Keeping Catholic at College
BY Amy Smith
September 27-October 3, 2009 Issue | Posted 9/18/09 at 1:52 PM
The college years are a wonderful time to grow in faith. Students just need to know how to stay “plugged in” on campus so they graduate with both their degrees and their faith.
Faith factor. Do your homework. Check out Catholic campus ministries as you research prospective colleges. Visit to see what’s offered. Attend Mass or a social event. Going to a Catholic college does not guarantee one will keep the faith. Nor does attending a secular university necessarily mean faith will slip away. An authentic Catholic presence and opportunities for spiritual growth are what matter — whether at the state university’s Newman Center or a Catholic college.
Sacramental habits. Frequent Mass and the sacraments. Don’t limit attendance to Sundays. Daily Mass is often offered at multiple times on campus, so you can go between or after classes. Take advantage of confession times, too. Doing so will help you live a holy life and make good decisions while away at school. It’s a unique and wonderful experience when your church is filled with students just like you, and college chaplains are ever-ready to dispense discernment advice and teach young adults how to live their beliefs in the world, starting at the campus level.
Get involved. Christian fellowship is vital during these formative years. Attend social events so you get to know the pastoral staff and other students. Join a Bible study. Volunteer at the soup kitchen with other students. Sing in the choir. Go on a retreat. Visit Christ in adoration. Find a spiritual director. Also look for service organizations and other faith-based groups like Fellowship of Catholic University Students and Compass, which send recent college graduates to evangelize students at Catholic and secular campuses around the country through Bible studies, one-on-one discipleship and large group events. Active participation will keep you connected to your faith — and help you feel like you’re part of things. Years from now you may not recall what you learned in Psychology 101, but you will cherish the memories of spiritually-enriching moments.
Pray. Make time when you get up, before bed, or sometime between classes for prayer. When you’re away at school, you won’t be able to discuss every concern with your best friend or parents, but Jesus is always there, ready for a heart-to-heart, available to hear about your new adventures, that hard course, your budding hopes and dreams — and everything in between. Pray the Rosary and other traditional prayers. Meditate on a passage of the Bible; put yourself in the story and see what Christ is telling you as a college student. Use Catholic spiritual books to guide your prayer time, as well. Even keep a prayer journal to record your answered prayers, intentions and your spiritual insights.
Faith-filled friends. “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron of students. Seek a group of friends who will hold you accountable and encourage you to grow in your faith and vice versa. Go to Mass together. Form a Bible study or Rosary group. Get together for wholesome activities.
Christ-centered study. College is meant to prepare you for your future, but all of that newfound knowledge should be kept in perspective. As you complete your major, ready yourself to serve Christ in the world. Follow the advice of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was a teacher: “When you begin to study, look up to him and think: ‘O Lord, how worthless this knowledge would be, if it were not for the enlightening of my mind for thy service, or for making me more useful to my fellow men.’”
Learn about the faith. Read more than your class notes and textbooks. Study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Research the lives of the saints. Attend lectures and other faith-learning events. The more you delve into the beauty of the faith, the more likely you’ll live it out.
Live in a Catholic community. In the fall of 2008, St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign opened a second dorm in order to accommodate more student residents. Students have lived at the Newman Center’s first dorm since it was built in the 1920s. Other ministries around the country also offer or would like to offer faith-centered housing. (For more information about Newman housing, see “Students Who Stay Together” at NCRegister.com.)
Best wishes for faith-filled college years!
Amy Smith, the Register’s copy editor, graduated in 2003 from the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was active in and lived at the Newman Center.
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