SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: 'The Barracks' is the new home to BC's Campus Ministry

By Noell Barnidge
This story that you are reading was written from inside “The Barracks” at Benedictine Military School. “The Barracks” is the new nickname of room B1, previously known as “The Fishbowl” because of the five floor-to-ceiling glass windows that face the Academic Well.

Since 1963, when Benedictine moved from Bull Street to Seawright Drive, this room has served many purposes. It was a classroom for subjects like theology, English, and history. It even served as one of many filming locations on BC’s campus for the 2017 movie “Dear Dictator,” starring Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, and Jason Biggs (Jim from the “American Pie” movies), who portrayed a teacher when he filmed a “Dear Dictator” scene in this room.

“The Barracks” serves as the home to BC’s Campus Ministry program but the door is always open for anyone in the school’s community. That’s the point, to provide Cadets with a space where they can bond together as brothers and encourage each other in a Christ-like environment.


BC sophomore JP Brunson entered “The Barracks” just before 9 a.m. on a Late Start Wednesday. He was sipping a drink from Chick-fil-A as he addressed Fr. Barnabas O’Reilly, O.S.B.

“Father B., what’s up?” Brunson said, as he extended an arm to exchange a fist bump with 33-year-old Fr. Barnabas.

“Did you bring me any Chick-fil-A?” Fr. Barnabas playfully asked. “No? This is gonna be a problem, JP.”

This type of collegial banter is precisely what 35-year-old Fr. Gregory Visca, O.S.B., envisioned when he approached Benedictine Military School Headmaster Fr. Frank Ziemkiewicz, O.S.B., and BC Principal Dr. Jacob Horne before the start of the 2023-24 school year with the idea of turning “The Fishbowl” into “The Barracks.” “The Barracks” perfectly aligns with Benedictine Headmaster Fr. Frank Ziemkiewicz’s mantra that BC is “a school on a mission with a soul.”

Fr. Gregory is BC’s new Director of Campus Ministry. He fills the void left by Fr. Ronald Gatman, O.S.B., who retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year after 44 years of service to BC. Fr. Barnabas is BC’s Associate Director of Campus Ministry, and he assists Fr. Gregory.

Campus Ministry is designed to prepare Cadets, along with their parents, teachers, and BC’s staff, to have a steadfast relationship with Jesus Christ that will guide them through the abundant joys and challenges in life by providing the tools, knowledge, support, and opportunities to build a firm foundation in the spiritual life.

“Campus ministry is here for each person who walks through the doors of BC,” Fr. Gregory said.


When Fr. Gregory returned to Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., after spending the 2021-22 school year teaching theology at Benedictine Military School, he was ordained. Upon his return to Benedictine, he implemented ideas.

“All of this, I had been thinking about since I left BC,” he said, looking around the room. “All last year, throughout the whole year, I was like, I love it so much. How can I really make this into a thing that the guys would want to do? Florida State University uses ‘The Barracks’ name for their campus ministry. I’ve never been there but a lot of my friends went to Florida State, and some guys who got ordained as priests, who were in my original ordaining class, they went through that whole program and then, as priests, were assigned to ‘The Barracks.’”

Fr. Gregory and Fr. Barnabas offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in “The Barracks” at 7:45 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays each week before classes begin at 8:15 a.m. This is in addition to the monthly school-wide Mass in BC Gym. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is available on Fridays during school hours. They also offer Spiritual Direction and Counseling on request to both Cadets and faculty/staff. There will be opportunities to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, too.

Fr. Gregory said he and Fr. Barnabas are committed to “reaching the students by building relationships and community through relational outreach, social events, and sports; calling students to embrace faith in Jesus Christ and His Church through weekly small groups, retreats, and other devotions; forming students to maturity in faith and life toward growth in holiness – the perfection of charity – through witness, learning, and practice in relationships, immersion in our Catholic and educational environment, and pastoral care that provides a foundation that endures; and sending our students and graduates out on mission to proclaim the gospel as servant-leaders and wounded-healers in every corner of their life to whom all they will encounter for the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God.”

