think the opposite is true," said Father Brendan Buckley, a Roman Catholic Priest at Dartmouth.

The forms are useful because they allow students to learn about religious groups that they are unfamiliar with or interested in joining, said Patricia Fisken, a Bahai religious leader on campus.

Students and religious leaders said that although the forms are helpful in allowing students to get information from religious organizations, the choices students make on the forms do not correspond to their participation in religious groups at Dartmouth.

A surprisingly large number of Catholics are active on campus, particularly the underclass students, Buckley said.

The Sunday mass before the matriculation of the '06s was filled with interested students, so much so that there was standing room only available, Buckley said.

This trend is not unique to Catholics at Dartmouth.

Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Duke University Joseph Vetter also said that there are many more students on campus than the numbers identified by forms.

"I would think there are actually twice as many Catholics" as the number who identified themselves as Catholics using the affiliation forms at Duke, Vetter said.

The affiliation forms' usefulness as an indicator of faith appears dubious. While some active religious students did not fill out the form, others who did fill out the form do not participate in formal services.

"We get more names than participants," said Rev. Sandy Hale, the Baptist campus minister.

"I have no idea why the forms aren't being returned," said Jill Haltigan '03, vice president of the Pastoral Council, which coordinates social and religious activities in the Catholic community.

Neither Haltigan nor Pastor Council Secretary Chris Ryan '04 has received any concerns from Catholic students that might explain the lack of forms, they said.

©Copyright 2002, The Dartmouth (NH, USA)

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