West Virginia native newest addition to Campus Ministry


Detroit Mercy has gained a new presence in campus ministry with the recent arrival of Paul Riffon, a 28-year-old from Morgantown, West Virginia.

“I didn’t know much about Detroit and I didn’t know much about the area other than what’s on the news. And it’s usually not good stuff, which is completely unfair,” he said.

As a student at Wheeling Jesuit University, Riffon studied philosophy and theology – “the important stuff,” as he calls it.

Afterward, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and headed to Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, his first time west of the Mississippi.

He found life in the High Plains to be really different.

For one thing, it’s the norm for people to travel on horses rather than in cars.

Life took him east next where he directed the Newman Catholic Center at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Newman Catholic Centers can be found on many college campuses across the country.

Unfortunately for Riffon, funding ran dry at Ohio, which led to the program being cut.

All of these steps brought him to where he is today, at Detroit Mercy as minister for spirituality and faith formation.

Usually, you will find him in his office in the Student Center across from the campus bookstore.

“Detroit Mercy has an identity that is urban and a lot of the stuff that the university is doing reaches out to the surrounding area,” he said. “It’s not like, here is the university and then people come in.”

Detroit Mercy shares its philosophy with the community, he said.

“I think that is really important,” he said. “We aren’t some sort of savior that goes out and does this stuff (ministry work) for them. We learn just as much as they are helped.”

In his spare time, Riffon enjoys woodworking. He uses only manual tools.

“I do a lot of mind work at my job, so I need something to do with my hands,” he said.

Jermin Joseph, a junior in the dental program, has been a part of ministry for the past few years.

“We lost Drew Peters,” a former ministry employee, Joseph said. “He had a strong energy in the office and always pushed us to be our best and do new projects on our own. With him leading, ministry was at its peak. 

“Once he left, we didn’t know where things would go with that spot vacant, especially with Sister Beth (Finster) gone as well” due to retirement, he said.

Riffon is helping to set a direction, Joseph said.

“He’s got a bright mind and will bring in some great ideas,” he said. “And with the experience that the rest of us have gotten in recent years, there is a lot of potential.”

The new position is not the only big change in Riffon’s life.

Shortly before he started at Detroit Mercy, he got married and moved to Grosse Pointe Park.

In a few months, his family will grow a little bit bigger.

He and his wife are expecting a newborn baby.