Faith on campus

Summer is here. Thousands of young Catholics who just graduated from high schools will enter college in only a few weeks. Some will go to Catholic schools. The vast majority, if they decide on college, will attend nondenominational or public colleges or universities. 

The fall often brings surprise to the Catholic parents of college students. Parents of new college students at times learn that their son or daughter at best is irregular in Catholic religious observance. Other parents hear that their child is quite faithful. 

Catholic colleges are not the answer every time, but a few months ago, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., published some interesting figures. 

Catholic students at Catholic colleges and universities are less likely to drift away from the Church. 

Catholic colleges
Students at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. CNS photo

Nevertheless, Catholic students in all colleges may not always be as religiously connected after they enter college as they were in the year preceding high school graduation.  

They may not attend Mass every weekend. After all, they are finding themselves amid many pressures. The power of home diminishes from day to day. 

Not happily, but probably not surprisingly, all Catholic students these days, even if in Catholic schools, are more likely to question Church teachings in matters such as abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception.  

But if Catholic students in Catholic colleges weather the storm of their early years in college, after they get their degrees they are much more apt than Catholic alumni of secular schools to attend Mass every weekend, to register with a parish, to take seriously official Church statements from the pope or from bishops, to agree with the Church that all human life from conception to natural death is sacred, to oppose the death penalty, to oppose euthanasia and to consider being a priest or religious. 

It is not a bad report for Catholic colleges and universities. Catholic parents, therefore, should consider Catholic schools when they discuss higher education with their adolescent children. Learn about the school’s religious atmosphere. Ask alumni. Ask pastors. Priests in parishes hear many more stories about Catholic students in colleges than an average parent hears. 

In these days, money all too often raises its ugly head. At times, Catholic high school graduates may want to attend a given college because it offers a special program, and the school might not be Catholic. But, much more often, costs for Catholic colleges simply are beyond the resources of many if not most Catholic parents. 

Inquire, therefore, about financial assistance. If applying for financial aid, state that one reason is to be at a Catholic school. Of course, be honest in saying this. 

Should a public or other secular school be the only option, then look for a college with a solid Catholic campus ministry. Because of these very fine campus ministries, many modern seminarians who attended secular colleges were led to the priesthood through their school’s Catholic campus ministry. 

College students may not break every link with home, but they are becoming independent. The best gift that parents can give their young going away to college is the image of the parents’ own love for their faith. 

One Catholic college student once told me that when she got to college, far away from home, she went to Mass every single weekend, not because she felt guilty by missing Mass, but because after seeing her parents’ love for the Lord, she wanted to go to Mass, to find what her parents had found. 

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.