After Crazy 2020, Students Seek No-Nonsense Catholic Colleges

“These schools are truly almae matres, nourishing mothers,” says one student, “who care for their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare.”

Students pray at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California
Students pray at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California (photo: The Cardinal Newman Society)

During uncertain and troubling times, what’s a Catholic high school senior to think about attending college?

Christ promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” For young people across America, the year 2020 was tumultuous and often difficult, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, racial tensions and violence. Did any of this affect students’ resolve to attend a faithful Catholic college?

That was the question posed to high school seniors competing for scholarships in The Cardinal Newman Society’s annual essay contest, and the responses we received give me great hope for the future. Indeed, the events of the past year have made me even more certain of the need for wise and virtuous graduates of faithful Catholic schools and colleges. We rely on them to renew our culture. 

Trinity Chester, a homeschooled student in California, writes that the “challenges of the past year” left her with the conviction that she “could not possibly settle for anything less” than a faithful Catholic college.

“As colleges across the country have shut down or taken classes completely online, faithful Catholic colleges have gone above and beyond to minister to their students in these trying times and keep classes in-person, if at all possible,” Chester reflects in her winning essay. “These schools are truly almae matres — nourishing mothers who care for their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare.”

She looks forward to attending a college where “Christ is at the heart” of campus and the education “seeks knowledge of the true, the good and the beautiful.” She believes a liberal arts education is practical, too: 

In a post-COVID economy … graduates will need a holistic education that will equip them for life and give them a versatile skillset. Catholic colleges, with their strong focus on the Liberal Arts, give students the knowledge, critical thinking skills and flexibility to succeed in any venture.

Chester will use her $5,000 scholarship to attend Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, where students are being prepared “each in their own way … to live lives of service.” About 10 percent of the College’s alumni have entered the priesthood or religious life, a third of the graduates have gone on to graduate studies or other advanced education, and others have pursued a wide variety of careers.

“Faithful Catholic colleges equip their students to be missionaries for the faith by carrying Christ with them into the world after graduation,” Chester writes.

“The events of the past year have taught us that our broken world desperately needs young people with a love for the Lord and a missionary spirit, who will dedicate their lives to service and evangelization,” says Chester.

Praise God for faithful Catholic colleges and for the students who attend them! They are a great light in the darkness of our culture today. May God bless Trinity and all her fellow students who are preparing to attend college this fall.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.