By Justin Dade
He could have been under the bright lights with thousands of fans, but Ryan Luedtke traded that all in to make a difference in the lives of college students.
“I want other young people to know what I know now,” Luedtke said on his choice to change his ways and pursue a new profession.
Luedtke, 37, has been working as the coordinator of campus ministry at the Newman Roman Catholic Parish for four years in an attempt to give students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire a place for support and guidance.
Luedtke grew up in Neillsville in a family full of athletes that led him to being involved in four different sports throughout high school. His dream at the time was to become a college basketball coach. He grew up in a home where faith was a big part of his life. He saw it first hand with a mother that was a religious education teacher, so he began to question his future plans.
Luedtke graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2009 with a kinesiology degree, but knew he wanted something more.
“It (faith) started to answer the life questions I was having and I wanted to change the way they gave faith to young people,” Luedtke said about how he began to learn about his newfound career path.
Luedtke spends his time at the Ecumenical Religious Center on campus coordinating events and Bible studies for students to help them along with their faith journeys. He also helps lead the Newman Student Association, which is a part of the Newman Parish that students run to help reach out to people on campus.
“My motivation for what I do is that I truly believe that it is our faith that is the hope for the world to bring God’s love to humanity, and that vision motivates me,” Luedtke said.
Erin Weinberger, a student leader and member of the Newman Student Association, sees all that Luedtke does for the community, and appreciates all that he does to create personal relationships with others.
“Every time I sit in there he will come by and ask me about my day, which I think is really thoughtful,” Weinberger said. “He just continues to reinforce how important staying connected with your faith is throughout college and the rest of your life.”
One of the biggest events Luedtke helps with is the annual Parish retreat to Guatemala that gives students a chance to help others in a different part of the world. This trip exposes students to the global Catholic Church and allows them to see how other people live in other parts of the world.
Luedtke also touched on how the Parish like to buy coffee from their coffee farmers when they go to help support the Guatemalan families instead of buying from large companies back in the United States. Luedtke discussed how a trip like this could inspire students to change their priorities in life.
“It gives us an opportunity to take students to a place on earth where people are hurting to see firsthand how the Catholic Church is changing the world,” Luedtke said. “You realize how we live here affects how others live in other parts of the world.”
After being a part of Newman and traveling to places like Guatemala, Luedtke has seen a lot of change in himself over the years while helping others. He has seen Christians transformed in his time here through personal conversations, which has been rewarding.
“The favorite part of my job is seeing and hearing the difference their faith life is giving them,” he said. “It’s neat to see young people pulled in positive directions. Hearing the stories of students is huge, and it inspires me.”
Luedtke also spoke a bit on how he helps students find their calling in life. He calls for students to seek out not just a profession, but also an opportunity to serve and change the world for the better. He knows how crucial it is to offer his advice and experiences of his own life to students because he, like many young people, struggled with knowing what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
One phrase Luedtke said still resonates on his ultimate decision to become a youth minister.
“The world doesn’t need better basketball players.”