It’s fall, you’ve sent your Catholic kids off to — or back to — college. And many, if not most, of those young folks will be heading to something other than a faithful Catholic institution.
Unfortunately, a fair number of those kids will come home at Thanksgiving or Christmas or next summer, either having fallen off from the practice of their faith or abandoning it altogether. That can strain relationships in the family and provide a poor example to younger siblings, who can’t understand why a brother or sister doesn’t want to go to Mass, rails against the Church, starts expounding radically different beliefs, or just gives up on God.
It’s a hard world out there for serious Catholics, and secular college campuses may be among the toughest places around. But there are rays of hope. I have Millennial friends who returned to their faith at secular colleges, with the help of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries and Newman Centers, campus Catholic ministries named in honor of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
There’s also help in the literary and digital world.
Yesterday, Oct. 9, the National Catholic Register published a column by Aurora Griffin, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard graduate who wrote the 2016 book, “How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students,” which probably should be put in the hands of any Catholic collegian.
In her column, Griffin cites catechesis from her father, the witness of her parents’ marriage and weekly Mass attendance (no matter what). You can read the whole thing here; below find an excerpt.
If you do, and you live in the sacraments, grace will overflow from your life and touch everyone around you, including your children. That’s the supernatural benefit. There’s also a natural benefit. Children value authenticity. When you tell your kids not to smoke, and then sneak outside for a cigarette, they internalize it. When you say that your faith is important to you, you have to live a life that backs it up. There is nothing more compelling, on a human level, than the witness of a saint.
So how do you keep your kids Catholic in college? Be the saint that you were meant to be. It’s the simple formula that the Church has held throughout the ages and the narrow path on which we all must begin again every day.
I had assumed that Harvard is a very secular environment, so this last remark surprised me. Aurora explains that “it was not a Catholic place, but part of the joy for me was feeling like a bit of a rebel. If Harvard has an ideology as an institution, it is secular.” She adds that “As a Catholic, I experienced very little pushback, except when I was defending the Church’s stance on abortion. When I wrote pro-life articles, for example, I neither expected nor received much support.”
And here she is discussing the subject with our friends at CatholicTV, a couple of times:
There’s also help from other sources, including peers such as the members of the New Catholic Generation YouTube Channel:
On the front lines of all this is Father Mike Schmitz, who aside from his YouTube stardom with Ascension Press, is the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth (a secular state school), and the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth.
Here’s an interview he did this past spring with CatholicTV:
This past January, nearly 13,000 college students, FOCUS missionaries, campus chaplains, alumni, benefactors and sponsors converged on San Antonio, Texas, for SEEK2017, FOCUS’ biennial national conference.
I remember going to a special Latin Mass on Jan. 31, 2016, at the Our Savior Chapel at the Caruso Catholic Center at USC. I thought the subdeacon assisting the priests must be a seminarian, as he was so focused and flawless. But when I spoke to him afterward, I discovered he was just a student. He said he wasn’t really into his faith when he came to USC, but when the crush of collegiate life hit him, he discovered he needed Jesus, and that led him to Our Savior.
(That’s him at center, kneeling at the bottom of the steps.)
So, it can happen (and BTW, last time I saw him, he was assisting at another Mass and still going strong).
Image: Trinity College Dublin (Wikimedia Commons)