When I talk about my book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard, I am often asked why I went to Harvard instead of a Catholic school. For my part, the answer is simple enough: I saw the movie “Legally Blonde” when I was 10, and the protagonist, Elle Woods, went to Harvard. A lot of the jokes were lost on me, but I knew I wanted to be just like Elle  — pink wardrobe and tiny dog included. More than that, I saw that Harvard would open doors for me later in life, so my mind was made up. I went to Harvard for the prestige and future opportunities, but I hadn’t realized how much I’d be missing out on culturally and academically. In retrospect, I would have done well to more seriously consider a Catholic education.

That is not to say I regret my decision. God put it to good use: I thrived in my faith under pressure. If I hadn’t gone to Harvard, I would not have met my group of friends, who became close because of our struggles against the secular culture. I would not have had the opportunity to help fight off the black Mass re-enactment my senior year. It would have been much more difficult for me to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship or competitive jobs. I remain grateful for all of the opportunities my Harvard education continues to afford me now. Furthermore, we need good people of faith at secular schools to be leaven in the dough.

My parents were involved with Thomas Aquinas College when I was in high school, and thought I should go there. I had never (and still have not) gone to a Catholic school, for reasons mentioned in a previous post. I resisted my parents’ push toward TAC, partly because they were my parents and because I wanted to go to a top medical school. But by the time I was a junior at Harvard, I had switched majors from biomedical engineering to classics, and realized that I had spent most of my time trying to get the kind of education that is built into the curriculum at TAC.

Harvard did not have a theology department, and generally relegated “religion” to an anthropological/ sociological study of what those silly, superstitious people who believe in God do. Thomas Aquinas’ books are neglected in the farthest corner of the deepest underground level in the library. I was in a philosophy class my freshman year, and the professor remarked “No one takes Aquinas seriously anymore.” I thought, “I bet they do at TAC.” In fact, I briefly contemplated going to TAC for a second bachelor’s degree after I finished at Harvard since I felt like I had missed out on so much intellectually. All of that to say: a Catholic education, especially with a great books program, is a precious thing, not to be passed up lightly.

Now that I am working at The Catholic University of America, I have a whole new appreciation for what a Catholic education can do for its students. Catholic University strives to instill virtues in the hearts of its students in addition to educating their minds. Dorms are separated by sex. There are 10 Masses a day around campus. Religious men and women in habit walk around campus and are enrolled in classes. The university has been deliberate in affirming its Catholic identity in the public square, filing a lawsuit to resist the immoral demands of parts of the HHS Mandate pertaining to the provision of abortifacients, sterilizations and contraception. The case was just settled in their favor.

Unfortunately, not all colleges are as deliberate about preserving their Catholic roots. Peter Kreeft recalls in his introduction to my book that “Archbishop Fulton Sheen told parents that the best way for their kids to lose their Catholic faith was to go to a ‘Catholic’ college.” The good news is that there are many options for serious Catholics, and there are more all the time (e.g., TAC is building a campus in Massachusetts).

I wrote my book to encourage Catholics that anyone can keep the Faith at any college. You can’t expect to go to a (seriously or nominally) Catholic school, do nothing, and expect to passively keep your faith. But no matter where you are, you can choose to actively cultivate your faith through prayer and the sacraments (and maybe some of the 40 things I suggest in the book). If you choose to keep your faith, no one can take it away from you.