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Embarking for college at 18, with a solid Catholic upbringing by faithful parents and 14 years of Catholic school, I cared very much about following God’s will. I was comfortable with myself, and I certainly didn’t think anything would change me.
Unfortunately, I experienced culture shock right away, and instead of bracing myself for a bumpy ride, I let go and fell into a world wrapped up in the college party scene.
This happens to many Catholic college students, especially those at secular schools. There are no parents or teachers around to tell them to go to Mass. There are coed dorms, even coed rooms, which completely blur the sacred differences between men and women.
Not everyone knows the tune to One Bread, One Body, and devout Catholics are a rare breed. In fact, Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus) reports that 85% of Catholic college students don’t attend Sunday Mass.
With all of this, a university atmosphere usually isn’t conducive to the sacramental life. So, many Catholics forget spirituality and fall victim to distractions.
This happened to me my freshman year at Vanderbilt University. I thought I’d finally discovered the "fun" I missed out on in high school. I knew my choices weren’t right.
At the end of my first semester, I remember looking at myself in the mirror one time and thinking, Who am I? What have I become?
After a year of living like this, I hit rock bottom. My soul was restless, and it was crying out for something real.
With the help of Vandy Catholic, the university’s Catholic campus-ministry group, I finally reawakened to my faith my junior year. I joined a women’s Bible study, attended daily Mass, and signed up for a weekly Holy Hour. I also helped with student retreats and entered into discipleship (one-on-one mentoring) with one of the campus Focus missionaries.
This Catholic support reminded me that I was made for more than my college culture — and that I was made for more than what this world has to offer.
My new mentors told me I was called to be a saint. If only I could rid myself of worldly distractions and recommit myself to Christ every day in prayer and sacrament.
If only I could leave my old friends and form more Christ-centered relationships. The Catholic community opened me up to a beautiful conversion that helped me to discover who I am and what I am called to do.
Being Catholic at a secular university isn’t easy, but I think my semi-unique story proves that it is possible.
St. John Vianney once said: "The happiness of heaven, my children, is easy to acquire; the good God has furnished us with so many means of doing it!"
In order to live a devout life at a secular school, Catholic students must pray regularly, receive the sacraments often, and find friends who live faith-filled lives.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter tells the Eleven to each "save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
I attended Sunday Mass and confession during my rough phase, but I didn’t fully return to my faith until I learned the importance of Christian fellowship. Catholic students striving to live virtuously should surround themselves with people who are doing so.
There were many means for me on a secular campus to live a sacramental, prayerful, Catholic life. There are Newman Centers and Catholic campus-ministry groups on most campuses. They are there to offer a community and, most importantly, the Blessed Sacrament. What more can a Catholic ask for?
Thanks be to God, I rediscovered my faith in college. I just graduated a few months ago, and now I am doing public-policy work on marriage-and-family issues in Washington, D.C. I wouldn’t be here today if God’s grace hadn’t opened me up to my true calling and awakened in me a passion to protect the sanctity of all human life.
I pray that others at secular schools will be as blessed as I was, and I pray that all Catholic college students fully live their faith — and also come together to change the culture they are living in.
Frannie Boyle writes from Washington.