Courtney Barnes wasn’t looking for a full-time job when she saw a notice for an opening as the director of campus ministry at University Catholic.
“But as soon as I saw this opportunity … I knew it would be a phenomenal way to be a lay missionary,” said Barnes, who has just started her new job at University Catholic. “To be honest, it really is a dream job for me.”
Barnes grew up in Nashville as a parishioner at Holy Rosary Church in Donelson. She notes the small Catholic population in the area. “It’s missionary territory still,” she said. She takes that notion of being in missionary territory into her new job. “My primary identification is as a missionary.”
University Catholic, led by Chaplain Father John Sims Baker and his associate Father Michael Fye, serves the Catholic students primarily at Vanderbilt University. But some students from nearby Belmont University, Fisk University and Meharry Medical College also participate in its programs, Barnes said.
As director of campus ministry, Barnes’ responsibilities include making sure everything that is needed for University Catholic’s programs, classes, liturgies and events are provided, she said.
“They have a really beautiful mission statement: to propose Jesus Christ and to form his disciples,” Barnes said of University Catholic. “I couldn’t say it better than that.”
University Catholic also partners with missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, who organize bible study groups and other activities for students. “The (FOCUS) missionaries are on the ground running, we make sure they have everything they need,” Barnes said.
Her new job is “a way to serve the Diocese of Nashville and really reach out and evangelize young people in Nashville,” Barnes said.
She attended Holy Rosary Academy for elementary school and then moved on to Meigs Middle School and Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School.
“I was really thirsty to be back in a Catholic environment,” said Barnes, who applied only to Catholic universities. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in philosophy and minored in French and Francophone Studies.
“My major conversion happened when I was in college,” Barnes said. “As a Catholic college student, even at a Catholic college, you can live two lives,” attending Mass on Sundays after partying during the weekend, she said. “I fell into that even when I was at Notre Dame.”
But that changed when she started attending daily Mass at Notre Dame and met people who were living their faith. “I knew I didn’t want to lead two lives,” Barnes said. “That’s what holiness is, living one integrated life.”
After graduating from Notre Dame, she worked in Chicago for three years and then returned to Nashville, where she taught theology for a year at Pope John Paul II High School and directed the school’s service program.
Teaching theology, “I re-fell in love with the faith,” Barnes said. “I had a desire to give my whole life to Christ” and she entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.
“The Dominicans are so beautiful,” Barnes said. “I learned so much from them.”
Five years later, when it was time to renew her temporary vows, Barnes said, after a lot of thought and discernment, she realized her desire to work with youth was not to be a teacher but a mother. “It was hard” deciding to return to life as a lay person, Barnes said. “I would say it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life.”
She remains grateful to the Dominicans, Barnes said. “I cannot sing their praises enough. There is nothing but love and generosity.”