Amber Marie Wharton attended Catholic schools half of her life; Shane Dukart was homeschooled with a Catholic curriculum; and Bridget Klatt never attended Catholic elementary or secondary school. But what they have in common is that their experiences in Catholic colleges are strengthening their faith journies as they grow. 

Here are their stories. 

Amber Marie Wharton

School: University of St. Francis, Fort Wayne, Ind. 

Age: 22 

Year: junior 

Major: elementary education 

Wharton
Wharton

Amber Marie Wharton of Fort Wayne, Ind., grew up moving around because of her father’s military career. She attended 10 different schools along the way, half of them Catholic, and the final one was Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne. In her senior year, she took a dual credit psychology class at the nearby University of St. Francis, through its Achieving Credits Early (ACE) program offered to high school students. 

“I figured it was a good way to start out and get my feet wet,” she said. “By taking an early jump-start into the college experience, all of my fears and worries of college were put to rest.” 

Wharton, 22, is a junior elementary education major with a focus on mild intervention (special needs). She had already planned to attend St. Francis, and the ACE experience reinforced her decision. 

“I have attended both Catholic and public schools, and Catholic schools have always worked best for me,” she said. “I am very strong in my faith and attending a school that allows me to practice and express my faith is very important to me. My experience in a Catholic college has enriched my faith through events like the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. It has enriched my personal life as well because I often was very shy throughout high school, and at USF I have gained many lifelong friends who have helped me become a better version of myself.” 

Attending Catholic schools also has nurtured and supported her desire to become a Catholic school teacher. 

“Catholic school education allows young Catholic children the ability to receive the knowledge and nourishment they need to grow closer to God,” she said. 

After graduation in fall 2014, Wharton plans to teach at a Catholic elementary school, tentatively in special education. 

Shane Dukart

School: University of Mary, Bismarck, N.D. 

Age: 19 

Year: sophomore 

Major: business administration 

Dukart
Shane Dukart, left, at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. University of Mary

Shane Dukart wanted to spend a semester in Rome so he could grow in his faith. He also wanted to experience the discipline of being a student while still enjoying the city. 

The experiences have been beyond his expectations. 

“Being in Rome during the time of the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis is almost surreal,” he told OSV. “Being in the square when the white smoke went up was crazy, and the sheer joy of every person in St. Peter’s Square was beautiful. Waiting to know who the new pope was while standing in the rain was worth it when he was announced, especially considering that his name is the same as my confirmation name.” 

Dukart, 19, of Killdeer, N.D., was homeschooled with a Catholic curriculum, and is a sophomore business administration major at the University of Mary in Bismarck. He and his siblings, Anthony and Marie, who also attend UMary, are currently studying at the University of Mary Rome Campus. This semester, they have classes that relate to Rome and that take them to visit places they are studying. 

“Learning the faith from my childhood helped me to realize that being a Catholic comes with a responsibility to know Christ and to share him with others, and I believed that attending the University of Mary would help me to do that,” he said. “And living in Rome as a Catholic is amazing. It helps me to understand how great our faith is.” 

Dukart credits Catholic education with enabling him to see the richness and depth of his faith and to “understand how faith and reason work together in life.” After graduation, he will attend graduate school at a Catholic university to pursue a master’s degree in health administration. 

“I expect Catholic higher education to guide me whenever I have to make decisions based on serious ethical concerns and issues dealing with morality,” Dukart told Our Sunday Visitor. “I also believe that it will help me make the best decisions possible whenever I’m faced with a tough choice in life.” 

Bridget Klatt

School: University of Mary, Bismarck, N.D. 

Age: 20 

Year: Sophomore 

Major: occupational therapy, Catholic studies 

Klatt
Bridget Klatt, second from the right, enjoys Easter brunch in Rome. University of Mary

Although Bridget Klatt of Barron, Wis., did not attend Catholic schools before enrolling in the University of Mary, she grew up in “a very enriching Catholic environment,” she said. Her parents taught her the Faith and gave her opportunities to attend conferences and retreats that prepared her for the struggles that she sometimes faced in secular schools. 

Those struggles turned out to be blessings. “It was in those hard times that I questioned, was questioned and pursued answers,” she said. “In the search, I learned the Faith and solidified what I believed.” 

Klatt chose Catholic higher education because she wanted to grow in her relationship with and knowledge of God, she added, and she wanted to defend her faith. 

“Most of all, I wanted to be able to share my faith with others and help them to build a relationship with God,” she said. “My Catholic education is teaching me how to live out the Catholic faith and be a disciple of our Lord today. I am learning what it means to be part of a community of believers all striving for holiness.” 

Klatt is majoring in occupational therapy and plans to continue her master’s degree at UMary. She also has a minor in Catholic religious studies, and this semester is studying at the university’s campus in Rome. 

“There’s no greater way to learn your faith than to go to the heart of the Church — Rome — where so much of our faith was founded and so much history took place,” she said. “It’s greater and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. Being in Rome at this historical time is a dream. My classmates and I were extremely blessed to have experienced every papal event up close, in the very place of those events.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.