Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? What’s my purpose? These are the kinds of questions Ohio Northern chaplain David MacDonald hears from students he counsels––from Christians to Muslims to Jews to agnostics. MacDonald is passionate about campus ministry in all its colors and kinds, compelling the Methodist elder to write his recent book “Benedict on Campus” about Catholic traditions.
“Benedict on Campus” provides a tool kit founded in ancient Benedictine practices for those in collegiate ministry. MacDonald believes there are spiritual holes at other campuses these practices could fill. Not surprising for a campus chaplain, his explanations on how to do so are founded in his work here at ONU. His time leading trips for the ONU Habitat for Humanity chapter models service; his weekly counseling meetings with students demonstrates spiritual direction.
This book isn’t the first way MacDonald has found and filled the needs of college students.
In his second year at ONU, the chaplain helped start the religious organization Merge. “I was listen-
ing and talking with people who were saying they were wanting something that was really deep,” MacDonald said. “There was nothing really on campus that was helping people to really express
those frustrations and doubts with their faiths.”
Merge has developed over the last five years into a source of fellowship, prayer, and creative expression for a handful of students. And the chaplain continues to meet with them weekly to stir these concepts into actions. Fifth year pharmacy student Abby Beadle joined the organization as a freshman and attests to the impact it has had on her since then.
“It’s helped me become closer to God and change the way I look at my faith,” she said. “It’s not only a place where you can grow but somewhere that you can build relationships. I will always be grateful for David and what he has done on this campus.”
Of course, frustrations and doubts can be felt by anyone of any faith tradition or lack thereof.MacDonald reassures he is determined to be more than a resource for just Christian students.
“I’m the chaplain for everyone. I’m the university chaplain; I’m not the Christian chaplain,” he confirmed. “My role is to facilitate people’s spiritual growth on campus no matter what their spiritual tradition is. That includes even people who don’t claim a specific faith tradition.”
To fill the needs of more than just Christians, MacDonald closely works alongside ONU’s Office of Multicultural Development which houses student organizations like the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Open Doors, and the World Student Organization (WSO). These groups often times include individuals with varying cultural backgrounds and world-views, creating diverse spiritual needs as well.
MacDonald is currently working with the Office of Multicultural Development’s International Services Coordinator, Omega Hollies, to create an Interfaith Leaders Program here on campus. The two faculty members recently received a grant from Interfaith Youth Core to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to create an environment of interfaith cooperation here on campus. This group of student leaders had its first meeting in mid-September and will continue their work throughout the 2018-19 school year.
To MacDonald, an interfaith program fits perfectly into the ONU campus, and writing Benedict on Campus helped him realize that. “I think what it’s made me realize is the appreciation I have for the openness that our campus has to things like this,” he said.
“Our campus is a great place for people to explore their faith. It’s something that’s actually just part of our DNA as a university. That’s helped me to see my role as being much broader than it could have been.”
MacDonald hopes to continue serving all students as the university chaplain. While it may not inspire him to write another book on pages and in binding, history tells us we will still see the benefits of his work on campus and in student spirituality.