Campus Minister Inspired by R.C.I.A. Candidates

April 21, 2020
Andrea Pinnavaia with students

A self-proclaimed “Cradle Catholic,” Andrea Pinnavaia ’07C, ’08G feels a profound responsibility to the candidates she shepherds through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.) program at St. John’s University. 

As Campus Minister for Liturgy and Faith Formation on the Queens, NY, campus, she helps direct the campus R.C.I.A. program, in which non-Catholics, as well as Catholics who may not have received some of the sacraments of initiation (i.e., baptism, confirmation, and Holy Eucharist), are welcomed fully into the Church. Ms. Pinnavaia works solely with students, but the program is open to all members of the St. John’s community. 

Ms. Pinnavaia arrived at St. John’s in 2003 as a student—and never left. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Theology, she became a Campus Minister in 2008, and later an Adjunct Professor of Theology. She and her husband, Colin Pinnavaia ’05, began dating while at St. John’s, and got engaged in front of St. Thomas More Church. “So much of the foundation of our relationship comes from the time we spent involved with Campus Ministry as students,” she recalled.

“Being invited into the spiritual journeys of these students is something that is so moving for my own faith experience,” Ms. Pinnavaia said recently. “As someone who was born into this Church, witnessing these young adults make this choice for themselves is extraordinary.” 

She added, “Seeing their commitment to the process and their desire to come together as a community to learn, share, and pray is beautiful.”

Ms. Pinnavaia noted that if there is a common thread among students who enter the R.C.I.A. process, it is that many feel it was simply the right time. “It is my job to help them discover that it has been God who has been pushing them toward this moment.”

She observed that the student experience of R.C.I.A. is unique and not something they would necessarily find in the parish setting. “Coming together with other young people who are at a similar point in their lives is just something that is very special.”

After students receive their sacraments, they enter the final phase of R.C.I.A., known as mystagogy, which helps them find their place as members of the Church. Ms. Pinnavaia explained that it serves as an opportunity for some of the students to become leaders in the program. “It is always very touching to see former R.C.I.A. students step forward and become sponsors for current R.C.I.A. students.”

Out of a class of 20 candidates, which includes employees, as well as a group from the Staten Island, NY, campus, 11 have never received any sacraments and will be baptized. “These are people who were either raised in a different tradition or no tradition at all, who found the Catholic Church through their experiences at St. John’s.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic began visibly affecting New York residents, Ms. Pinnavaia found that her students’ commitment to the R.C.I.A. process only intensified. “So many of them reached out to me directly just to say how much they missed everyone. They really needed this supportive community. We did everything we could to make sure they felt connected virtually.”

Ms. Pinnavaia was born and raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools. When teaching some of the most rudimentary aspects of the faith, she experiences profound moments; an example is when she instructs students on making the sign of the cross. “It is something so many of us know how to do instinctually, but many in the R.C.I.A. program are not familiar with the motions.” She added that teaching candidates that simple motion reminds her that every moment in this journey is significant.

As she goes through the rites and rituals that are a part of the R.C.I.A. process with students, many tell her how supported they feel during their journey. “I tell them,” Ms. Pinnavaia says, “that they are an inspiration to me.”