Turning around for the third time in search of St. Mark’s University Parish, at 6550 Picasso Road in Isla Vista, alongside the UC Santa Barbara campus and neighboring streets of fraternity and sorority houses, it dawned on me. This is the reason for the Casting the Light of Faith Campaign — to transform the 50-year-old, unattractive, mall-like building I kept passing by into an inviting, beautiful spiritual home for the parishioners and more than 400 college students for whom this church serves as an oasis in an area often referred to as “California’s Party Central.”
Renovation plans call for redoing the building’s exterior, so that a college student riding by on a bike — and there are a gazillion bikes all over the place — will see a cross, a statue of St. Mark and a definitive, welcoming front entry and be drawn into what is already a place of serenity, security and solace.
The interior of the building was remodeled several years ago to accommodate the needs of the Catholic faith and rituals, and was very nicely done in what I’ll call “peaceful contemporary.”
The regular Sunday Mass schedule includes a 7 p.m. Mass for college students and packs the church with energy and reverence every week.
Father John Love is young and “hip” enough to understand the temptations of living in a college town right on the beach, and his solid presence at St. Mark’s is one of the main reasons so many students have made the church their home and anchor in a sea of excess and partying.
Every one of the students I spoke with reiterated his and the parish’s transformative roles in their lives.
Since his graduation from Westmont College and studies at St. John’s Seminary and Catholic University of America, he has served in countless other parishes and now finds himself the shepherd of a flock made up of 80 percent college students.
“I’m so privileged to be with all these young people,” he told Noozhawk. “This assignment has been the best assignment of my life. We’re here to make a difference in our students’ lives, and when one of them tells me I’ve been a part of this happening, it just makes my heart burst.”
Most impressive, he will tell you, is that this year, St. Mark’s will send five young men off to the seminary and religious life. Five men! It’s highest number in any parish, large or small, in the entire United States.
Aiding in this ministry are four full-time recent college graduates from Focus, a fellowship of Catholic students whose mission is to “win the hearts of college students, build them in the faith and send them into the world.”
More 500 Focus missionaries serve on 113 campuses.
Schyler York, a Focus missionary, told Noozhawk of kids raised Catholic who had either fallen away from their faith or were looking for a more personal relationship with Jesus, and of students burned out with partying, anxious to turn their lives around and come back into the Catholic church.
At St. Mark’s, they find answers to the many questions and hurdles facing the youth of today’s materialistic and social media-frenzied world.
Father John is hopeful they will soon reach their financial goal of $2 million not only to beautify the dowdy box-like building, but to add a small kitchen and hall, enabling students and other parishioners to gather together while sharing a meal.
A new roof to correct a badly leaking roof is part of this effort.
“People are inspired by beauty,” Schyler York says, “and we want to share the beauty of our faith with others drawn to enter a welcoming and beautiful new entrance — people who now drive right past us, never knowing what they’re missing inside.”
At the student Mass the Sunday before spring break, Father John sent students home for a safe trip, urging them to “ask your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to help us raise the remaining $600,000 we need.
“As you pile your dirty laundry into the car for Mom to wash, remember your home here at St. Mark’s. We want it to be here and a place of beauty when your children grow up and perhaps enroll at UCSB. We have some local donors willing to help us with large donations, but they want to see student effort in our fundraising — show that you have ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak.”
How marvelous it would be to reach this goal by mid-April when St. Mark’s celebrates its 50th anniversary.
— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are her own.