Going Places

Bachelor's degree from an average, private, four-year college or university: $80,000. Preparation for life from a Catholic college or university faithful to the Church and all its teachings: priceless.

Want evidence of that equation in action? Speak with graduates of some of the best and most exuberantly Catholic schools in the United States.

We did and were encouraged by what we found. In fact, it may sound clichéd, but it's no exaggeration: The worth of a truly Catholic education is not to be found in the fame or fortune it produces.

What our sample group learned in their four years on campus was more basic. They came to appreciate the truth of the Gospel and grew in their ability to apply it to everyday life.

(This is the first in an occasional series on Catholic graduates who are succeeding in bringing the faith into the world.)

Making Music

Matthew Cameron didn't want to go to Christendom College at first. As he recalls it, he was just an average teen who went to Mass because his parents made him. His older brother had gone to the college in Front Royal, Va., and Cameron knew that Christendom was serious about the faith.

“I didn't believe much of anything at the time,” he says. “I wasn't interested in formal religion. But my parents wanted me to go. They told me to try just one semester. So I went, dragging my feet.”

After a few weeks at Christendom, Cameron was on his feet and running to classes and activities. He was hooked for life.

“The people there struck me as totally fascinating, alive and interesting,” he recalls. “They talked about their faith openly and were practicing in a real and vibrant way. It was unlike any place I'd ever known.

“Looking back,” he adds, “the education was great, and it prepared me for whatever I wanted to do in life.”

Cameron graduated in 1993 with a degree in political science, but he felt drawn to the media. With no real experience, he helped a friend produce a small film and moved to California to make movies. “I'm good at bringing people together and getting them to work as a team,” he says. “I worked on film crews, doing every job possible, 16 to 18 hours a day.”

When he met Tatiana, who had been a pop singer in her home country of Croatia, he realized that his life to that point had been a preparation for a new mission. They began producing musical performances promoting the Catholic faith and were married in December 1999. Now the parents of two young children, they spend months at a time on the road, performing concerts in churches throughout the country. They have made six albums and are completing their first DVD.

Without Christendom, Cameron says, he may have remained a halfhearted Catholic, more conformed to the world than to Christ.

“I learned that you have to engage the world and bring it to God by loving people first,” he says. “Through our work, Tatiana and I try to remind the world that there's more to this life than just this life. There's Christ.”

Pro-Life Politics

As the youngest of nine children in a strong Catholic family in California, Maggie Wynne naturally chose Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. An older sister had been in the inaugural graduating class of the college, whose curriculum is based on the great books of Western Civilization. After reading classic political texts, from Plato's Republic on, she knew she wanted to change the culture through the modern democratic process.

“Since I came from such a large Catholic family, I can't say that I had a conversion experience in college,” says Wynne, who graduated in 1983. “But I definitely did learn how to think more clearly. The goal of Thomas Aquinas College was to help us strive toward a greater perfection of the intellect.”

Steeped in Western tradition, Wynne recognized that America's abortion laws were patently unjust — and set out to change them. In 1992, she became executive director of the Pro-Life Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, whose chairman was Rep. Chris Smith (RN.J.). She labored through the hostile Clinton presidency, working to protect the Hyde Amendment that banned the use of federal funds for abortion, and drafting pro-life legislation on abortion that Clinton vetoed or the courts blocked.

Four years ago, she left the House caucus to become a legislative analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she serves as a liaison to Congress on key issues such as stem-cell research, cloning, abstinence education and family planning. Since the Bush administration is basically pro-life, she does not meet many conflicts in her current post. But, she notes, “Were this a different administration, I wouldn't feel that confidence.”

Moral Medicine

Erik Severson, a medical resident, has faced situations in which his Catholic views conflicted with his training. A 2000 graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Severson went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota Medical School. He decided not to do his residency there after the medical school opened a research project on embryonic stem cells.

“I would not put on a white coat that said ‘University of Minnesota’ on it, knowing that they're doing research on embryos down the hall,” says Severson, who is a second-year resident in orthopedic surgery at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City.

He married his college sweetheart, Rachel, after graduation, and they have three children. “As a resident, I'm putting in18-hour shifts, so I don't get to see her or the children for long stretches,” he explains. “Basically, I'm getting by on five hours (of) sleep a day so I can spend free time with my family.”

One of four children, Severson grew up in a town of 600 people in Minnesota, where his father, Paul, is a general surgeon. His father convinced him to go to Franciscan University, Severson recalled, “because he said it was the best place for me to be for the all-important years of 18 to 22, when I would become formed as a man and set the direction of my life.”

“Right away, I fell in love with it,” he continues. “I loved the camaraderie. It was awesome to see people who loved the truth and beauty of the Church, and were willing to conform their lives to it.”

The education was top-notch and prepared him well, he said. He scored in the top 2% nationally in his medical board exam and achieved high honors in medical school.

Franciscan University also affirmed his sense of service. He chose to specialize in orthopedic surgery after traveling to Haiti with an orthopedic surgeon, who corrected clubfeet and other deformities of people in the villages.

“In a few days, he changed so many lives,” Severson says. “I realized that's how God was calling me to use my medical skills. I know that missions to Haiti will be part of my practice.”

Stephen Vincent is based in Wallingford, Connecticut.

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.