By Anand Venigalla
Govinda Willard took over as the part-time Catholic campus minister in the beginning of the spring semester, replacing Felicia Viscusi, who was the campus minister from September to December 2018. Viscusi left the university to be the full-time minister at Stony Brook, where Willard just left. The Campus Ministry is a part of the Diocese of Rockville Center, along with Adelphi, Hofstra, and Stony Brook universities.
Father Michael Duffy is the current part-time chaplain of the ministry, which has been on campus for decades. He replaced the previous chaplain, Father Ted, in September 2017.
During Viscusi’s brief time as campus minister, the ministry had daily meetings for prayer, fellowship, and reflection. There was rosary, a women’s group, and Bible study. “There were also opportunities to meet with college Catholics from different universities through various intercampus events. Service opportunities, a fall retreat, and an international mission trip to the Dominican Republic during winter break were all available to the students as well,” Viscusi said.
Willard, who came from Stony Brook University, where she was campus minister and music director from September 2018 until this semester, said her role has three parts. First, she is “a support and a guide for students who are interested in exploring their faith or growing in their faith.” Second she will “cultivate a community within the university where students can meet and perhaps grow in friendship with other students who want to explore their faith, and grow in their relationship with God.” Third, she will “create events where students can come and explore their faith, like opportunities for prayer, or studying the Bible, or having women’s and men’s groups.” She will also plan service trips, social work, mission trips, and retreats.
“My main goal is to create a Christ-centered community, a community of students that can find friendships and share values as well as to help students find the great joy and strength that comes from having a relationship with their Creator,” Willard said.
While Father Duffy provides the sacramental needs for the ministry, Willard will run the other activities, but says there will be some overlap.
Willard has great hopes that the Catholic ministry will be deeply powerful on the campus. “[T]he power of God is infinite,” Willard noted. “[W]hen the students and God show up, amazing things happen. I consider my role as evangelization through hospitality and friendship.” The Catholic campus ministry is larger than the student-run Newman Club, and it is through the ministry that the Mass and the sacraments are administered.
Willard’s personal faith story allows her to relate to other college students. She became a practicing Catholic when she was 18-years-old. “I was not very interested in my faith, growing up, all throughout high school. I was going to classes and parties, and everything began to feel really empty, and I said to my mom one day, ‘I think I need to get more spiritual,’ and she said, ‘OK. I’m going to take you on a pilgrimage.’”
Through prayer, mass attendance, and fasting, Willard started to feel the presence of God and of His existence.
This reality helped her to find God in a particular moment of crisis in her life. “Things have culminated in my life as I got back home. I haven’t changed much, but I have found myself in a difficult circumstance, and in that moment I prayed the Our Father prayer, and that’s something I wouldn’t have done had I not gone on that trip and prayed that prayer so many times,” she said. “Saying that prayer in a time of [personal] crisis was a turning point.”
Willard also saw opportunities for her to work in music during her late teenage years. She played the flute with various jam bands and “sat in” with bands and artists such as Moe, the Disco Biscuits, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. ”It was a very exciting and adventurous time, and I knew it was God’s hand, because there were doors opening that were completely miraculous,” she said. “Performing in the music industry is extremely competitive and it’s not that many opportunities for this particular genre of music, and through that whole time I noticed that the part that I found most fulfilling was watching God’s hand open doors and having adventures with God. The music was secondary.”
A turning point for Willard was her calling to ministry work. “I felt called to a greater mission. I had seen what all these tremendous tools or gifts that we have in the Catholic church that had helped me grow stronger and had inspired me and energized and animated me to so much joy and fulfillment, that I really felt called to help share in the mission of the catholic church.”
She wanted other people, particularly young people who are the age she was when she had her conversion, to be able to experience what is out there. Willard volunteered in 2015 at Saint Anthony of Padua in East Northport as a catechist for eighth graders, allowing her to share her faith, provide counsel, and coordinate vacation Bible camps.
“After I had all this experience in volunteering, I saw a position open at LIU Post, and I felt drawn to the role. This is it this is what I [was] created for, I felt, to help students find their way to happiness and fulfillment.”
The campus ministry has about 20 active students who attend Sunday masses.
Viscusi, who moved to a full-time position at Stony Brook, has a high estimation of Willard. “Govinda radiates the joy and love of Christ in all that she does. Her trust in the Lord and her passion for the faith will be huge assets to the community. Her knowledge and love of Scripture in particular is something that will help the students to thrive in their faith and their personal relationship with Christ, and help them to better be able to hear the voice of God in their own lives.”
Jack Tomlinson, a first-year physical and health education student, views Willard as a blessing to the community. “She is an extremely nice and caring lady. You could tell that just by having one conversation with her,” Tomlin- son said. “As far as being a campus minister, so far she’s been extremely active.” Willard has planned several events for community service such as a trip to a soup kitchen and a day-long prayer retreat in Huntington. During a recent Sunday Mass, the musician was unable to be there, so Willard stepped in and played the guitar and sang. “It shows that she wants to be involved and not just be there,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson sees Willard’s presence as one that “promotes a vibe of happiness and a feeling of purpose and a desire to help others.”
Michaela Fox, a junior musical theater student, also has positive words to say about Willard. “She’s very sweet, and she’s ready to take on whatever is given to her. She has multiple talents; she’s musically talented, and very faithful, and devoted to the faith, and I think that’s exactly what we need in a campus minister,” Fox said. “You can tell [with] everything that she does, she does with God in her heart and in her mind, and that is what we need here on campus.” Fox sees Willard as someone who will bring a further emphasize missionary work to the campus ministry. “She’s very open-minded and she has a lot of plans,” Fox said.
Willard said her purpose is to be like Jesus and to dwell in love. “My job is to pray and be filled with the love of God, and to pour God’s love through myself and my life into the world and to give God’s love to others.”