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Saints Spotlight with Josh Ostertag ’20

Josh Ostertag, Thomas More class of 2020, joined the University as assistant campus minister in May 2023. After finishing his first year on the job, Ostertag reflects on his path to discerning his vocation, growing the Bishop Roger J. Foys Ministry & Service Scholarship* at Thomas More, and his advice to today’s college students. 

David Klenk: Hello and welcome back to another edition of Saints Spotlight. Today I have Josh Ostertag from Thomas More Campus Ministry, graduate of 2020. Thank you so much for joining us today, Josh.

Josh Ostertag: It’s a pleasure to be here David.

DK: Starting off, as a student what led you to Thomas More University?

JO: I was actually a transfer student. My first year of undergrad, I was in Columbus, Ohio. I was transferring, and I’m from Northern Kentucky; so some of it was a convenience. I moved back in with my parents and stay at home. Thomas More is a 20-minute drive, so I commuted. I was attracted to the small liberal arts, the local, as well as the Catholic tradition because I wanted to study theology. Part of it was circumstantial, but then also providential. I’m really glad I came here. 

DK: Right on, and I relate to you, I actually transferred my freshman year as well to Thomas More. It was the best decision I ever made in that scheme of college admissions and things of the sort. I’m glad that we have you. Speaking of which, can you describe your time as an undergrad? What were you involved with on campus and what were your top three memories? 

JO: In terms of being involved on campus, I was here mainly focused on academics. I put a lot of effort into my classes. I enjoy the intellectual life, so I enjoyed classwork. I majored in theology. I also minored in history and philosophy, so I think a lot of my favorite memories were interactions in the classroom, especially with the professors as well. Theology was a pretty neat discipline because we there’s not too many majors in the theology department. I got to do a lot of work one-on-one with professors, which is a great opportunity to do independent studies. It’s great and then some of the class sizes were pretty small, so it allowed for student interaction to be fruitful as well. Also some other professors, one particular professor, James McNutt, my interactions with him were very influential in my life. He’s the reason I went on to graduate studies because of his encouragement and his working with me, I had several history classes with him. Also I was involved in campus ministry when I was a student here. Some of the best moments for that was the access, having the Chapel (Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel) in the center of campus. A place to pray, a place to access the sacraments, going to daily Mass. Those were some of my top highlights.

DK: Professor McNutt was an amazing history professor, I always loved having him in class and can definitely see how someone like that can help motivate someone to go through with another two years of school. The chapel being open 24/7 on campus is one of the the best highlights as well, for the safety and peace of mind that it provides here on campus. What drew you towards theology and studying it?

JO: To answer that, I’ll start in high school. In high school, my sophomore year, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation and that really sparked in me. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I think it was God’s grace moving in me to love the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church and to pursue it. I started getting involved in high school youth ministry as well as different Bible studies. Ultimately, when I was searching for colleges I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I had just assumed because of my academic track record, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll do something like engineering or medicine’ because those are prestigious fields. But then as I was visiting universities I didn’t really know what I wanted to study and I didn’t feel quite at home until I went with a priest in the Ciocese to a seminary in Columbus. It was at the seminary that I really felt at home. So I entered seminary for my first year of undergrad. There you’re studying philosophy and theology, and I just fell in love with those disciplines as a personal interest. It’s what I wanted to do; it’s what I loved. There was no practical element really to it. It wasn’t like, ‘I wanted to study this so I can get this job,’ it was just studying it for the sake of of loving it. After I had discerned out of seminary and transferred to Thomas More, I wanted to continue studying those things. Ultimately, again, love of the intellectual life and love of theology led me to getting a graduate degree in theology as well.

DK: I can tell there’s a lot of passion in learning for that, and for everything that you get out of theology and what you can give back into the world as well. What were some of the highlights from your first year working as assistant director of campus ministry?

JO: After I got my graduate degree, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. This job opened and it seemed like something that would be interesting to me. I wanted to do something in the field of ministry or teaching theology, and I think I just love working with college students. Being beyond secondary education is something that I’ve just really enjoyed: building relationships with students, meeting new students, as well as part of my job is recruitment. I get to go into high schools and tell them about Thomas More, about campus ministry, about the Bishop Foys Scholarship. I kind of get the best of both worlds; I get to work with high school students as well as college students. It’s exciting; this incoming class of students, a lot of them I’ve met at their high schools, I’ve met at different admissions events on campus. I’ll get to see them come into Thomas More and then just see them throughout the years here. It’s a great privilege to build relationships with them. A highlight of the first year is seeing students get passionate and involved on campus because a lot of the the programming / the events that we do is run by students. Seeing students find something they’re interested in and and just run with it, is great. We’re hoping to build on that momentum.

