Kevin AHERN and Christopher Derige MALANO (Editors). God’s Quad, Small Faith Communities on Campus and Beyond. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018. Pp. 228. $20.00 pb ISBN 978-1-62698-287-1. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141.


              With summer on the not-too-distant horizon, this may be the ideal time for Campus Ministers to take a close look at this collection of essays. In Appendix 5, Ahern quotes Pope Francis, “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style, and methods of evangelization in their respective communities” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 33). The Pope recognizes the dead end of saying, “We’ve always done it this way.” The world keeps changing at a rapid pace and the proclamation of the Gospel can’t stand still.
On the one hand what each of the author’s present represents is something old – pre-Vatican II. Most all the chapters and the appendices focus on the insight of Cardinal Cardijn in the early 20th Century. In a ministry of “like to like” participants in small groups use a methodology of SEE – JUDGE – ACT. What is the reality of the present situation the individual finds him or herself to be in? What does the Word of God and the Catholic tradition have to say about the present situation? In light of the Word of God, what should the faithful disciple do?

              Cardijn first used this method when as a young priest he was given the responsibility to form a group for young women in his parish. Others picked up on the method and it became the organizing principle of university students, Catholic families, and other organizations. A bit ahead of his time, Cardijn recognized that baptismal grace calls everyone to holiness and ministry.

              After considering the diverse needs on today’s university campuses in light of Pope Francis’ call to “missionary discipleship,” Part Two of the text includes essays describing small Christian communities from a global perspective. Part Three gives examples from a variety of campuses in the United States. The authors bring their experience from state sponsored, private, and Catholic campuses. Besides the “See-Judge-Act” perspective, essays from the United States authors incorporate the Jesuit perspective of Boston College and the Catholic Relief Services model first established at Villanova University and now on over fifty campuses.

              The wide variety of groups, along with the editors’ encouragement, makes clear to campus ministry leadership that “one size does not fit all” – even on the same campus. While most all of the small communities make use of the Sunday Gospel as part of the weekly meeting, a single campus might have some single gender communities, some ethic communities, and some mixed gender communities. The text provides several helpful lists and examples to meet the needs of diverse students. As several authors note, leadership begins with listening – what do the students believe they need and want? Leadership then encourages leadership.

              Two fundamental dynamics suggest the “something new” for campus ministry. Cardijn’s “old method” moves beyond peer ministry or a student ministry team. The small groups, even with student leadership, engage all the participants to minister to each other, and together to minister to the wider community. Small Christian/Catholic Communities have the potential to help students “not just to go to church but to be church for one another” (p. 164). The second dynamic is the engagement of the communities in wider circles of action. Rather than having a service project that looks for volunteers, this method begins with the formation of a group which decides to act. The service arises from the faith experience. And the service comes as “church” not individual disciples.

              At first glance the casual reader might find a bit too much repetition. However, while bearing many similarities, the variety of campus ministry settings suggest the wide range of possibilities to structure small Christian/Catholic communities. Additionally, the careful reader can get a sense of the wide variety of students who may become involved.

Finally, the book offers something to a wider audience. One author recounts how students actively engaged with their faith on campus quite often have great difficulty connecting with a local parish. As one student noted, the local parishes “are geared toward parents with small children and senior citizens” (p. 163). Rather than trying to establish a “ministry to young adults” a local parish team might consider forming a small community for young adults. The wise local parish team might also consider a small community for young married people or any variety of groups. The “old” method really seems to have the potential to create again a “new” church.