Fr. Patrick Baikauskas entered the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) in 2001. After completing his studies, he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 2008. That is also the year he was assigned permanently to Saint Thomas Aquinas (St. Tom’s) – The Catholic Center at Purdue University. He also served for one year on a pastoral year during the 2004-2005 academic year at St. Tom’s.
The Dominicans were asked to take over the Catholic campus ministry at Purdue in 2000. There had been a Catholic presence on the campus of Purdue since the beginning of the 20th century. As such, it ranks as one of the oldest Newman Center presences in the United States. In the early 1960s, St. Tom’s became a parish and there has been a resident parishioner presence ever since it became a parish.
When Fr. Patrick came to St. Tom’s, there were under 400 resident parishioner families, and a campus ministry that was mostly limited to Sunday school teachers (Lifeguides), a small retreat program, one spring break mission trip a year and weekly social events. At that time, the center had once a day weekly Masses on Monday through Friday and the Sunday liturgies. The sacrament of reconciliation was offered once a week on a scheduled basis.
Fr. Patrick became pastor of St. Tom’s in July of 2010. While there was a regular, sizeable attendance at Sunday liturgies and an excellent music program, there was not much else in the way of ministries being offered to either the student or the resident parishioners.
One of the first changes Fr. Patrick made at St. Tom’s was to bring the Awakening retreat program to campus. In one year, the retreat program grew from approximately 30 attendees to 80 at the first Boiler Awakening. This retreat program now attracts 300 students (the capacity), twice a year. We have completed 16 retreats. It has proved to be the engine which has stimulated growth in a variety of new ministries as well.
Building on the success of the Awakening retreats, Fr. Patrick began a program of small faith communities based on theological reflection of the upcoming Sunday readings. That program grew in its first year from a handful of groups to 22 residence-hall based programs with 200 students participating now on a weekly basis.
After his first year, Fr. Patrick double the number of weekday Masses and increased the opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation from weekly to daily. Five years ago, the occasions were increased from once a day, to twice a day, except for Sundays, when it is offered three times.
The opportunities for mission trips has also expanded. When Fr. Patrick joined St. Tom’s there was a once a year opportunity. Students now have the opportunity to go to Haiti twice a year, and any one of six sites during spring break, including Flint, Michigan, New Orleans, Mississippi, Oklahoma, the panhandle of Florida and Cuba. In May, 2019, we will be adding Puerto Rico.
At the same time, the ministry to our resident parishioners has not been neglected. Under Fr. Patrick’s leadership, here too, St. Tom’s has increased opportunities for adult faith formation by expanding both educational experiences in classroom settings, and also an augmented lecture schedule.
St. Tom’s has seen the number of ministries serving our student population grow from less than five to 31. We have especially focused on vocational discernment and leadership development through one-on-one mentoring by staff as well as peer ministry.
The number of registered resident parishioners has grown to over 1000 families and our religious education program for children doubled in size during Fr. Patrick’s tenure from less 200 children to just over 400 this year. The active involvement of our student parishioners has grown from less than 500 to nearly 3000. Our staff has expanded from 10 to 27.
We are grateful for the recognition that has been accorded St. Tom’s. In 2010, St. Tom’s Lifeguide program was recognized by the Catholic Campus Ministry Association as an outstanding national program in the formation of small faith communities. Also, that year, the Leadership Roundtable selected St. Tom’s as one of the original campuses to participate in the Enlivening Students to Engage in Ecclesial Ministry (ESTEEM). We continue to be a grant awardee in that program. Additionally, the Lilly Endowment selected St. Tom’s to participate in its program, Campus Ministry Theological Exploration of Vocation (CMTEV). St. Tom’s was an original grantee based on Lilly’s recognition of our leadership in this area. At the end of the grant, St. Tom’s was awarded a continuation grant.
Fr. Patrick has brought his lifelong experience of innovation and creativity to his role as a campus minister. Fr. Patrick began his professional career in Washington, DC as an aide to an Illinois congressman. He moved on to serve an Illinois governor and a president of the United States, and then returned to his home state to serve two more Illinois governors. While in Illinois, he twice sought elective office – first to the U. S. House of Representatives and subsequently to the city council of Springfield, Illinois. His focus in all of these positions was in the areas of health and public welfare.