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How the National Black Catholic Congress inspired me as an HBCU campus minister

Preslaysa Williams, the new CCM director at Norfolk State and Hampton, explains how connecting with thousands of Black Catholics has inspired her work.

Norfolk State and Hampton University Catholic campus minister Preslaysa Williams, left, stands with Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond at the 2023 National Black Catholic Congress in Maryland. (nsuhamptoncatholics/Instagram)

In November 2022, I started going to weekly Adoration. By that time, I was already a daily Mass attendee, so adding in an hour a week with the Blessed Sacrament was the perfect way to deepen my devotion to the Eucharist.

Little did I know how those two habits combined would lead me on the path to becoming a campus minister at two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Hampton University and Norfolk State University.

Many told me about how hard it would be: about how I would have to restart the ministries from scratch, about how I would have to find students and build a community, and about how I’d have to navigate a myriad of obstacles and setbacks. All of that has proven to be true!

In many ways, I feel like St. John the Baptist in the wilderness. However, this wilderness experience has refined my soul and shown me the beauty of Black Catholic spirituality.

Six months into my new job, I attended the 2023 National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC). Even though I was a cradle Catholic, this was my first NBCC. My father, who is Black, isn’t a religious person, and so I inherited all of my Catholicism from my Filipino mother. Attending the NBCC gifted me with a large community of Black Catholics, and it reinvigorated my love for Black expressions of faith and community worship.

The NBCC did something more, too.

During the event, I attended three separate sessions on Catholic campus ministry at HBCUs, and I learned of one statistic that struck me: there are 107 HBCU campuses in the United States, and of those, only 11 have active Catholic campus ministries.

I was shocked! I started my job in January 2023. Prior to that date, only nine HBCUs had active Catholic campus ministries. If I hadn’t said yes to God during my weekly Adoration times, that number would’ve stayed as it was.

On top of that, many of the HBCU Catholic campus ministries have a stop-and-start history. They exist for a few years, and then they end for a myriad of reasons. As such, there often isn’t any generational momentum to continue to form HBCU Catholic students in their faith or consistent evangelization efforts to non-Catholic students at HBCUs.

As a result, many HBCU Catholic students stop practicing their faith or leave Catholicism altogether for another faith tradition or spirituality. Additionally, many non-Catholic HBCU students will never get to encounter a Catholic campus minister who could be the loving face of the Church in their lives—a loving face that could quite possibly save their life.

Attending the NBCC solidified my commitment to Catholic campus ministry at Hampton and Norfolk State. Yes, I have a very difficult road ahead, but l know that this path will continue to refine my soul. Hopefully, this ministry will also refine the souls of the HBCU students I encounter during the course of ministry.

The hope is that one day, I—along with my current and future Catholic campus ministry students—will hear the Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Because that’s what this is all about, anyway.


Preslaysa Williams is the Catholic campus minister at Hampton University and Norfolk State University. In addition to her ministry work, she’s a multi-published author and a college writing instructor. She can be reached by email at pwilliams(at)richmonddiocese(dot)org or on social media at @nsuhamptoncatholics (IG/FB) or @nsuhamptonccm (Twitter).



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