10 tips for keeping Catholic in college

| Anthony Gockowski for The Catholic Spirit | May 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Campus ministers offer 10 tips for college-bound Catholics

Students pray at Mass at St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary

Students pray at Mass at St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary. Courtesy St. Paul’s Outreach

As the end of the school year approaches, college-bound Catholic high school seniors face important decisions as they prepare to leave home — including how they plan to deepen their faith. According to a 2008 CARA study, only 68 percent of students who grow up in the faith will remain Catholic as an adult. Derek Waldbillig, a missionary for St. Paul’s Outreach, offered this advice to the class of 2015 to avoid falling into the 32 percent: “The Lord tells us this: He who walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. In other words, surround yourselves with people who will challenge and call you on to become the best Catholic Christian you can be.”

The Catholic Spirit asked Catholics in college-focused apostolates to offer tips on keeping the faith:

Crucifix at St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary. Courtesy St. Paul’s Outreach

Students kneel during a sports event. Courtesy St. Paul’s Outreach. Courtesy St. Paul’s Outreach

1. Pray daily. “It doesn’t have to be a rosary, adoration, or daily Mass, but a simple 15 minutes of time in silence talking with the Lord is essential for our lives, especially in big transitions like this,” said Waldbillig, a Catholic from All Saints, Lakeville, now serving at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Phil Stone, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) team director at Minnesota State University in Mankato, emphasized the importance of developing a prayer schedule. “It is important to find time each day for silent reflection and to talk to Jesus as a friend. Choose a time that you will do this every day.  First thing in the morning is the best so that you can invite God into the rest of your day,” he said.

2. Seek accountability. “Find one person who knows what is most important to you and is honest enough to tell you if your actions do not line up with your goals,” Stone said.  Waldbillig suggested finding a small group on campus. “Being able to share your life with others is essential,” he said.

3. Read good books. Several campus experts recommended finding a spiritual text to help prepare for college. Some common suggestions were “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales and “Time for God” by Jacques Philippe. “You need to be reading books to learn more about yourself and your faith,” Stone added.


Crucifix at St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary. Courtesy St. Paul’s Outreach

4. Step outside of yourself. New people and experiences are overwhelming for many college freshmen, but accepting discomfort is an important lesson to learn in college. “Don’t sit back and wait,” said Waldbillig. “Do not be afraid to introduce yourself or invite yourself into a group of people.”

Daniel Foley, president of the Fraternity of St. Michael the Archangel, a group of men who live together under the direction of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, echoed Waldbillig: “Your friend group will eventually narrow down, but go meet everyone right away.”

Kaitlyn Gathje, a St. Thomas peer minister,  added: “Everyone is as scared as you are. Don’t be discouraged if good friends don’t come immediately.”

5. Serve. Summer is the perfect season for students to volunteer their time. “Find a way to get involved with volunteering at the local church, at the college, or the local community,” Waldbillig said. Stone also encouraged students to volunteer. “Think of ways to help others, whether it’s physical labor by mowing the lawn in front of your church or reading to an elderly relative or neighbor,” he said.

6. Exercise habit. Establishing a routine and sticking to it is important in the life of a college student. “Your good habits are what will carry you,“ Gathje said.

7. Make your education your own. College is a time to study what you are interested in and take the classes you would like to take. “Don’t always listen to your advisor,” Foley said. “Just study what you would like to study.”

8. Stand firm. College will test your faith. “Don’t believe the phrase ‘everyone is doing it,’ because it’s not true,” said Waldbillig.

9. Go to Sunday Mass and confession. Stone encouraged students to start participating regularly in the sacraments this summer.

10. Prepare. Take time to find communities on campus before arriving. Many campuses have a Newman Center, a FOCUS or SPO community, and some Catholic fraternities and centers. “Start thinking now about how you will keep your faith strong through new temptations,” Waldbillig suggested.

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