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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 5:07 am | Fair 46º


Father John Love a Calming Presence Amid Isla Vista’s Raucous Party Scene

Pastor of St. Mark's University Parish preaches fullness of Christ's love to a college crowd seeking acceptance

One of the most charismatic people in Isla Vista is a Catholic priest who strives to help college students find peace in what’s known as California’s “Party Central.”

“To have someone say that through their whole time at UCSB, the most important thing they did was go to church, is pretty cool,” said Father John Love, pastor of St. Mark’s University Parish, two blocks west of the UC Santa Barbara campus.

Love decided to become a priest after having a spiritual epiphany of his own, in a grocery store when he was in his 20s. For the last four years, the Santa Barbara native has been part of St. Mark’s campus ministry.

He is a shoulder for students to lean on when midterms, finals and the 24/7 party scene become a little too much.

“I’ve heard students say ‘I’m done with the party life ... I’ve wrecked my body, I’ve had all sorts of relationships and, in the end, I’m empty and alone,’” Love said. “And they come here.

“Sometimes they just wander in — literally just wander in.”

A graduate of Westmont College, Love studied theology at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and earned a doctorate in spiritual and moral formation from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He has served in a number of parishes during his 23 years as a priest, and is now the pastor to approximately 250 people every Saturday and Sunday.

St. Mark’s was founded in 1965 and is one of 235 Catholic parishes serving colleges and universities around the country. Professors and locals often attend Mass, but Love said about 80 percent of the parishioners are students.

“We can have Mass sometimes, and you can hear the ‘booty-bumping’ music outside,” UCSB student Elizabeth Weigler said of the church at 6550 Picasso Road, which is surrounded by fraternity and sorority houses.

“Father Love ... knows that the students have a certain lifestyle. In a town like this there are a lot of temptations, and he recognizes that.”

But Love said he didn’t always know he wanted to become a priest, noting that he used to live a quite selfish life before his conversion experience in a grocery store.

“Have you ever had something just store up and store up, and all of a sudden the lid comes off?” he asked.

On a day like any other, Love found himself in a market, watching a girl push an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He said he broke down crying, but couldn’t understand why.

“When I came to that grocery store that night, I think God was preparing me by saying, ‘There’s something better for you,’” Love explained. “I don’t have a lot of out-of-body experiences like that ... where I’m literally brought to my knees like that.”

He said it took him a day to process exactly what had happened, but that he realized he would be happiest if he could help people.

“For me, growing up in a Catholic family, that was priesthood,” he said. “I thought, ‘I think God wants me to be a priest.’”

And that’s exactly what the now 50-year-old pastor did.

“I think the great model for us is (Pope) John Paul II,” Love said as he walked into St. Mark’s small chapel, where people come to pray.

“He communicated this idea that if you want people to follow Christ, don’t bug out commands to them. Just lead a good life and enlighten them on the journey.”

Love follows the late pope’s example and says he tries to help students by communicating God’s love more than his law.

“The biggest thing is when a student ... somehow communicates that I made a difference in her or his life here at St. Mark’s,” he said. “I’ve had a number of students say that to me, and that just makes my heart burst. Because that’s why we’re here.”

Noozhawk intern Linda Sturesson can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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