New priest heads Catholic Campus Ministry at BU
For Immediate Release
Date: August 31, 2006
BLOOMSBURG— The Rev. Don Cramer fills the conversation with the joy of a man doing exactly what he wants to do: serving as a Catholic priest on a college campus.
Over the summer months, Cramer has been working diligently on two seemingly opposing tasks. In the town of Bloomsburg, he’s organized a makeover of the Catholic Campus Ministry House—once again known as the Newman House—on College Hill. But, with this assignment from the Harrisburg Diocese, he is also the pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Benton. It’s his first parish and with it comes all the administrative and pastoral challenge that goes with a small church in a sprawling diocese.
New to CCM and eager to work with Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania students, Cramer proclaims himself “a freshman” and looks forward to building on a tradition of service at one of only three college programs in the diocese that have their own buildings.
“I’m half-Italian,” Cramer said, “and with that comes a very strong sense of family.” He sees CCM as a place where students are welcomed as family and the Newman House as a home away from home. It’s an extension of the Catholic tradition that the church itself is one large family.
With that philosophy in mind, all of the public areas in the 20-room brick building have been redecorated to make BU students feel comfortable and welcome. “This is not a house of ministry. It’s a home for students,” the Hershey native said.
CCM is not a parish in the conventional sense of the word, Cramer explained. There’s a small chapel to celebrate Mass, an office and spaces for counseling, but CCM is not designed to replace students’ home parish.
“This is a community of change, both geographical and personal,” he said. “Students are here for just a while.” But while they are at BU, they are making a transition from childhood to adulthood. With that transition comes maturity in abstract thought and interpretation, the sort of personal growth that raises many questions, offers new perspectives and can sometimes be disquieting, he said.
“So, it’s nice to be with a family who will help you,” he explained.
The Harrisburg Diocese is committed to providing Catholic students with a place to turn for fellowship and comfort, a place where they may raise the kinds of questions that they might not want to ask their families or their longtime parish priest, he said.
Cramer, who’s worked in college settings before—most recently at Dickinson College in Carlisle—is fully aware of the freedom of thought and ideas that can be found on university campuses. Defending doctrine can be a challenge in a hotbed of new ideas and open thinking, but Cramer is comfortable in his role as a representative of the Catholic Church.
His own college life was rich and exciting. While earning a degree in labor and industrial relations at Penn State, he served as president of the famous Blue Band and spent autumn Saturdays toting a tuba. He was active in fraternity life--says he thoroughly enjoyed it all--and then he got the call to the priesthood. After six years of seminary and five years as an ordained priest, he holds two bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. And he finds deep joy and satisfaction in his vocation. “Every night, I go to bed knowing that I made a difference,” he said, “sometimes in spite of myself.” He sees his role as very basic: “to bring God into the equation of life.”
Not surprisingly, he said, students’ questions are serious and deep. “They almost always start with ‘Why does the church say I have to....?’ And the answer is that the church doesn’t say you have to do anything. The church is here to help you find peace and hope.” So young adults finding their way into adult perspectives on faith are welcome to ask the hard questions and nothing is off limits, he said.
Cramer draws an analogy to a playground where children are free to try the varied recreational equipment in a safe environment. CCM, he said, is an intellectually and morally safe playground where ideas can be explored and a person can grow in the Catholic faith.
What he hopes to offer is the church’s view on issues to help individuals understand and grow. What he gets, he said, is joy in the company of those who journey with him in both life and faith.
Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 8,000 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Professional Studies, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.