“The Barracks” is a perfect nickname for the room, as it is in reference to a place where soldiers live, train, reinforce discipline, and develop fraternity.

“St. Paul writes to the Christian community in Ephesus, telling them to put on the full armor of God,” Fr. Gregory said. “Our Holy Father, St. Benedict, tells us to be armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord. The Barracks is very fitting to both our place where we can prepare and grow in our journey to God, as well as being a military school preparing our young men to rise to all of the joys and challenges of life.”

On this Late Start Wednesday of Aug. 16, before the first bell rang at 9 a.m., five Cadets voluntarily met with Fr. Gregory and Fr. Barnabas for Bible study from 8:15-8:45 a.m. As word has spread that “The Barracks” is equipped with massive (and comfortable) new couches, as well as an Xbox on which to play video games, more and more curious Cadets have popped in for a peek.

“Throughout the day it’s mostly been the seniors because of the way their schedule is now with their study block,” Fr. Gregory said. “But it’s for anybody who wants to come in. If they are done with their classwork, or if their teacher sends them here to do the classwork, or if they’re just walking the halls and free, just pop in, relax, read, study, pray, or play games. That’s one of the dynamics, we’re trying to also reach people through camaraderie.

“One of the things that I find is that men, especially fathers, they show their love to their kids and to their friends through play,” Fr. Gregory continued. “Women and mothers focus on the nurture, and that’s how they love. We (men) love through play. We have chess over there but we’re looking at getting more board games. It’s been a nice mix. It’s been a healthy balance. We don’t want it to get too incense-filled, you know, liturgy stuff, while at the same time, we don’t want it to get overboard with just fun and games. Very much, St. Benedict was about the balance. Being a man is about having balance in life.”

Fr. Gregory and Fr. Barnabas want “The Barracks” to be inviting and accessible to everyone within the BC community.

Benedictine junior Julian Watson, a member of BC’s Campus Ministry, said ‘The Barracks’ already is making an impact on Cadets.

“Fr. Barnabas plays chess with some of us,” Watson said. “We’re able to talk about social conflicts and current events. Having (the monks) closer to us in age is like seeing them as your brother. They are really relatable to us. Personally, my goal when I was discussing with Fr. Gregory, is I really want to reach out to the non-believers, especially. I don’t want to say it’s a growing concern but, to me personally, it kind of concerns me seeing more and more kids falling away from beliefs. Having this room gives them a new way of experiencing religion.”


Watson said “The Barracks” is quickly emerging as the-place-to-be hub on campus for Cadets.
“It’s still not totally done yet,” Fr. Gregory said. “There’s still a lot more that we’re trying to figure out but as the years go by it will get added more and more. Once a month we’re doing Breakfast with the Benedictines, where Campus Ministry will buy enough breakfast for the first 100 guys who (arrive).”

At first glance, “The Barracks” appears to be a cozy room with pretty pictures and inspirational quotes. It’s not that simple. There is much deeper meaning within the layout of the room.

“One of the biggest goals that we’re looking at is the academic, human, and spiritual aspect, all these different dimensions of what it means to be a good person,” Fr. Gregory said. “We look at the spiritual, which brings it all together and integrates it into the whole, directs it toward God. For campus ministry, we’re here to help those boys to bridge all those different areas of their lives and bring them into the spiritual realm, and always offer it up to God. Even in having this campus ministry room, ‘The Barracks,’ that is even designed to help them with that.

“If you go around the room, you’ll see that,” Fr. Gregory continued. “Right above where Fr. Barnabas and I have our desk, our little area, (a sign reads) ‘Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.’ This is a place to learn how to serve the Lord, to learn how to pray, to learn how to have true camaraderie. And then going over to the other side is ‘Armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.’ We need to arm ourselves for this battle, that it’s not going to be easy, and it is going to be a fight because we are having to deal with so much more. These kids are dealing with so much more than I ever had to deal with.