DK: I know they put on some great events like those nights of worship and everything that you guys host in the actual Chapel itself. Is there anything that you are looking forward to in year two?

JO:  Year two is continuing to build and ride that momentum that we’ve formed with the current students, but then also we have a great incoming class. Right now, it’s around 50 Bishop Foys scholars. These are students who are looking to take their passion for the faith, their passion for ministry – a lot of these students are doing campus ministry in their high schools and so really taking what they love, finding what they love, what they’re passionate about, and having them bring that here to enliven campus, build a sense of community within campus ministry, [and] to get more students involved. I think year two feels much more ambitious than year one. Year one was settling in, getting used to the flow of things, but now it’s coming to the point where I remember, ‘Oh, last year we did this; last year this happened.’ I know how the year runs and so we’re going to be able to do more things to engage more students, and hopefully provide a more holistic and qualitative experience for the students.

DK: In the field of theology and studying it, how do you apply your theological values to your life?

JO:  One of the classic definitions of theology is ‘faith seeking understanding.’ That’s something that I find very relevant to my life. I mentioned the study of theology was more of something about my passion and desire to do it. I’ve been Catholic my whole life, I was baptized as a baby, I grew up in it and so I think I was given that gift of faith at a very young age from my parents. Wanting to understand it more, because I love the faith and I love God – to be able to understand it more and apply that to my life, starts with the foundation of prayer, reliance on the sacraments, and God’s grace. To love and know something you have to spend time with it. To know God, to love God, you have to spend time in the dialogue of prayer and that’s really the foundation of applying the theological principles in my life. I get into other things as well, one of the most important ones is I’ve been married for almost two years and having a hierarchy of values. Recognizing my vocation, my calling in life is primarily to be a husband and now a father – I have a 10-month-old daughter. To be a husband and a father, that takes precedence over anything else, and in doing that duty, that responsibility, is really applying the values that I have. I’d say the third thing of applying the values would be to see Christ in other people and to be Christ to other people. That’s what the Christian life is about is being conformed to Jesus and having his virtues live in you and to be able to interact with people with kindness and humility and compassion. That’s another thing I try to do and I hope I do. 

DK: Well, certainly just from talking with you and seeing how you conduct yourself with students on campus – very much with a passion for the fruit of the spirits – I see you very much are able to provide to the community that type of support that I’m sure everyone appreciates. Thank you for being that and doing so. Lastly, what advice do you have for current students?

JO: Advice I give to students all the time is to find your niche; find what you’re interested in and get involved. I would say the only regret I have of my time in undergrad was not being involved enough. I think what you put in, is what you get out; so what you put into your experience here as a student, is going to make your experience better. That’s going to be different things for different people: it could be your academics; it could be a club; or student government; or your work study; or something [else]. Finding what you’re interested in and going for it makes such a great experience. Another piece of advice I would give, is to really engage in the mission of our University, to not allow your education to simply just be a step, a jumping point, to a job. I think that’s important, of course – you need a job to live, but I think education is so much more than about what it does for you but also about what it does to you. How your education can transform you interiorly to make you a better person. Those things that we talk about all the time in the mission [of Thomas More University]: the meaning of life, your place in the world, and your responsibility to others. Really grappling with those and engaging with those, and discovering it in all the disciplines of academics, from the natural sciences to the fine arts, to the languages. Everything to really engage ‘truth.’ Finding truth – where it’s found and seeing how that relates to the bigger picture of your life and your life in the world 

DK: Truer words can’t be spoken. The mission statement and everything that Thomas More is able to help provide is, like you said, a stepping stone for a reason. You might as well grow and put everything you can into it, so you can take the most out once you finally are over with it all. You certainly have been doing that and taking advantage of it, and I hope that you continue to be a great light here for Campus Ministry and everyone on campus. Thank you all back home for joining us for another edition of Saint Spotlight, be sure to tune in to the next one.

*The Bishop Roger J. Foys Ministry & Service Scholarship seeks to involve Catholic students in a thriving campus ministry program. High school seniors who are admitted to Thomas More and have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA may apply. To learn more, visit: thomasmore.edu/foys.