Catholic Gators Blast Off for New School Year

By Dolores Hinckley

Every fall semester is a new beginning for students at the University of Florida, especially for first year Gators. The first week of classes is a daze of figuring out dorm life, finding classrooms, making friends and feeding oneself for the first time, all while hoping no one will see them surreptitiously pull up a Google Map to the nearest dining hall.

Even with these new students’ noses buried deep in Google Maps, the Catholic Gators hope these fresh faces find their way to the St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center, an unmissable sight of stone right across from campus, in time for Blast Off Week Aug 20-27.

Every year, Catholic Gators kick off the new school year with a week’s worth of welcoming events hosted every day by different Catholic Gator clubs to show students all the church has to offer. The first being a Mass celebrated by Bishop Felipe Estévez, a new experience for many students on Sunday before classes begin.

For some returning Gators organizing BOW helps set the course for freshman and their college experience.

“It’s such an important week because these newcomers get to witness how large and how caring this community is,” said Joseph Cacioppo, UF student and co-coordinator of Blast Off Week. “It introduces them to the people who can become their family throughout their years of college. I know it’s definitely my family.”

Although Blast Off Week is most often about welcoming freshman to their new home, for veteran Catholic Gators, it’s about reliving the moment when they were a freshman. They recall when a student sat next to them and extended them friendship in the form of the deliciously free dinner at Newman (a weekly staple for many) or a salsa lesson with Nueva Alianza, the Hispanic Student Club.

“I don’t remember how I heard about it actually,” said Itzel Guzman, UF student and president of Nueva, about her first BOW. “I just remember being there…and sitting there awkwardly. But then one of the FOCUS missionaries came up to me and started asking questions and introducing me to people. They had a photo booth set up that night. And I remember taking photos with her and another girl who was a sophomore. For a moment, I felt like I was at home,” she said.

“Home” is a word you hear a lot around Hurley, the Catholic Gators Student Center. Sitting just behind St. Augustine church, many students spend time studying, praying, relaxing or even sleeping in the center between classes. During BOW, the Art Club and Handmaid’s of the Lord will celebrate the start of fall semester with canvas painting, hoping to make some perfect dorm decorations and new friends between brush strokes.

If you are an incoming student or returning student hoping to get more involved in your church, make sure not to miss all the fun things Catholic Gators will be doing during blast off week.

If you are a college student attending the University of North Florida or Jacksonville University, call (904) 998-9005 or (904) 998-9555 or email staugustineccm@gmail.com for details about the Campus Ministry and upcoming events for the fall. You can also visit the campus ministry website at www.staugustineccm.org. Father Blair Gaynes is the campus minister.

For students attending Flagler College and surrounding colleges, call the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine at (904) 824-2806.

The schedule of events for Blast Off Week are as follows:

Sunday, August 20
Red Mass
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: St. Augustine Parish
Come to Mass and see the Bishop for a special blessing as we kick off the beginning of a new school year.

Monday, August 21
Game Night
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Hurley
Bring your game face and favorite board games for a night of fun and free snacks

Chalkboard Tabling
Time: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: SFC Campus
Come by and write your prayer requests and meet your Catholic Saints officers

Tuesday, August 22
Newman Club
Time: 6:15 p.m.
Location: Lounge
Stop by for free food! The dinner is free, but the friendships that you make are priceless

Time: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Turlington Plaza
Come by and meet some of your Catholic Gators officers

Wednesday, August 23
Mass on the Grass
Time: Noon
Location: Plaza of the Americas
Visit us for Mass right on campus!

Salsa Night
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Lounge
Dance the night away as the Nueva Officers teach you how to salsa. Snacks provided.

Thursday, August 24
Women’s Night
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Hurley
Come join the Art Club and Handmaid’s of the Lord for canvas painting and fellowship. Materials provided.

Men’s Night
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Lounge
Join with other men for the first Fight Club meeting of the year

Friday, August 25
Chalkboard Tabling
Time: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Turlington Plaza
Come by and meet some of your Catholic Gators officers

Night Fever
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Location: St. Augustine Parish
Come worship the Lord at Mass, followed by adoration until 1 a.m.

Saturday, August 26
Ichetucknee Springs
Time: 9 a.m.
Location: O’Dome Parking Lot
Come meet up with us to carpool over to Ichetucknee Springs. Make sure to bring $15 and a smile as we go on an adventure down the river.