March 15, 2024

Life-changing advice leads young woman to share her faith and joy with IU students

Emma Schuler, left, the Catholic campus minister for Indiana University in Bloomington, chats with Maria Thomas, a first-year student at IU from St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Emma Schuler, left, the Catholic campus minister for Indiana University in Bloomington, chats with Maria Thomas, a first-year student at IU from St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

One in an occasional series

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion is featuring young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)

By John Shaughnessy

BLOOMINGTON—The first of Emma Schuler’s two favorite moments at Indiana University in Bloomington began with a challenge and a cup of hot chocolate.

As the Catholic campus minister for IU, the 24-year-old Schuler always looks for opportunities when the college students who come to nearby St. Paul Catholic Center for retreats, Mass and Bible study want to share their faith openly, hoping to bring others into a relationship with Christ.

So the 2021 graduate of IU was thrilled when a current student—Jillian Gzresiak—approached her with a challenge to reach out to the entire campus.

“She said to me, ‘We have something so great here at St. Paul’s, but if we never share it with others, it’s wasted. People out there need us! People in my classes and in the dorms need to know who Jesus is,’ ” Schuler recalls.

“When she said that, I knew that our students were really understanding our mission. To be fully captivated by Christ and growing in his holiness is not to be content holding the name of Jesus as a secret in your heart. To love Jesus is to share about his saving grace.”

And so, on All Saints’ Day in the fall semester of 2023, Schuler, Gzresiak and other students headed to campus with a boatload of hot chocolate and a table that they filled with information about different saints and the offerings at St. Paul Catholic Center.

“It was incredible. We had so many interactions and touchpoints,” Schuler recalls. “The coolest part about it was how many of our Catholic Center students made a point to stop by the table during the day. They jumped right in to invite other students and have conversations with people passing by. It was beautiful to see them talk about their faith with their peers on campus.”

On that cool November day, the group gave away more than 200 cups of hot chocolate during the 2 1/2 hours they were there.

“From that, we had a few students express interest in RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults],” Schuler says. “One followed through on that and has started coming to classes. A few other Bible study connections were made. It was a really fruitful time.”

Schuler thought the approach was so inspired that she and several Catholic students set up camp again on campus on Fat Tuesday, sharing coffee and doughnuts with passing students on the day before Lent began.

“We handed out Ash Wednesday Mass times for people and invited them to join us for Ash Wednesday services,” she says. “Our students who were around for it in the fall were so pumped about coming again that they brought people with them to do it. It’s turned into a thing for us, which is really cool. The best part for me is that it’s on the students’ initiative.”

That experience—Schuler’s second favorite moment on campus—came with an unusual Lenten touch.

‘He gave me advice that I have carried with me ever since’

On the table that day with the coffee and the doughnuts was a small spinning wheel, reminiscent of the one on the television game show, “Wheel of Fortune.” On the wheel were different options of what college students could consider giving up for Lent.

“No social media, no snooze button, no sweets, no coffee or caffeine, no skipping class, fasting,” Schuler says, listing some of the choices.

“Some people asked, ‘What is a fast, why do you fast?’ It was a really cool opportunity for us to share a little bit of the Gospel with them, that Jesus went into the desert and fasted. We kind of focused on making room for God. Our lives are so busy, so what can you cut out to make space for a little more silence—to give God a chance to work?”

Schuler asked that same question of herself near the end of her junior year at IU.

“I was really stressed out about just where the Lord was calling me in my life,” she says. “I was worried about career and vocation and all these really big items that come up at that point in your life. And, of course, I was scared about what the Lord might ask me to do.”

In the midst of that fear and uncertainty, she met with Dominican Father Patrick Hyde, the pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center.

“He gave me advice that I have carried with me ever since,” she says. “Father Patrick said, ‘You don’t need to figure out what you’re doing five years from now. You just need to figure out what your next best step is and where can you take a confident step knowing that you’re following Jesus right now.’ He took a big scary thing and broke it down to what’s best for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

Believing that Christ was calling her “to know him better and follow him more closely,” Schuler focused her steps on that direction. A year later, she also made one specific prayer to God during her graduation weekend at IU.

“I had just received Communion at the Baccalaureate Mass,” she recalls. “In the most sincere prayer I could utter, I asked Jesus to bring me back to Bloomington as quickly as possible.”

That’s just what happened after she earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2023.

“I never imagined that God would answer that prayer and bring me back to not only my favorite city, but my favorite place in that city—St. Paul’s,” she says. “After my work in theology, I was more convicted than ever of my desire to serve the Church. It was truly Providence that I am able to serve in a place where I also received so much.”

Receiving each person with love

Her first eight months as the Catholic campus minister at IU have been everything she hoped they would be.

“It has been a true joy,” she says. “It has opened doors to building relationships because I can understand exactly what they are experiencing on campus. I also get to work with student leaders who are experiencing stresses and navigating obstacles that I experienced. It is beautiful to get to walk alongside them in a place so familiar to me.”

IU junior Eric Hull knows the impact that Schuler has on students’ lives and their faith journeys, including his.

“In being friends with Emma, one can come to know the tenderness of Christ and his Blessed Mother,” Hull says. “Emma always leaves her door open while she works, so students can come and talk with her. When she talks to people, even if she has many duties to attend to, she is always willing to give her full attention and receive each person she meets with love, seeing Christ in each person. She only desires that the community comes to know Jesus.”

Freshman Maria Thomas beams when she talks about Schuler and the atmosphere she has helped to create among IU’s Catholic students. She cites the karaoke nights that Schuler has planned after weekday evening Masses and the Sunday suppers that Schuler coordinates for about 200 students after Sunday evening Mass.

“Emma is great. She does a really good job with events that strengthen our faith and build up community,” Thomas says. “Being at IU has exceeded my expectations in having a strong Catholic community and virtuous friendships. It’s a really welcoming community.”

Father Patrick describes Schuler as “a woman of deep faith, abiding prayer and confidence in the Holy Spirit.”

“One of the aspects of Emma’s work that stands out is her commitment to building Christ-centered relationships with our students, residents, staff and volunteers,” he says. “She personifies our pastoral priority of building relationships first—of listening to and honoring the story of each person, so that we can lead them to a deeper relationship with Jesus.”

Another reason to smile

Her efforts to help IU students draw closer to Christ have also helped her draw closer to him.

“Every day at St. Paul starts with a holy hour for the staff and missionaries,” Schuler says. “We come together in prayer to lift up our ministry and our hearts to Jesus. This time has been so graced for me as it gives me the space to stay connected with my Creator.”

She thinks back to that conversation she had with Father Patrick, when he encouraged her to not stress about the future, to keep her life’s direction focused on following Jesus. It’s led her to exactly where she wants to be, including another moment that delights her.

“Flash forward to this year,” she says. “I found myself talking to a current student who came to me and shared the same feelings and worries that I had shared with Father Patrick. I got to sit with her and repeat the words that Father had told me.

“I had this immense gratitude for God to let me be the person who needed that conversation then and who could offer advice in the same conversation today. I couldn’t help but smile as we were talking.” †

Local site Links: