How These College Students Strive to Maintain Their Faith

'I cannot pretend that this world is enough for me,' writes one university Christian, and must 'answer the call in my heart'

by Fr. Michael Sliney, LC | Updated 30 Oct 2017 at 6:10 AM

In the fall of 1985, my parents had just dropped me off to begin my freshman year at Michigan State University.

The campus was bustling with over 30,000 students, with kids stuffing all their belongings, furniture, and even bean bags into tiny dorm rooms.

Tears were flowing freely as goodbyes were being said, and as I looked at my huge chest containing all of my belongings — the same one that my grandfather used in his voyage from Belgium — I realized that the key to this chest had slipped out of my pocket and was probably sitting on the back seat of my parents car.

The key was in the mail the next day, but besides suffering the reality of wearing the same clothes for the first few days, I realized that I no longer had the security and stability of being under my parents' roof. I was surrounded by a dorm-full of perfect strangers, but in spite of everything, I had peace.

Christ was my friend, he was with me, and he would be my anchor in spite of whatever surprises lay ahead.

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College can be a very unsettling time, but it also provides a tremendous opportunity to truly own your faith and lean into a God who can settle the boat amid the turmoil of this time period. I had the special grace of having holy parents, a solid Catholic education, and the privilege of being involved with the youth programs of the Legionaries of Christ as a kid.

I asked two young college-aged men who share these three advantages to give their perspective on living faith in college today.

Daniel Caridi, a junior at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business and originally from Greenwich, Connecticut, offered these wise words:

Two years ago, it was strange for me to begin my freshman year of college 800 miles away from home. I knew what path I wanted to take, pursuing a major in finance, but not much else. Nonetheless, I went into my freshman year optimistic.

Before college, I had attended mass with my family and participated in praying the rosary with them every week. I had been in a relationship for a few months with a girl who constantly encouraged me to work towards my faith on campus. However, it was different doing everything on my own.

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My faith, to a degree, had been an obligation to me; it was time for me to take the matter into my own hands — or, more accurately, to leave matters in God's hands instead. I began going to mass every Sunday night. At first it was a chore, but it was always followed by food and fellowship with the rest of the community, and I enjoyed it.

Developing my faith in college has helped me get to know myself and to better the relationships I have with those around me. I know that my faith life will grow even stronger after college.

Joe Nolan, a junior at the University of Notre Dame and a former leader in my youth programs in Bethesda, Maryland, opens a window into his soul with these words:

Any culture, to exist, must draw people into its world. Few places invest more in the gravitational forces that draw people in than on college campuses, but I do not agree with all the cultural premises of my school. The individualism or the narratives of success that characterize contemporary universities are too provincial for a Catholic.

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I cannot pretend that this world is enough for me, and giving myself to its gravitational forces is invariably frustrated by unmet yearnings for purpose or to be a part of something beyond myself. Through the sacraments, I exercise my citizenship in the city of God, my part in the body of Christ. At daily Mass the Church situates me in a far greater narrative than my immediate circumstances, of essays or interviews, suggest.

I need to be fed each day in personal prayer to answer the call in my heart to be great, to sacrifice, to be loved. And how can I expect to reconcile my tiny cultural milieu to the greater universe of grace if I hesitate to receive regularly the graces of confession? Especially when school gets busy, and I am tempted to appropriate my time for God into more time for homework; it is then that I must firmly declare my allegiance to something beyond this world.

Parents, please plant the seeds in your kids hearts and minds today, above all with the example of a holy life, and try to help your kids see the value of making time for God and giving back to those in need. Your kids (and Christ) will be forever grateful!

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.

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