New Pastoral Manager at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) Chaplaincy, Shannon Campbell is rooted in both Catholicism and ecumenism. Having attended QUB to study post-primary education and having been actively involved in the chaplaincy’s pastoral team during her years there, time has shown Shannon its circular face.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic, she attributed her even footing to a home which was “a happy place” and described how it inspired her to share what she has in her Faith with others.
“Dad is Catholic and mum is Anglican so we were fortunate to have these two Christian traditions enrich our faith experience growing up. This was particularly important in our Northern Irish context where local communities can be sometimes preoccupied with difference, especially in matters of faithand belief,” she says.
While her relationship with Jesus was nurtured at home, she drew deeply from the communities surrounding her, particularly in school, among her peers. Having attended St Catherine’s College in Armagh, she found “a lively faith was passed on there by teachers who had a sense of Christian vocation and who were committed to forming us as well-rounded women capable of making positive contributions to our local communities and wider society.”
Her first experience of chaplaincy came by way of the school’s lay chaplain, Matthew McFadden, “who provided pastoral and spiritual opportunities and encouraged us to participate in parish-based faith initiatives.” This exhortation to local ministry would stay and grow with Shannon.
She enjoyed the sense of community early on through the youth group ‘Shyne’ in Drumcree Parish.
“Weekly faith gatherings in an atmosphere of faith and friendship helped me develop as a young confident Catholic committed to service,” she tells. Later on, it was the Michaela Foundation in which she found her home, which “promotes values which encourage young people, especially young women, to succeed in life with faith, confidence and fun as their foundation.”
Well-equipped by these youthful experiences, she describes her choice to do teaching in university as a “natural progression.” During her time in QUB, she was actively involved in the university chaplaincy, “serving latterly as a member of its pastoral team,” the team she now finds herself helming.
“The chaplaincy is a vibrant, Christ-centred community of faith and friendship at the heart of campus. During my undergraduate studies, I experienced it as a safe space and nurturing presence where I felt welcome, listened-to, valued and supported. I was encouraged to grow in openness to others and learn respect for my peers who were on faith journeys different to my own. The opportunities chaplaincy provided for togetherness and recreation helped me develop deep and lasting friendships, a sense of common purpose and a desire to serve,” Shannon relates.
She continues: “After graduation, I felt I had more to give to this important ministry. When Ciaran Bagchus, the pastoral manager at chaplaincy, left to pursue studies for priesthood with Down and Connor Diocese, I jumped at the opportunity to serve in this leadership role and took up position this autumn.”
A young woman not long departed from the undergraduate scene herself, Shannon is aware of the transitional limbo many students find themselves in.
“I know from my work with youth and my experience of teaching in the post-primary sector that transitioning to third level is an exciting and transformative time for most young people, when they experience new possibilities. They learn much about the academic discipline they have chosen and even more about themselves, others, and life in general,” she explains.
“Whilst it is a time of growth and self-discovery, it is not without challenge. Students experience unexpected anxieties and vulnerabilities which they don’t necessarily have the capacity to resolve on their own. The pastoral care chaplaincy provides can mean the difference between a student seeing through their course with confidence or feeling they have no option but to drop out.
“Students who are vulnerable, facing mental-health and wellbeing issues, or estranged from family, benefit from our support, as do part-time and mature students, especially those who are care-givers,” she says.
Shannon has not left the days of study behind her, however, which further qualifies her to cater to the various needs students might have as they grapple with the often daunting challenge university life presents.
“Alongside campus ministry, I am reading for an MPhil in theology at the Loyola Institute at Trinity College. I feel it is important to grow as a reflective thinker who engages with questions of faith in a critical, reasoned way,” she explains.
“Not only is this essential for my own personal faith development, but will enhance the service I give to the university community. The pastoral care chaplaincy provides is about more than just helping with an immediate personal crisis. We seek to introduce students to a rich Catholic, intellectual and cultural heritage. We support them to explore the wider world, and consider how they will contribute to it and shape its values and character.”
As disruptive in this sphere as it has been in all others, the Covid-19 pandemic has done little to waylay the chaplaincy’s efforts to provide for those in need.
“Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has introduced new uncertainties and changed the shape of student life and young adult ministry, I am excited about the future. Chaplaincy is approaching its 50th anniversary…I am working alongside our Chaplain, Fr Dominic McGrattan, to deliver a responsive, dynamic and imaginative vision for chaplaincy. This includes goals like strategic outreach, life-long learning and financial sustainability. We are confident this will put us on a sure footing for the next 50 years and make us well-placed to provide for the faith and pastoral needs of current and future generations of students.”