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!

“Catholic” Means “Universal” … even at a secular college!

Without disclosing where I go to college, let’s just say it’s highly secular…  

…which is why I was a little worried in the months leading to my college debut. 

Were my beliefs going to be questioned the minute I moved in? Were professors going to subtly bash religion? Would I be surrounded by ardent atheists? Would I be able to stand up to all of this?

All that worry for nothing! I’ve found my faith life mixing with my academic life and social life more than ever before at the wonderful secular college I now call home!

  1. People, especially agnostics, like to talk about religion. College (at least my college) isn’t like the regular world where people gasp when you mention the word “God” among them. People have a genuine intellectual curiosity, and they want to know the truth about the world. Talk about evangelization opportunities! 😀 So I go to Mass on Sundays with all my agnostic and almost-leaving-the-Church Catholic friends. 😀
  2. I do most of my studying at the Catholic Center. A lot of other people do too. So I’ve made a lot of good friends of all class years that way. Studying at the Catholic Center also puts me in the right place to go to activities at the Catholic Center that day, like Bible studies and discussion groups and daily Mass and guest speaker presentations. So my academic life is interspersed with study breaks that are spiritually fulfilling and often quite intellectual. 😀
  3. The Catholic Center also has a lot of social events. So while my peers are getting blacked-out-drunk on Friday and Saturday, I’m happily and soberly playing games, watching movies, and baking cookies at the Catholic Center. 😀

Now I know why “catholic” means “universal”! Catholicism works everywhere!   

Off to College!

I am at a crossroads in my life. I will be starting my freshman year of college very soon.

For the past month or so, I’ve been really excited about it, but also very nervous. The rest of my life will be determined, to an extent, by what I do during the next four years. What should I major in? What kind of profession do I want? There are so many question marks in my future. Understandably, this has made me uneasy.

But today was the culmination of all my reflection. Today I feel a lot of joy about all this uncertainty. This is an opportunity to grow in my faith. All I need to do is place my future in God’s hands. He will guide me. This is easier said than done; I am a control freak like most human beings are. But I just need to let it all go and give myself to God.

Gosh, I’m excited! God has a plan for everyone, and I’m excited to find out what’s in store for me! Through the good and the bad, God will be there for me. ❤

Fortunately, my college also has a very active Catholic Newman Center, which factored into my choosing of this school.

Here's to a joy-filled four years!

Is It My Imagination, Or…

Lately I’ve been seeing more people at Mass. More teens. Is it just my imagination? Have you noticed this too? I don’t know if it’s just a local phenomenon or what.

I can think of a few possible explanations for this increase in attendance.

My less interesting theories:

1) The college students are home.

2) With the school year wrapping up, people aren’t as “busy,” which is apparently a common excuse for not going to Mass.

My more interesting theories:

1) Pope Francis is super cool and this inspires people to go to Mass.

2) Or maybe….my generation loves Catholicism!

But seriously! There was a least one teen in every couple of rows of pews today at Vigil Mass! Yesssssss! This is a great sign!

Is my generation more passionate about being Catholic than the Vatican II generation? That would probably be a very good thing. As I understand it, a lot of people who grew up during Vatican II were somewhat discouraged by all the things changing in the Catholic Church.

Over the 2000 year history (oh, no big deal that we’ve been around THAT long, right?) of the Church, there have been highs and lows in Catholic vigor. To my generation: let’s bring Catholicism alive in our time!!!!! 😉