Fr. Thome new chaplain at St. Pius X but ready to provide a home away from home

Fr. Derek Thome, dressed in PSU Gorilla colors, stands in front of the St. Pius X Catholic Student Center in Pittsburg. (Photo courtesy Amy Lomshek)

It’s the first day of school, in a manner of speaking, for Fr. Derek Thome, the new chaplain of the recently renovated St. Pius X Catholic Student Center at Pittsburg State University.

“I’m green at this,” he said last week while taking a break on a retreat. “I haven’t experienced a school year here yet.”

Fr. Derek served at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish for two years and the Church of the Magdalen for two years before his move to Southeast Kansas.

“The Newman Center will continue to provide a home away from home for students, a place of encounter with other Catholic students, but an encounter with God first and foremost,” he said.

College was integral for Fr. Thome

His new assignment is of interest because college was an integral time of his life, Fr. Derek said, as it is for many people.

“One of my biggest desires (for the center) is to foster the spirit of accompaniment that Pope Francis has spoken to so much, and that is part of our natural desire – to find others to walk with us.”

College life comes with excitement and fears, he said.

“There are new friendships and relationships they’re experiencing. They’re delving into education on their own. And with that, pray God, they are pursuing the truth in new ways. And when I say new ways, I don’t mean ways they’ve never been exposed to, but a time in their lives where they’re having to approach it for the sake of answering a desire within them.”

College students away from mom and dad

College students are clearly no longer under their parents’ supervision, Fr. Derek said, and they may be tempted to stray even if they were well catechized in the faith. “Why? Because so often students regard religion as a subject they had in elementary and high school, such as chemistry and physics, and if they passed the tests but never fell in love with Christ, they may think: Why take that ‘class’ in college?” he said.

He said his last two assignments have formed him for his new duties. St. Thomas Aquinas taught him to preach the truth with great affection and Mary Magdalene taught him to seek to be healed and offer healing.

“And St. Pius X, I think, has two main themes of his pontificate: fostering greater zeal and affection for the Eucharist and combating modernism. I think where his pontificate reaches meets college students today, especially in this Year of the Eucharist, is sacrifice.”

They make sacrifices

College students embrace sacrifice more than they’ll admit, Fr. Derek said.

“The sacrifice may be social, or entertainment for the sake of an exam, or one group for another. If they can understand the nature of sacrifice, they’ll understand more fully the nature of worship, and that a sacrifice for the Lord yields a generous response on behalf of the Lord. It yields an encounter with him and it yields conversion.”

St. Pius X can be a powerful intercessor in the life of college students, he added.