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Four Years of Grace

June 20, AD2017

Catholic institutionsMay marked one year since my college graduation, so in honor of the occasion I thought I would take a chance to reflect upon my college years. This might seem like an odd thing to do on a site called Catholic Stand, but the connection is that I attended a faithful Catholic college. Because God has different plans for everyone, and for reasons of personal privacy, I prefer not to name my college here, in order that I may instead place emphasis on what God did for me through it.

My story begins at the end of my senior year of high school. During that time I had applied to various different colleges, including more than one faithful Catholic institution, but I felt many different little indications that God wanted me to attend the one I most preferred at the time, though there were advantages to the alternatives as well. In the end, though feeling very imprudent, I did choose the one I most wanted, and while I was naturally happy about it, I was also horribly insecure in the decision. After all, what was there to assure me that I hadn’t chosen wrongly? So the months from May to August passed, with me holding little else in mind.

An Uncertain Beginning

Eventually, the fateful Friday evening of orientation arrived, and my collegiate career began, insecurity still looming. It was quite different from living at home, starting with the fact that I had never even shared a room with anyone before, but I was enthusiastic and plunged into this new life. After a week or two, a small but remarkable thing happened—everything started feeling right. More specifically, I felt like I belonged on that college campus, and as I made friends and had new experiences, there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

God Gave Me Friends

Now, there were many reasons that this came to be. First of all, college facilitated a social growth I never could have predicted. Though I had known a lot of people my own age at least on a nominal basis, before college I counted my close friends on one hand. Even more markedly I felt like I “belonged” in a way that I never would have expected. Since I had never been very social before college, this great sense of belonging was nothing short of a miracle. Even having graduated, I still have more good friends from college than anywhere else.

Old Subjects, New Wisdom

Another reason for the positive changes in my life at college was the classes. I had never touched Aristotle or Plato before, and, new though their concepts were to me, my good philosophy professors helped me to understand the universal truths in those ancient musings. Theology helped me gain a rational basis for my faith and better understand it historically. In spite of English not being my favorite class, it did introduce me to books of historical, literary, and cultural importance that I would not have picked up on my own. I picked History as my major, and though it had never particularly intrigued me before, I have grown to understand that God chose it for me in order that I might ask new questions and understand life in new ways, learning from those who went before me. (Read about my eye-opening experience in Historiography class here.)

Though not all classes were so beneficial, overall the academic side of my career was very worthwhile and helped me to grow well in wisdom, not to mention the desire to learn more. Along with that, studying the exact same things as classmates helped us to grow in wisdom together, learning from each other’s insights. Furthermore, sharing the love of Christ along with our academic work enabled us to cultivate a greater love of the higher things. We could discuss the things we had learned, and go further in applying them to our own lives.

Little Catholic Grows Up

Additionally, my college allowed an important spiritual growth to take place in my own heart. Although I had been Catholic for my whole life and knew and understood what was expected of me, I was intellectually of the world, not just in it, despite my weekly mass attendance. For most of my life I had seen Catholicism as little more than a big checklist. As long as all the proverbial boxes were filled, I was “good enough,” though for all my belief in it I hated Catholicism like nothing else. Thankfully, because otherwise I might not have gone to any Catholic college, I had a true experience of God’s love when I was seventeen. That being a story for another time, all that needs to be said is that I was finally able to return Christ’s love. In spite of this, at almost nineteen I was very much a “baby” because I was just learning how to live my Catholic faith.

In contrast to my own experiences, upon entering my college, I got to see so many people around me who knew and loved the faith, and who treated Catholicism as something to practice all the time, not just for an hour on Sunday. That attitude was contagious, to say the least. I really felt that seeing other people put Christ first helped me to want to do it better. Some of my strongest impressions are from the very beginnings of my college career. Simply put, when I first arrived I felt welcomed and accepted by so many people, nearly all of them strangers. I could hardly believe it. The reason for this, as I saw both then and now, was that my new acquaintances were filled with the love of Christ, thus they were excited to welcome someone else into this joyous life, centered on Him. It was the principle of osmosis at work—being around people who behaved in a certain way caused me to act more like them.

Beauty of a Christ-Centered Life…

However, arguably the most wonderful, most life-changing aspect of my time at my Catholic college was the seemingly ordinary experience of living in a place made to be centered on Christ, even when I wasn’t praying or talking about God. It was a thing of great beauty to turn my head to a wall at random and see a crucifix, the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, or the Divine Mercy. I’ll never forget the time in my freshman year that I passed a kind-looking stranger perusing a paper in the campus library, and a sudden fit of curiosity prompted me to ask him what it was. “It explains… Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” he had answered. That one incident is representative of so many things that happened in all my four years.

…With its Crosses

By now, my college probably sounds like an oasis of social life, learning, and Catholicism put together. Make no mistake though, in spite of all the good things, and those blessed days when I really felt I was touching Heaven, I certainly experienced a great deal of suffering and rejection—some issues made all the worse for being at the hands of people who practiced the Christian faith. (I would be unfair not to note that I have betrayed my own Christianity innumerable times, but this page is not a confessional.) These phenomena tended to make me angry at myself—after all, if I had chosen a different college, the pain would not have happened to me, so it was all my fault. This changed somewhat when I mentioned my second-guessing to a friend. She answered that she thought suffering was just a part of life and would happen regardless of location or college choice. This comforted me, but I still had little enough peace.

Thanks be to God…for College!

Finally, the real moment of judgment came at the end of my four-year career. I took the time to look back on all the black sorrows, the moments when I wished I had never set foot on the campus, and on all the amazing things. There were so many of the latter, whether it was praying in the chapel, my favorite classes, being the first disabled student to participate in the study abroad program, the amazing joy of being a part of my favorite musical my senior year (which was a blessing from God), lots of other things I haven’t room to describe, or—of course—my friends. In that moment, I knew that, in the end, the smiles and laughter more than outweighed the tears. It was true—my least favorite thing about it was that they made me leave after four short years. Did I suffer? Very much. Was it worth it? A thousand times. God bless my wonderful, life-changing college and everyone who made it what it is. God bless every Catholic who graduated this year. And God bless every defiantly Catholic college and university.

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Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Cecily G. Lowe received her B.A. in History in 2016 from a faithful Catholic college, which she credits as having a great impact on her faith. (Her least favorite thing about her college career was that it ended after four years.) She now has hopes of one day earning an M.A. if God wills. She began at CS in 2015, and greatly appreciates the opportunity it has given her. Though having been physically disabled from birth, she does not let that limit her, and counts interpretative dance among her hobbies along with singing, reading, and maintaining a mental encyclopedia of eclectic quotes.

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  • Mark McCann

    Thank you for your reflections. College was so long ago (My kids say I wrote on rocks!) but the memories and the struggles sound the same. I found the biggest time of growing up came afterward when I had to take those Catholic values and head on out into the real world. The failures were numerous and the joys often unexpected and certainly undeserved. Keep up the writing!