Editor’s Note: This week’s installment of “Storytellers” is written by Mallory Tanis of Michigan. Mallory grew up on a farm in the thumb of Michigan, and attended St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. As students start heading back to school in the upcoming weeks, Mallory’s tips on how to stay strong in your faith during the college years are timely ones.
College is right around the corner; a time to travel away from home, make new friends, try new things, and begin taking steps into adulthood. It is a new chapter that brings many changes and opens the door to new opportunities. Packing your clothes, cleaning your car, buying your books, and catching up with friends before you all head off into different directions is typical. There are so many articles out there to help you prepare for school. “12 Things You Need That Most People Forget For College”, “5 Ways to Excel at College”, “10 Study Tips to Ace That Test”, or “16 Tips for Rush Week”. It’s hard to feel prepared for this adventure ahead of you with so many boxes to check off.
I grew up in a strong Catholic family. I left the state to attend a private college. Though I wasn’t specifically looking for a Catholic college, I appreciated that aspect when I decided to attend. I was bewildered with everything that college entails and attempting to become an expert at being a well-rounded student. Throughout my college career, I was what many would call successful. I was given one of the highest scholarships, in the Honors program, joined several clubs, made many friends, was accepted into the audition-only choir the madrigals, was in five theater productions, stood in several leadership roles, and was working two part-time jobs. I was perfectly balancing my academic and my social life. I had checked off all of my boxes. I had done it.
While I was looking around at my successes, I noticed my faith in one corner that, though still present, was a bit shriveled and hidden. I attended church on Sunday and I was still Catholic but, yet, I didn’t feel it. Church became harder to wake up for. I chastised those articles’ authors for not preparing me for what was clearly a common faith tumble, but the real problem was me. I was so busy preparing for the drama and nerves and lack of sleep, I forgot to prepare myself spiritually. Was I prepared for the spiritual changes that would, undoubtedly, take place as I started this new life and began the transition into adulthood? No. Was I strong enough in my faith to enter this new life and begin the transition into adulthood? Yes, BUT I didn’t know it.
I realized how easy it was to go to church every Sunday when your entire family was getting ready around you every week. How easy is it to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet when someone suggests it and your family gathers in the living room? I was a strong Catholic, but I was a strong Catholic in a strong Catholic setting.
One of the best decisions I made in college was to start working for the Campus Minister. Between planning the weekly services and taking various classes, I realized what I needed spiritually. I needed to reconnect to my beliefs; I needed to become spiritually sound before becoming religiously sound. That was what I needed, that is what I was lacking. You need might be different. Maybe you need to find a way to become involved, maybe you need to connect with people of similar beliefs or values, maybe you need to take some time to pray a little more. It’s different for everyone but finding it will help you remain whole.
I don’t normally promote looking back and examining the past, but, I’ll make an exception to pass on what I have learned.
- Take the time to make goals for yourself at school. You may be trying to avoid the “Freshman 15” or hoping join a fraternity, but what about your spiritual life? How about committing to praying a rosary once a day, or even once a week. Check out the campus ministry activities. There are often many chances to attend or participate in their events and services. You can expect to find trips (alternative spring break mission trip anyone?), volunteer opportunities (serve in a soup kitchen or help tutor kids after school for example), community activities (like visit your local state park or a Stations on Location), and personal development activities. Going in with a goal will help you stay afloat. On the plus side, staying/growing spiritually may also be an anchor through the ups and downs of college.
- Speaking of taking time, seriously review your faith and your relationship with Jesus. Why are you Catholic? What do you believe? Colleges are very open to people from all backgrounds, which is great! In an ideal setting you won’t be pressured to defend your faith or laughed at for your religious affiliation; however, you may need to defend your faith to yourself or figure out where you stand on certain issues. You may also have the opportunity to learn about other faiths, which I encourage. I am very thankful for my chances to check out some local churches in college. I got to meet new people, learn more about their faith, get more inspired, and check out the area.
- Find a church buddy! It is so much easier to commit to attending church every Sunday when you meet up with a friend and go together. If you start finding it hard to wake up, or leave your studies, to attend church, try making a tradition such as grabbing brunch afterward makes it more of an event rather than an obligation. In college towns, there are often multiple service times available. I found it easier to attend a Sunday evening service as I usually had completed my homework by then AND got to have a cherished sleep-in day. Another note, please explore the churches in your area. Finding a University church might be more oriented and inspiring to a student like you. I found myself going to the nearest church because it was easier but I needed something more active to help me work through my struggles.
- Your faith is going to change. Many college students go through a period of reexamining their faith; just as many struggle with stress or time management. The goal shouldn’t be to remain the same. Change is inevitable but as vital as breathing. College is a period of self-growth and self-awareness. Take the time to develop you; emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. You will be leaving that school a different person than when you came; make sure you keep your priorities straight and keep yourself balanced.
Throughout all this, you will be worn down in general. Sleep will become more important, you’ll wish you could go back in time, and you may find that adulthood is “overrated”. All of these college experiences will affect your faith. Each person is balancing their emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual parts. If you have developed your self-awareness and your relationship to your faith, it will be much easier to remain spiritually strong. Best of luck and have fun!
Parents: Don’t be afraid. You raised your daughter/son well and college will be a rewarding and powerful experience. I encourage you to have faith in your daughter/son. They are becoming adults now. Instead of getting mad if your child missed Mass or goes through a spiritual dry spot, try just being there. Be encouraging and perhaps offer them the chance to attend Confession when they come home next weekend. Ask them questions about how they like their new church. Ask them how they are doing as a whole. College is hard on us. But we know college is hard on you too. A bump in our faith isn’t anyone’s fault but many times we reemerge stronger in the end. Don’t forget to pray!