New Catholic Chaplain Fr. Carsten Martensen

Jesuit priest joins the campus faith communities.
by Chelsea Theis '08

There’s a new guy on campus, and he won’t hesitate to say hello. Father Carsten Martensen arrived at Ithaca College this summer as the new chaplain of the Catholic Community. And the first thing he’s been doing is getting to know the place, which often involves walking around and simply greeting students. 

Martensen, a Jesuit priest who hopes to be a catalyst to bring people together to worship, entered the seminary when he was 21 and has since spent more than 20 years in campus ministry. He most recently was on sabbatical for a year, studying at the University of Notre Dame. He also traveled across the country to campuses and churches. “I put 35,000 miles on my car by myself to see what I might learn about how to better engage young adults in church,” he says. “There are other ways we might share the good news.”

He used one such technique to help attract the campus community in place of the sermon one Sunday in September. He called it: “Stump the Priest: Anything you ever wanted to ask a priest but never had the opportunity to do so.” 

Maggie DeGennaro ’10, a current intern for the Catholic Community, attended the service at which Martensen used “Stump the Priest.” “He’s trying to involve us,” she says, “and that’s the most important aspect of his job.” 

Martensen uses the words expansive and accepting when discussing his methods. And while he does try to incorporate ideas he has learned from theologians and his experiences, he usually lets the students take charge. “Students take the initiative to come to the chaplains, and we have open discussions that aren’t imposing,” he says. “We’re open to them, to their experiences, to their hopes and dreams.”

It hasn’t been hard to get to know the students at Ithaca, says Martensen, because they have been extremely welcoming. They hold many programs on their own to build their community, and he attends as a partici-pant. He also says that taking the chaplaincy at Ithaca was an easy choice because when he came to see the campus last May he simply loved what he experienced. “Ithaca is a gorgeous area, and it is so supportive of religious traditions.”

Although Martensen continues to integrate with students, he’s working toward something more. “I hope,” he says, “that people take the worship, and from that worship experience are able to go forth and make a positive change in the world.”