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14 Ways to Help Your Child Maintain Catholic Faith in College

August 30, AD2015

veil, mass, tradition

No doubt college is an exciting and dangerous time, a time of independence mixed with heavy doses of temptation, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a time of spiritual growth as well. As we send our children off to college, it is important to remember the influence we still have over them and to encourage them to, not just maintain their Catholic faith, but to build and strengthen it.

14 Ways To Keep Your Children Catholic in College:

  1. Don’t assume a Catholic college is really Catholic. Many Catholic colleges fail to uphold Catholic values and beliefs. Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Ex Corde Ecclesiae, was not implemented by Catholic colleges until 1999. Today, most Catholic colleges follow it very loosely or in name only. To get a true view of the belief system of a school, check out The Cardinal Newman Society.
  2. Don’t assume that in choosing a truly Catholic college, the threat is gone. Even in truly Catholic colleges, independence opens doors to temptations. Ask specific, open-ended questions that probe beyond a simple yes or no response. For example, ask, “How did Father apply the Gospel to his sermon this Sunday?” rather than, “Did you go to church on Sunday?”
  3. Don’t assume that in choosing a non-Catholic college all is lost. Challenges await at these institutions, but challenges await in the workforce, in married life, and in all aspects of adulthood. You may have less influence over your college-aged child, but he or she still needs you. Don’t give up now. Be a faith-filled example.
  4.  Be clear and consistent in your message. Making jokes about excessive partying and hooking up confuses young adults. We’ve heard the toddler who uses bad language he’s learned at home. The same applies to the college student who experiments with alcohol, drugs, and sex because he’s learned at home that it’s expected of college students.
  5. Talk about relationships. Be clear on your message of one man-one woman marriage for life. Follow the advice given by the Catholic Newman Center, “don’t kiss anyone you’re not dating and don’t date anyone you couldn’t marry.” Every man is likely to be someone’s future husband; every woman is likely to be someone’s future wife. Consider how you touch, look at, and even think about that future spouse.
  6. Ask about friends. Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you your future. The old adage holds true throughout life, and friendships made in college generally last longer than previous, non-family friendships and lead to employment opportunities and other benefits. Help your child expand horizons (We are called to teach the Gospel – through words if necessary – to all, not just believers), but to have a core group of faith-filled friends to keep him rooted. Encourage him to find a mentor in faith. Help him come up with answers. Don’t lecture. 
  7. Give gifts. Students, especially new students, often want to blend in a bit until they find their place. A pocket Bible can be carried or read without making a spectacle. Rosary beads in the student’s school colors may be more likely to be displayed and serve as a reminder of faith. A prayer card can help a student transitioning from home to dorm or a student studying through stressful finals.  The card can also fit into a wallet or the back of a student ID lanyard. For simple, easy-to-read books students may be more likely to read, check out How to Stay Catholic in College by Christopher Kaczor and Absolute Relativism: The New Dictatorship and What To Do About It by Chris Stafanick.
  8. Encourage your child to plan and prioritize. Going to college without a plan is a sure sign of trouble ahead. Teach your child to write down what is most important and to schedule time. Temptations to avoid faith often come in the form of sloth. Just being too lazy to go to church when no one else is or getting sidetracked by video games, the internet, and parties slowly pull children away from meaningful interactions and activities.
  9. Bring him to church. Attend Mass at his new church before dropping him off, if possible. Introduce yourselves to the priest. Ask for a Blessing if possible. Even going to Mass once with family can foster a feeling of belonging.
  10. Encourage him to stay connected to the Sacraments. Going to Mass Sunday morning is tough when your child’s peers have been out late, his friends are sleeping in, and it’s below freezing outside, but let him know that you expect him to do it. Encourage him to connect by arriving a few minutes early helping out and sitting and reflecting on the week behind and the week ahead. Encourage him to go to Confession. Remind your child that confessing regularly chases away shame and sin and brings humility and grace. Remind your child that no sin is greater than Jesus’s sacrifice.
  11. Send a text. Technology has made life more challenging in many ways, but we can use it to our advantage too. A short, daily one or two Bible verse text or inspirational quote can be quickly sent off via text message.
  12. Be a role model.  Simply telling your child these things is not enough. He will hear many tales of hypocritical Christians. Give him reason to believe otherwise.
  13. Listen and Love. In this time of challenge and uncertainty, of questioning and opposition, listen attentively. Resist the urge to fix things, give advice, and correct mistakes. He is feeling judged by professors, peers, and more. When speaking with you, there are times he should feel challenged, but he should always feel safe. He should always feel loved and respected.
  14. Pray unceasingly. Whatever happens, whether your child is the model Catholic or a lost sheep, he will face challenges and obstacles and needs your prayer. Never stop praying for your child, especially during their college years when so much of their foundations are shaken.

No one, other than their heavenly Father, knows what will happen to the hearts and minds of our children when they venture out on their own. God has given them a free will, and only they can decide for certain whether they will choose to remain Catholic or whether they will fall to the world, but by keeping hopes and expectations clear and by letting them know they are not alone, we can help them navigate the waters. We can be the one steady lamp lighting the way in a dark, confusing, mixed-message world.

Parenting does not end when you drop your child off at school. In many ways, the hardest part is coming now. Step it up! Enjoy this time. It too will pass too quickly.

I’d love to hear your ideas on keeping children Catholic at college! Thank you for sharing, following, and commenting.

God Bless…

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Strahlen is a single mom of five boys. The fifth little guy was a surprise pregnancy and her husband left suddenly in the middle of it for a woman he met on Facebook. The next few years would bring financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges beyond her imagining, but they would also bring a faith she never knew existed. Strahlen is now a life coach working with women in transition and hopes to reach out to other divorced Catholics to let them know there is Hope and Love in the Catholic church. Today, she and her five sons work hard for everything that comes their way, but they are also successful, happy, and faithful. They enjoy camping, sports, and (highly competitive) board games. And if you're wondering about that last little Baby Boy - He is a bundle of giggles and goofiness. He is such a gift to his mother and brothers and he constantly proves that God's plans are greater than our own! Check out more of their story at Single Mom Smiling.

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  • Benedetti

    The photo looks exactly like my old parish church, St Alphonsus.

  • Guy McClung

    In one sense this is a fairly easy job – one which I confess I did not do – because there are only 4 or 6 really catholic colleges in America. By one standard, number of catholics, the “most catholic” college in America is Texas A&M; and, hands down, it has the best – define ‘best’ any way you want – Catholic Newman Center. Full disclosure: I went to UT (law school) and have not attended A&M. Some years A&M produced more vocations to the priesthood and the vowed life than the rest of Texas combined. And ask Cardinal diNardo how he wishes this was in his archdiocese. And don’t forget Bp Fulton Sheen’s words to the effect it is better to send your child to a secular school where they will have to defend their faith than to a “catholci” school where it will be stolen from them. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    • F106dart

      Yes! St. Mary’s Church, right across the street from Aggieland, is superb.