Campus Ministry Maestro

By Ed Langlois, Of the Catholic Sentinel

Each Friday at Jesuit High School, optional Masses draw a thousand teens. Students are lining up to lead retreats. Some freshmen choose the Southwest Portland school specifically for its campus ministry.

Don Clarke, the man who has overseen Jesuit's ongoing eruption of faith life since 1995, is a witty, candid, stout and tireless guitarist whose main message to students is this: God exists in each of you.

Clarke is "one of Jesuit's greatest and most selfless heroes," said John Gladstone, former president and now executive vice president of Jesuit, a co-ed school with almost 1,300 students. "Because of Don, it is really cool to be involved in campus ministry at Jesuit." Every Jesuit freshmen gets the message quickly from older students — go to Friday Mass, don't miss retreats. Clarke has added retreats for younger students and created a wildly popular pilgrimage, during which seniors hike 12 miles to a 180-year-old mission in Washington state. He attends them all, working many weekends.

"Mr. Clarke makes it seem like our faith is something that was made for us," said John Rutledge, a senior. "He understands what the Catholic Church is teaching and he understands what his population is here at Jesuit. He's made a lot of things more digestible."

Clarke admires Pope Francis and applies papal wisdom to campus work. "When [the pope] talks about the new evangelization, his first concern is to welcome with warmth," said Clarke, who served at Portland-area parishes as a youth minister and pastoral associate before being hired at Jesuit. "If people walk through the door and are told, 'By the way, you are a sinner,' or 'You are suspect,' then people usually don't return."

Despite long hours, Clarke makes sure to tend to his own spiritual life, praying when he wakes and sitting in the school chapel when he gets a moment. He finds silent minutes when on retreat with students at places like McKenzie Bridge in the Cascade foothills. Then he'll be asked a question or get hit by a snowball and get back to work. Continue reading on