Tips for Staying Faithfully Catholic While in College
Campus ministry, above all, should aid students in deepening their faith journey.
On the to-do list of every Catholic college student should be going to Mass and getting involved in Catholic campus ministry.
Mass attendance and campus-ministry involvement can be the antidote to the normal college anxiety suffered by many collegians, as well as increase a student’s relationship with Jesus and the faith and help create fertile ground for building long-lasting friendships.
Campus ministry, above all, should aid students in deepening their faith journey.
“A strong campus ministry surrounds Catholic college students with the vibrancy, fun and substance they need to continue walking with Jesus on campus,” said Jason Simon, executive director of Evangelical Catholic.
“Campus ministries will help us make friends with people who can help us become the people we are called to become in Jesus,” added Simon. “In a campus ministry, the sacraments will come alive, prayer will become more and more a part of our lives and the Scriptures will become our nourishment.”
“A strong campus-ministry program is important because it emphasizes faith formation in a way to make faith real and vibrant,” said Franciscan Father Shawn Roberson, university chaplain at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
Franciscan students generally seek to know their faith and to know the Lord through their faith. “We bring a combination of sacramental life and faith experience and missionary outreach all together to form our students to be joyful disciples who are working to transform a culture by their lives and witness,” said Father Roberson.
Combating the Culture
A strong Catholic campus-ministry program can be effective at countering the secular forces found at most colleges and universities.
“Strong campus ministry is vital for meeting students where they are,” said Brotherhood of Hope Brother Parker Jordan, a recent director of the Catholic Student Union at Florida State University.
“Statistically speaking, over 70% of Catholic young adults lose their faith when they go to college,” explained Father Nathan Dail, chaplain at Boise State University.
“Stay close to the Holy Eucharist, go to confession regularly, and find like-minded friends,” advised Father Dail.
“There is ample opportunity in our society to become great saints,” he added. “For those who are convicted of their faith, it can feel like a living martyrdom at times, but their love and devotion to Christ becomes all the more palpable and enjoyable in the midst of it.”
“We are living in a culture where the response to the Christian and Catholic faith is moving from indifference/skepticism to hostility,” said Ben Huntley, past St. Paul’s Outreach chapter leader at Texas State University and now director of mission partner development for St. Paul’s Outreach.
“This is especially true on [secular] college campuses, where a culture of self-defining truth is accepted and any disagreement with the power to self-define truth results in being called intolerant, hateful and bigoted. A strong Catholic community, through a strong campus-ministry program or missionary organization, is essential to living out daily discipleship of Jesus and growth in faith,” added Huntley.
A school may have a terrific campus-ministry program, but the key is for the Catholic student to get involved. “I believe there are several key elements,” said Father Roberson. “First off would be a consistent prayer life.”
“Second is community. Here at Franciscan, there is a vibrant community in which the individual thrives and often where young adults find the fullness of their identity. In a world that has grown cold by way of overemphasized individualism, this generation is truly craving connection that our Catholic faith community provides.”
Staying rooted to the sacramental life of the Church is vital.
“Regular participation in the sacraments is crucial, as there are powerful graces present in the sacraments to help a student stay strong in their commitment to follow Jesus,” said Huntley.
“Get connected with a community of other Catholics, and dive in,” said Brother Parker.
“Believe it or not, you have more free time than you’ll ever have again in your life, so invest it in things that really matter, and they will transform you into a better person.”
“Besides attending Mass, look for freshmen retreats, small groups, Bible studies or opportunities to be mentored by older students or campus ministers,” he added.
“There will likely be a lot of good, fun activities, but be on the lookout for some places to ‘plug in’ with deeper conversation and formation. Going to daily Mass will often give you the opportunity to meet the students who can really become deep supportive friends,” added Simon of Evangelical Catholic.
Catholic college students should seek out the Newman Center on a non-Catholic campus. In addition, there are other resources available; Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and St. Paul’s Outreach are just two missionary organizations that partner with diocesan campus-ministry programs to bring the Catholic faith to college campuses.
Involvement in campus ministry proves fulfilling. “I’ve yet to meet a student that regrets getting involved in his or her campus ministry,” said Father Robert Lampitt, head chaplain at the University of Illinois’ St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.
“Instead, it is often one of the fondest memories of college because they form strong friendships with peers and feel seen and connected in a way that their parish or high school was not able to do,” said Father Lampitt.
Finding a community of students that is pursuing Jesus together is a blessing. “Following Jesus is not easy, especially at a university, but being part of a vibrant and dynamic community of Catholics will provide relationships essential to the long-term pursuit of Christ,” said Huntley.
“Students will have the strength to remain true to their values, their identity, without feeling as much pressure to conform to the secular environment of the college,” said Father Dail.
“If we learned anything from the recent COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it can be difficult for any person, including college students, to grow in their faith when they are isolated,” said Craig Miller, president of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
“With a Newman Center group or FOCUS Bible study, students can find a place to ask questions, receive resources and opportunities and learn more about their faith, and form relationships that can support and encourage them to live a Christ-centered life even beyond college,” added Miller.
“Companies want to hire men and women of integrity,” said Father Lampitt. “Showing an active faith life gives evidence of that character. In addition, companies want leaders. Leaders can lead anything. So, if a student can lead a retreat or Bible study or a choir, he or she is demonstrating leadership skills. Companies also like those who show initiative. Campus ministers want students to suggest new ideas and begin new initiatives.”
Jesus Is the Priority
And Christ is always the focus.
“A great campus-ministry program will have a clear plan for leading students deeper into Jesus and the Catholic faith,” said Simon.
“They will know how they want to connect with freshmen, how they want to lead them deeper into friendship and formation, and, later, how they want to equip them as leaders on campus,” continued Simon. “They will have a holistic vision for preparing college students to powerfully impact the world with the Gospel after they graduate.”
Emphasized Huntley: “A great college campus-ministry community facilitates encounters with the Person of Jesus Christ.”
“Christ went out and invited others to walk the way with him; he never told his disciples to stay indoors, but to follow his lead and ‘go into all the world’ (Mark 16:15). A healthy campus ministry wants to do the same,” explained Miller.
Dominican Father Patrick Hyde, the pastor and director of campus ministry at the St. Paul Catholic Center at Indiana University, says that working with like-minded, Christ-centered people builds up community to “bring the love of Jesus and the joy of the Good News to the men and women of our campus through a joyful witness and deep personal investment.”
Emphasized Huntley of such Christ-centered priority: “This encounter brings about powerful and lasting transformation. Those who experience Jesus in a real and personal way can’t help but share him with their friends, co-workers and classmates.”
Editor’s Note: This series highlights a variety of campus ministries. Read the other parts: Ivy League, Great Lakes, Midwest and South, and Southwest and West; also learn about FOCUS ministry. To learn more about Catholic life at college, also see our annual guide and our “Education” section.
Sean P. Dolan is a Catholic communications professional and founder of Dolan Communications.
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