“And then we go to the altar, the center of the room, that’s really supposed to draw you in,” Fr. Gregory continued. “And that is ‘We must, then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to His instructions.’ It’s very much in this holy obedience that we abandon our own wills and look at what does God desire within me? And knowing that all the stuff that I want is fleeting. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a firefighter. I wanted to be a cop. I realize now that none of those things would have made me happy. I could have been a decent firefighter, a decent cop, but entering (the priesthood) is beyond the wildest imagination I could ever have had as a kid.

“As we move then around to the opposite side (of the room), ‘They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brothers to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God’s help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind.’ As they are making this progression of learning, of disciplining themselves, they are getting ready then to go out. It’s either they graduate and go off to college, go off to a military academy, or somewhere else, but it’s having them be prepared for that. And, at the door, as we are walking out (of the room), there’s ‘We must run and do now what will profit us forever.’ It’s not a lazy walk or stroll. Very much as Catholics, the eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. Everything that we do flows from and returns to the altar, where we encounter Christ in His passion, death, and resurrection, and his self-offering to the Father, which all the more gives us the strength to do what He has called us to do.”


Fr. Gregory said his hope is that BC eventually will have the funds available to build a chapel large enough to seat the entire school community. Presently, Mass is celebrated inside BC Gym, which can accommodate everyone.

“A chapel. That’s my dream,” he said. “A chapel on campus where we can fit all the students. We really only need (to be able to seat) 500 (people), 450. The (current) Priory Chapel seats 42 people.”

Fr. Gregory said he is grateful to have Fr. Barnabas helping with Campus Ministry.

“I’m finding more and more that this job requires even more energy than I was anticipating, which has been great to share with Fr. Barnabas,” he said. “I can’t imagine shouldering it all alone like Fr. Ron (Gatman) has for so long.”
Fr. Barnabas said he and Fr. Gregory are honored to serve BC as they attempt to help mold boys into young men of faith.

“When it comes to really turning the corner to go deeper in ministry, I’ve found that creating an environment, a physical, tangible, environment, helps,” Fr. Barnabas said. “This space has been great to let boys realize that this is important to this school, our growth and faith and brotherhood in intentional and unintentional ways in here. So far, so good. It’s been a great response from all the boys, collectively.

“I find with this space, so far, that it’s really become a safe haven for boys to come, whether it be for 5 minutes in between classes, or during a study hall, or before or after lunch, just to kind of like be briefed, see each other, play around a little bit,” Fr. Barnabas continued. “But, also, it’s been a pretty good place of prayer. They realize it's not a scary place. It’s not just for the ‘super’ campus ministry kids. Everybody can come in here, play some video games, ask questions about the prayerful stuff.”

Watson said having “The Barracks” sends a strong message to Cadets about the BC administration’s commitment to the Campus Ministry program.

“My main idea is to get outreach to as many students as possible,” Watson said. “Obviously, we have Mass once a month, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough dedication to Campus Ministry. And I feel like Fr. Barnabas and Fr. Gregory making this new room, dedicating it specifically for youth ministry, not just making it a strict, rule-oriented room, but making it fun, too, very inviting, I feel like that’s probably the best outreach we could have. Students in the school have a lot of religious backgrounds and I feel like this will just tighten our brotherhood.

“Seeing the kids come out this morning, my fellow brothers, to the Bible study, we were able to express our true thoughts about not just the Word we are reading but also our personal experiences and relating to God. I feel like on its own, the first Bible study we had, ever, and being able to express ourselves like that, it just formed something. I’m really excited to see what is to come for ‘The Barracks’ and youth ministry as a whole. I truly believe, Catholicism being the universal religion, we can outreach to anybody. It doesn’t matter what your background is. We’re all brothers, no matter what.”