Walking the Campus with Father Mike

September 19, 2019

A priest discusses how his service at Duke has deepened his faith.

-By Duke Global staff

Duke students call something forth in me, said Father Michael Martin, better known as Father Mike, at a Wednesdays at the Center event on Sept. 18.

“I thought I had grown into an adult faith, but I realized after being here that there’s still much more,” said Father Mike, director of the Duke Catholic Center. “These students make me want to be a holier man, a better priest and Franciscan.”  

At Duke, Father Mike sees his role as “walking with others” to assist them in learning more about their spirituality and to empower students to walk with their peers.

Father Mike spoke at the John Hope Franklin Center as the first speaker in the series, “Conversations with Duke’s Religious Life Leaders.” Giovanni Zanalda, director of the Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) explained that the idea of the series was to get a sense of what religious leaders are doing on campus. This academic year, DUCIGS will host four different speakers, with representatives from Hindu Life, Jewish Life and Muslim Life.

About 20 percent of Duke students are Roman Catholic, according to the Duke Catholic Center, and the Catholic community is the largest single denomination on campus (the Jewish community is the next largest on campus at 11 percent). On average, 500 students attend weekend Mass at the Duke Chapel.

At the talk, Father Mike emphasized the growing need for a shift in Duke culture, away from an emphasis on “doing it all” to one focused on building student strength and resiliency. Coming to Duke after serving as president and headmaster of his former Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Father Mike has seen major shifts in education over the past 20 years. Asked about the difference to coming to Duke, he noted that “the stakes and the stress are higher.”

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Dismissing the notion that an exposure to higher education replaces religious faith, Father Mike argued that the long tradition of Christianity has focused on creating spaces of mindfulness. He believes that prayer is rooted in the individual but connects to something outside of ourselves.

“Students come to me and say they don’t know how to pray,” Father Mike said. “I tell them not to chase God, but to acknowledge his presence in your life at the moment.”

Wednesdays at the Center is a free, weekly public lecture series held every Wednesday at noon in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall at the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road, Room 240). The series is sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies.

Here are the upcoming talks in the series: