Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

St. Francis turns to social media to reach students

Susan Nelms, 61, said she has around 2,500 friends on Facebook, and nearly 2,000 of them are college students.

Nelms, a longtime campus minister for St. Francis University Parish, will be retiring in May from her position. As campus minister, she is in charge of all student-related activities at the church. These activities include the weekly Mass and Meal, worship nights and the SEARCH retreats that happen once a semester.

(See also “Presence on social media balancing act for students“)

Nelms said she deals with a lot working on a college campus, but she would not have it any other way. She worked for 19 years as a youth director at St. James Church in Gadsden, Ala., where she led middle and high school students. She said she was nervous about taking a job on a college campus when she moved to Tuscaloosa with her husband.

“I was terrified because I had never worked with anyone older than high school students,” she said.

Having now spent six years at Alabama, she said her mentality has changed for the better.

“I would work with college students any day over high school or middle school kids,” she said.

Nelms said she works hard to make sure she has students to work with each year. One of her responsibilities is to recruit new Catholic students at the University to join the church. She goes about this multiple ways, including sending friend requests to the new students on Facebook.

“She uses social media a lot to get in touch with all of our students, so that has been very effective in getting the number of students up,” Father Gerald Holloway of St. Francis said.

(See also “Study finds religion more important in the South“)

The church’s most successful recruiting aspect, Helms said, is being involved with Campus Ministries at the University. This connection allows for the church to be represented at orientation and Bama Bound where the most interest in joining is shown.

Once St. Francis has its students, Nelms makes it her job to make sure that they stay there. One of the church’s most popular events is Mass and Meal on Tuesday evenings. The night includes a Mass by Father Holloway and a free dinner afterward, cooked by Nelms or a guest chef. There is usually a fair crowd, Nelms said, which she believes is partly because of the meal that comes with attendance.

“If you have decent food, people will come,” she said.

Nelms said she is especially sentimental this semester, as she will be retiring at the end of May. One aspect she said she will miss will be coming to work on a college campus, which she said is “exhilarating.”

Going to church on such a prominent football campus has its perks too, she said.

“It is exciting seeing Coach Saban at Mass,” she said.

Holloway said he knows that the church will be losing a valuable employee, but he has hope for the future.

“We’ll miss her,” he said. “But through the Holy Spirit we will continue to build.”

(See also “Pope Francis, nontraditional stances may preserve Catholic Church’s future“)

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