A Sense of Belonging: College Students and their Parishes

“Everything changes and nothing stands still.”    ~ Heraclitus

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic philosopher who believed that the central building block of the universe was “flux,” or change. Now, with my Christian worldview, I can’t say that I believe the central thing is this universe is change…but as a college student sometimes it seems that way!

The life of a college student is ever-changing, particularly geographically. Most of the time you’re at school, but then you come home on vacations. Still other times you take weekend trips to conferences somewhere. Or maybe you take an internship away from home during your break. The confusing thing is that I’m not really sure where “home” is anymore. I’d be compelled to say that it is at my family’s home, but now that I’m a rising junior, it seems like home is at my college.

How does living all over the place affect my membership at any one Catholic parish? It’s certainly been an odd situation for me. In high school, I was involved in one parish in my town. That was the place I always went to Mass. Honestly, the community wasn’t and isn’t as vibrant as it should have been, but that’s not the subject of this post. Long story short, I still would have considered it “my parish.”

Now that I’ve been in college for two years, I most certainly consider the Catholic Center at my school to be “my parish.” I’m far more involved in the various ministries of the Catholic Center at my college than I ever was at the parish in my hometown. There is really so little opportunity for young adult involvement at your average family parish. At my college, it is solely students who are ushers, greeters, readers, choir members, officers, etc.

It’s always so weird when I come home and go to Mass at my “old parish.” I feel out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve been away for so long or because there are so few people my age hanging around. (i.e., Is the problem in my geographical flux, or is it in the way that family parishes don’t really have much for young adults?)

Yes, indeed, it’s very comforting that Catholicism offers so much consistency across parishes (Mass, Adoration, etc) — my spiritual side is nourished for sure. But when I come back home, I feel myself lacking in fellowship, which is an important aspect of Christianity as well.

In my opinion, there is a great need for family parishes to be aware of the geographical flux college students face. I am well aware that, as a general rule, “parish hopping” is frowned upon by many Catholics because it discourages the formation of a robust community at any one parish. Naturally, it’s not like college students are labeled as parish hoppers. But, in effect, we are parish hoppers, and this makes it hard for us to feel like we fit in at our parishes when we come home from school.

Hopefully I haven’t rambled too much so far…I haven’t planned this out. To summarize my point of the above section: the geographical flux college students face contributes to a lack of identification with their home parish, a problem which parishes should perhaps look at remedying.

The changing location of college students poses another problem for their spiritual development: it makes them less likely stick with their faith. Let’s think of a Catholic college student who isn’t too dedicated to his/her faith. Maybe she goes to Mass regularly with her family while she’s at home, but when she goes to college, it’s just plain-old easier not to go. I see this super often in my role as an officer at my college’s Catholic Center. Another theme I’ve seen: once these people foster Catholic friendships, they come to Mass regularly because their friends are there. (The challenge from here is making sure that the faith is not merely a social thing for them, that it becomes more than just that.)

Or consider the flip side. Maybe someone discovers her faith while at college; perhaps she goes to Mass every week (maybe for social reasons, or hopefully for a deeper reason). Then she gets home and feels out of place at her parish, and so she doesn’t go to Mass while on vacation.

Now for the perfect storm:

Problem (a) is that most college students do not really feel a complete sense of belonging to only one parish. Because we’re church-hoppers by default, we can’t really settle into one fellowship. Problem (b) is that many students are not fully dedicated to their faith.

The result?

Young adult Catholics fall away from the faith. Many are timid to go to a parish where they might feel socially out of place, and the draw of the faith is not yet strong enough to overcome this social anxiety.

And what message do I intend to communicate in the above rambling?

Both college campus ministries and family parishes need to work harder to reach out to the collegiate age group. College campus ministries usually do a great job of building fellowship, but there is more that can be done on the spiritual end. Family parishes offer all the necessary spiritual nourishment, but they lack in fostering fellowship among those in my age group. As a practical suggestion….I think it would be a great idea to have a summer fellowship group for college students at local parishes. I’m sure the parish office still has the email addresses of current college students, saved from their years of taking Confirmation classes. Reach out to those young adults.

Do you know of any cool ways parishes are reaching out to college students home on vacation? Comment below!


Reason #23457765432224 On Why Church Rocks

Whenever I walk into church, it’s the best feeling ever. Know what I mean?

During the week, particularly during the school year, I’m ultra busy and probably technically sleep-deprived. Every minute, there’s something I have to think about, something I have to do, somewhere I have to go.

And then there’s Mass on Saturday. (I rarely go on Sunday because I like to sleep late, but I go Sunday if I can’t make Saturday.) When I enter the church, I let all those worries and obligations of the world temporarily disappear. It’s such a calming and happy time. Being in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist certainly helps.

It’s such a fantastic opportunity to reflect on what you’ve done the past week, how God has been active in your life, and how you want to live your life!

It’s like a weekly retreat. I don’t know how I’d get through life without Mass.

–Oh wait.–

It’s true that I didn’t go to Mass regularly until I was 16 (I’m 18 now.) when I had my conversion experience.

And when I look at how my life has changed since going to Mass, I must say, the results are stunning:

Before: stressed, negative, complaining.

After: less stressed (it’s impossible to be stress-free as a high school student), positive, less trepidation regarding the unknown.

The biggest change was that I gained a better perspective on life. Before, if I had done poorly on a test, it would have been the end of the world. Now it’s more like, “God have given me this grade for a reason, such as to humble me.”

So, yeah. Mass rocks. Come to Mass.