Students at the nation’s smaller Catholic colleges may be seen at a political protest now and again — most typically a walk for life in defense of the unborn — but more often they make their voices heard in less visible, but arguably more important, ways. They’re able to take the intellectual and spiritual formation they receive on campus and put it into practice in a variety of responses to the needs of the communities in which they live.
A call to share
Jose Guardiola, 21, is a junior at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. He has volunteered in a variety of areas and is currently running the youth group at St. Sebastian’s, a Santa Paula parish. He leads a Bible study and presents on different aspects of the Faith using the formation he’s received at TAC; he also organizes social activities.
“I believe this is how God is calling me to live my faith,” Jose said, noting that he’d never sought out volunteer opportunities, but that they always come to him. He continued, “God is calling me to be a servant, and this is one way I can serve.”
Jose is originally from the small northern Mexican town of Cuauhtemoc in Chihuahua. He was born into a culturally Catholic family: his mother nominally Catholic and his father an atheist. His father agreed to have Jose baptized, Jose said, because while he didn’t believe in any dogmas, he saw church as “a good place to learn morals.”
Jose’s father moved to Texas to become a university professor and brought four-year-old Jose and the rest of the family with him. Later, Jose had a conversion experience and came to TAC to participate in its “great books” program, learning about Western Civilization from great authors in its tradition. As he was raised “atheist and liberal,” his first year at TAC was a “culture shock,” but he came to love the school, its curriculum and its people.
He said, “I’ve found people who have welcomed me with genuine love and interest in my background and are excited that I’m someone whose native language is Spanish.”
At age 19, Jose was asked to teach a catechism class at a local Hispanic parish. Some of the teens were difficult to handle, he admitted, “but a few of my biggest disciplinary problems ended up showing the most love for God.”
Being of Mexican descent helped him with the class, he believes, as “I was coming from a place closer to where they were, so in some ways it put into their minds that I was owed more respect.”
He’s also volunteered at a Catholic Worker homeless shelter. His motivation to volunteer, he explained, is that he believes he’s called to share the Catholic education he’s received at TAC with others. He said, “I want to do my part to end nominal Catholicism and persuade them to live an authentic Catholic life.”
“Nominal Catholicism,” he continued, “was what destroyed my faith when I was younger.”
He has a soft spot in his heart for his fellow Latinos, more of whom he hopes will pursue an education at Catholic institutions such as TAC, “especially those from lower class backgrounds.”
Jose plans to earn a master’s in fine arts after graduating TAC and then make a career of fiction writing. He’s delighted to report that both his parents have “found their faith” and are excited about the education he’s been receiving at TAC.
But while he loves studying his lofty textbooks, volunteering has reminded him that there is “a beautiful world of people out there who haven’t experienced the Faith at the same level I have. I have to be careful to put aside the technical jargon I’ve learned and meet them where they’re at.”
He’s especially attracted to working with the poor, he added, “as God has instilled in me a love for the disadvantaged and marginalized.”
Sophia Michael is a sophomore at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming. She has been an active volunteer since arriving, currently teaching catechism to first graders at the city’s only parish, Holy Rosary.
“I love little children, and they want to know about the Faith,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to share.”
Sophia grew up in a devout Catholic home in Rogers, Minnesota. “Service has been part of my life,” she said, as she and her six younger siblings were encouraged by their parents to volunteer. She helped create Thanksgiving baskets at her parish, participated in service-oriented Catholic clubs and helped out at a retreat house run by a community of sisters near her home. She even volunteered to teach ballet and chemistry. She explained, “We were raised to understand that there were others out there who have needs and we should help them.”
She decided to attend Wyoming Catholic because of the education it offers in the Catholic faith and because of its Outdoor Program, in which students spend time in the outdoors developing leadership skills and an appreciation of the beauty of creation. She’s been delighted with her choice, both the academic life and the Catholic culture on campus, as she has the chance “to be surrounded by people interested in the same things and working towards the same goal.”
Part of her day includes daily Mass, a practice she shares with many of her fellow students.
During her freshman year, a professor challenged her and her class to consider “radical Catholic living,” or an active practice of the Faith which included volunteerism. She also had the opportunity to read the book “God’s Smuggler” (Chosen Books, $9.99) the real-life story of a man who risked his life to sneak Bibles into communist countries, which inspired her to “take my faith to other people.”
In addition to teaching catechism, Sophia spends Sunday afternoons at a local retirement home talking to shut-ins. She’s working on a plan to drive them to Mass. On Fridays, she helps with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, serving meals to the poor and getting to know them personally. And she serves as a back-up catechism teacher at the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation children basics of the Faith. Sophia and her fellow Catholics have made a huge impact on the reservation, she added, as when they began, the children “didn’t know who the man was on the crucifix.”
Sophia describes her volunteerism as “the active part of my faith,” nurtured by the Catholic education and spirituality she receives at Wyoming Catholic. She wants to do missionary work after graduating college, “working closely with the Catholic Church, doing what Jesus asks me to do.” Her goal in life, she said, is not only getting herself to heaven, “but helping others get there, too.”
Jim Graves writes from California.
Read all College Special Section 2018 articles here.