Going to college is a bit of an adventure. It is a time to discern what God is calling you to do with the young years of your life, and a time to embrace life wholeheartedly. It is a huge change, an occasionally difficult journey, and for many people, it brings the most fun, joy, and new friendships they have ever experienced.
There are plenty of opportunities for spiritual growth in college. But you have to take them, even search for them. They won’t always be dished out to you. College is a time to actively pursue Catholicism.
In the midst of transitioning to this stage of life, it is easy to let your faith get lost in the flurry of newness, stress and excitement. Fortunately for me, I went to school with some great friends who taught me by example that yes, you can pursue holiness in college (and still have a great time).
Here are some factors that helped strengthen my faith:
Take on at least one weekly activity or commitment that is faith centered.
Take part in service projects, or volunteer to lector at Mass. Especially if you are not at a Catholic school, find a faith support group, people who will hold you to the standards you set for yourself. Many colleges have a Catholic organization or campus ministry, but if not, look to local parishes and Catholic charities.
Don’t wait 'til the night before a gut-wrenching physics exam to call on God. (Although St. Thomas Aquinas' Prayer for Students is a great one to say while studying for a big test. I'm convinced it is solely responsible for my passing grades in chemistry.) Your schedule and lifestyle are likely to change a lot when college begins, and prayer can easily get pushed to the back burner. Schedule time. For prayer, for Mass, for confession.
Put it in your planner.
Eucharistic Adoration was also vital to my spiritual life in college. I went to a small Catholic school in NC (Belmont Abbey College) and was blessed to have access to a 24/7 Adoration chapel next to the dorms. Most of my personal mini ‘crises’ were resolved here. Even when the Eucharist is not exposed, sitting in a quiet chapel with Christ in the Tabernacle is centering, and brings peace and clarity to your situation. It is a place where you can listen and find out what God is calling you to do, or just adore Christ in silence.
Express Your Faith
Be yourself when it comes to living like a Catholic. If you hide your faith, not only will it be weakened, but your friends won’t know the real you.
Being Catholic is a huge part of your identity.
Do you pray before meals at home? Don’t let eating in the cafeteria stop you from making the Sign of the Cross over your pizza. If you have a Crucifix by your bed at home, display it in your dorm. Go to Mass at the beach on spring break. Be proud of your Scapular tan.
You’ll be comfortable from the start, you will attract friends with similar values, and you will create an atmosphere for yourself that reminds you of what you believe.
Make Good Friends
Surround yourself with some people who can provide moral support and who will have a good influence on you.
You will have many acquaintances with whom you don't see eye to eye on everything, and that is fine. You can appreciate everyone who crosses your path, even when they are fundamentally different. You will even have a chance to share your faith if they ask about it, which often leads to great soul-searching conversations. (I used to wear a tiny Miraculous Medal that became a conversation starter with a non-Catholic friend more than once.)
But your very closest friends should be people who you want to be like spiritually, who are uplifting and who have strong values.
Along the same lines, make sure that if you date someone, their influence is positive for your soul. (And don’t wait until you have been dating for months to ask yourself if they help you grow spiritually…this is a quality that you should look for right off the bat.)
Live responsibly but with great joy!
Take many opportunities.
College was one of my greatest learning periods, not only in academics, but also in learning about human nature, my own strengths and weaknesses, and life in general.
If you commit to living with purpose, you will come away with a deeper and more secure relationship with God and a greater appreciation of others.
Don't let that chance go to waste.
- Mary Thierfelder is a graduate of Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine liberal arts college in Belmont, North Carolina.