Students find quiet spaces on campuses for meditation, prayer and inspiration in candlelit chapels and tree-lined paths leading to grottoes. They can sit on benches near a statue of Mary, kneel before a tabernacle surrounded by sacred art or pause to pray at an outdoor crucifix.
The following four college students share what those opportunities for quiet prayer on campus mean to them.
Alyssa Terry, 20
◗ Junior, theology major
◗ College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn.
I am blessed to go to a college where I have access to two campuses — double the number of sacred spaces. On the women’s campus (College of St. Benedict), Vista Road leads past the gardens, through the forest and to the lake. This is one of my favorite places to run and walk when I’m in need of time for reflection or to simply get away. I also like to visit the grave of Mother Benedicta Riepp, who brought the Benedictines from Germany to found the community.
The Abbey cemetery at (adjacent) St. John’s University is another place where I can seek counsel, wisdom and rest. It’s behind campus on a hill tucked in the woods and overlooking a lake. The lake itself brings such a unique beauty to the campus that it’s hard not to find a divine presence there.
I go to those places randomly, but every day I go to Mass at St. John’s in a small chapel in the basement of a dorm. It’s only a chapel in the summer, so there’s not much more than an altar, ambo, presider’s chair, a crucifix and a tabernacle.
Sacred spaces allow me to grow in my experience and understanding of who God is and who God is calling me to become. I have discovered that my sacred spaces are not always going to be churches and they might always be changing. Being able to expand my prayer in different places is just a small way I can come to know a small slice of the diversity the Divine brings.
Vince Roach, 20
◗ Sophomore, theology and philosophy double major; Master of Ceremonies for the Chapel of St. Basil and head altar server
◗ University of St. Thomas-Houston, Texas
I go to Mass at the Chapel of St. Basil as often as I can, whenever I feel like I could use a recharge, when I need to pray or reflect on my day. Whenever things get too hectic, I will head over there to clear my head and have some peace.
The chapel is shaped like a tent, and you enter through the tent flap. Inside, the Stations of the Cross are carved into the wall, and there is a large bronze statue of Our Lady recessed into the opposite wall. There are no lights inside the chapel, so it is lit by lights shining through the outside windows at the top of the dome. I love the solitude. Every time I visit, there is a reverential silence that draws you to prayer. The tabernacle (and monstrance, when present) is directly in front, so God is always there with me.
I go alone whenever I need time to spend with Jesus in my own way, but I love going to Mass with friends. That roots our friendship in Christ and allows for a more meaningful relationship. When the chapel is closed, I walk the labyrinth in the garden next door.
Without the ability to stop in the chapel, my college life would get away from me. My course load seems so much easier when I center on my faith. My sacred space literally brings God to me every day and I can always fall back on that.
Kathryn Smolko, 19
◗ Sophomore, electrical engineering major
◗ Manhattan College, Riverdale, N.Y.
One of my favorite places is the Chapel of the Holy Infancy. It’s always dimly lit, which I like, and there are pews and kneelers, which help me to focus. Often when I pray or meditate, I get distracted, so the idea and feel of being in a church just makes me feel closer to God and reminds me of why I’m there.
I also like the Mini Quad, which is right in front of campus. It’s usually quiet, and although there are usually people walking by, no one really stops. There are benches, grass and some really beautiful trees. I love being outdoors and feeling the sun on my skin. It really helps me to appreciate what God has given me, and when I’m there, I want to give thanks to him.
As a student, life gets really hectic and I forget that God is there to help me through it all. It is really important for me to have a sacred space to remind myself that I’m not alone, and to know I have somewhere specifically where I can remember God and feel close to him. Sacred spaces are important to my faith because faith is something that needs to be practiced, and those spaces make it so much easier and more convenient to get that practice in.
Michael Peyko, 20
◗ Communications and psychology major, religious studies minor
◗ Manhattan College, Riverdale, N.Y.
I like to go to the Chapel of De La Salle and His Brothers. The ceiling and pillars are all white and beautifully hand crafted and designed. From the very moment the sun comes up to when it sets, there is constant sunlight pouring through the stained-glass windows, which gives a very warm and welcoming feeling. I often go there when I want to get away from everything, and since I am a sacristan on campus, I usually do small tasks, such as cleaning the sacristy or watering plants. There’s also a good chance that another student will be there playing the piano or organ, so I get to hear some really talented people.
I also like to go to a much smaller chapel in Memorial Hall where there’s daily Mass and Communion services at noon. There, I do more personal prayer and meditation. I also visit a beautiful outdoor grotto where there’s a statue of Mary partially enclosed with stone and bright flowers and plants. I have great devotion to Mary since attending a Salesian school, whose founder St. John Bosco taught the importance of a strong relationship with the Blessed Mother.
It’s very important for students to have sacred places. Having a place to go when things get tough is comforting. I always had a very strong connection to my faith, but still, sometimes I find myself struggling with my faith or I find it to be dull. It is at these points in my life that I go to my special sacred places whether it is a church, chapel or grotto, or other place with special meaning to me.
There I feel a much deeper and closer relationship with God and often ask for his help and guidance in my times of struggle.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.