New group forms at Viterbo University


Jo Kirscher took a risk when she started a Bible study last fall at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Jo is a sophomore nursing major who boldly invited her friends, nursing classmates and roommates to join her in a GIG, a “Group Investigating God.” “It’s a place where we encounter Jesus and talk openly about faith in our lives,” she said. “I was nervous at first, but it was worth the risk.”

Jo is passionate about what God is doing through this new group at Viterbo, a Catholic school. Her co-leader, Katie Dace, says that the best part of the group is the open discussion at each of the studies. “Every week, the passage we study relates to what is going on in our lives,” she said. “When someone in our group is touched by God’s truth, all of us gain a deeper understanding of the scripture.”

The group started last fall with six to eight students, mostly nursing students, who gathered each week to look into God’s Word and wrestle with who Jesus is. Because nursing is one of the most popular majors at Viterbo, Jo and Katie are seeing the strategic nature of being in this program.

Recently they met with InterVarsity staff Renee Lick who painted the vision of being a witnessing community within this population on campus. Renee is the student ministries director for Nurses Christian Fellowship. “Nursing students are exposed to injustice, suffering and many ethical questions as they serve in hospitals during clinical rotations.” Renee told them. “In order to be a nurse who can walk through these difficult situations with a patient, you need to first ask yourself difficult questions about life and death.”

Students like Jo and Katie can ask their classmates, “What gives you hope?” or “What is your purpose in life?” and then discuss their own journey. “This is vital,” said Renee, “because today’s nursing students might influence the lives of a thousand patients a year after they graduate.”

Renee and JoThis semester, Katie and Jo are excited about seeing new faces; the group has grown to more than a dozen students. “Bible study is a breath of fresh air,” said Briana Darcy. “I love talking about God and the way he works in each of our lives. It brings me back down to earth after all of the stresses of school.”

Ross Pirsig agrees. “Our Bible study is laid-back place to talk about God and the meaning of the Bible,” said Ross. “It’s so great to connect with friends and pray hard for one another and for the community.”

Solid foundations

For Jo and Katie, starting the group has stretched and improved their leadership skills. As freshmen, neither Jo nor Katie was involved in ministry-related activities on their campus. They met when they both attended an InterVarsity chapter meeting at nearby UW-La Crosse and were challenged to start a Bible study at Viterbo by Paul Hemenway, InterVarsity’s area director. “I’ve been praying for a group at Viterbo for ten years,” Paul said. “God is using Jo and Katie to help other students in their spiritual journeys.”

One of the foundations of the group’s success was building a relationship of respect with the Director of Campus Ministries, Father Tom. Before the group got started, Jo and Paul met with Father Tom to discuss partnering together in what God is doing on campus, not compete as a new ministry. “We shared a bigger vision for the spiritual development of students and he endorsed Jo’s Bible study,” Paul states. “His support has been great.”

Paul is thrilled to see how both Catholic and Protestant students are accepting each other’s faith traditions and learning from each other. “The Catholic students are responding to studying the Bible,” observes Paul, “and the evangelical students embrace what God is doing through the Catholic Church.” The Bible study breaks down some of the barriers that have traditionally separated them as they unite in following Jesus.

Jo and Katie agree. “It’s cool to see the interdenominational aspect come out in the discussions,” Jo said. “When we dig into the Bible passages, we realize the commonalities we share,” Katie adds.

Extending the mission

While studying servant leadership this year, they are looking for ways to serve their campus and community. One student gathered a group together to help serve food to those in need. The sponsoring home, Place of Grace, is a Catholic Worker House in the area. “It’s easy to serve off campus,” said Katie, “but we’re finding it challenging to find ways of serving on campus. We need to work on this.”

One nursing student who caught the vision is Bea Foley, a second year ROTC cadet. Her battalion includes students from four schools in the area. Bea and another cadet, Jonathan, asked their commanding officer for permission to start a Bible study within their battalion. The major approved and encouraged their idea. Bea and Jonathan started the “Valor” program this semester.

“The primary goal of our Valor Bible study is to show cadets the necessity of incorporating a spiritual life alongside their service in the military,” Bea states. Together they talk about the importance of a relationship with God when leading troops and accomplishing missions on the battlefield. “The values and ideas of living a Christian life and serving the military are very similar, making it very applicable to us,” she adds.

The ROTC Bible study provides a spiritual connection with other cadets. “I think the most influential part of the program is providing a chain of prayer and support for us,” Bea said.

For next year, Jo and Katie are casting a bigger vision for their group. Reaching out to new freshmen is a priority. Two of the guys have accepted leadership roles as co-leaders with Jo and Katie for two Bible studies. They’re asking others in the group to boldly step out in faith and take some risks for God.

Jo and Katie have already seen what God can do when students take risks for him.

Photo: Renee Lick and Jo Kirscher