Going to College:

And Staying Catholic

Catherine Mullins

(Posted 9/15/08 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) How does that old saying go… the higher you are the farther you fall? “Higher” education is the perfect example. The word “University” used to be inseparable from “Catholic”, when in the middle ages universities such as Oxford, Salamanca, and La Sorbonne were extensions of monastic learning. In fact, the long flowing “robes” donned by professors and students at modern graduations are derived from the habits of monks who used to teach in and attend such institutions.

Unfortunately, graduation gowns are about all that is left of monasticism and  Catholicism at colleges. Paragons of liberalism, universities, junior colleges, and even Catholic colleges of today often go on to produce graduates that exhibit what is worst in the world. Such classes as “Introduction to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Studies”  (University of Wisconsin),  “The art of Sin and the Sin of Art” from Rhode Island School of Art and Design, and “Cyberfeminism” at Cornell University replace real learning, while basic general education or core classes have morphed into leftist indoctrination.  Philosophy at most colleges is now “Hating White Western Males 101”; History, “How the Catholic Church Ruined the World”; Economics, “Why Marx Was Right”; and Anthropology, “An Apologia Pro Cannibalism.”

The classes can be nothing, however compared to dorm life and the neo-pagan culture that permeates the campus. Horror stories of aborted fetuses clogging women’s dorm restrooms have been retold for decades, while newer stories of campus shootings and pro-communist protests have risen in recent years. 

At one college in Southern California, residents of a neighborhood near the University of California, Santa Barbara fear to venture out on the weekends due the animal-like lifestyles and parties of students living nearby. None of the woes of “liberal education” are new to traditional Catholics.  What does come as a surprise, however, is how a child from a loving traditional home who attends Mass regularly, and perhaps has been home-schooled for twelve years or more can seemingly be swallowed alive during the college years.

What then are traditional Catholic students and parents to do?  The fact is that knowledge obtained through education, in addition to being one of God’s greatest gifts, can also be one of the only keys that opens the doors to independence, financial stability, and the rightful use of God-given talents. Sometimes that single piece of paper can be what stands between putting bread on the table and not. How does a person make it through the minefield college can be with body, mind and soul intact? “Everything is grace” as St. Therese of Lisieux said, but there are a number of ways to foster that grace.  Here are a few tips including some from college students who have kept the Faith and graduated from school and a few from the saints and scripture as well.   You may find some of them surprising.

1.Finding the Perfect Fit— Quiz question: which type of college is the best for a traditional Catholic to attend a) the secular university (where Karl Marx teaches political science), b) the local junior college (liberalism with  supposedly lower academic standards, not such a hot deal), c) the conservative Catholic college (Vatican II, we love you) d) the liberal Catholic College (Karl Rhaner and Karl Marx teach there) e) traditional Catholic college (real Catholic education, no accreditation)?  The answer is that it really depends on the student. This is why before picking any college, it is best to have a spiritual advisor to help a student decide. Schools have counselors to help you decide which college and what classes to take. How much more necessary is a counselor for the soul? “God does not show the state of our souls as clearly to us as to him who is to guide us in His place” Fr. Quadrupani says in the spiritual Classic, Light and Peace.

2.Learning Advantages in the 21st Century—Sometimes changing the method of going to class instead of the school is helpful. One student found this out after being bullied in class by the teacher for not agreeing with the openly communist teaching in her English class. “Forty percent of our grade counted on class participation, so I felt bound to speak up, but all we were discussing was philosophy written by a South American Jesuit Communist rebel, Jose Ferraira, and principles of reasoning based on Kantian philosophy.” When the student spoke up about her views the teacher silenced her, but then when she took a less open approach, the teacher asked her about her views. “It became clear that this teacher was using me to bring up arguments so that she could shoot them down and (thus) appear to be open-minded.” Finally she dropped the class and found another place to get the credits she needed. “I started taking English classes online where I had a minimum number of posts (responses) that I had to make, and I wasn’t required to answer all the teacher’s questions (directed particularly at me)… (but) other student’s responses instead.” Many junior colleges and universities offer classes online, where students can take the subjects they need that tend to be more liberal, like English and History, and avoid having to partake of some of the liberalism. Meanwhile students also benefit from a lack of neo-pagan atmosphere.

3. Read! Read! Read!–A collective moan escapes college-aged readers of The Remnant.  Between text-books, work-books, and the other masses of assigned reading at school, any type of reading is usually the last thing a college student wants to do at night.  Yet it’s one of the best ways to combat the heresies, liberalism, and other lies so sinisterly twisted into college texts and professors tongues.  That isn’t to suggest college students jump into the Summa Theologica at 1:00 a.m. after studying for a statistics test (though, the learning of the Summa is certainly helpful).  Rather, by keeping abreast of the situation in the Church through periodicals like The Remnant and Catholic Family News, students often get a glimpse of the “why’s and wherefores” of sound arguments against modernist philosophers, Theologians, and other writers. This is especially important to Catholics going to liberal or Conservative Catholic schools. “Other kids who were very well trained in debating could make you feel like your soul was in serious trouble (if you didn’t believe in aspects of the “new theology” etc.)” says a Traditional Catholic graduate student from California State University of Northridge who spent a year at Christendom College in Virginia. Although History and Philosophy are sound at these schools, the preference for Vatican II “theology” and John Paul II teachings among other things can make it extremely difficult for some traditionalists.

In addition a little Spiritual reading can go a long way.  By prayerfully reading the saints or the Scriptures every day one can reap the benefits of meditational prayer (see number 7), learn more about the truth, and help maintain a sensus Catholicus. “I liked the imitation of Christ” one college student pointed out. “It has very, very short chapters and you can read one or two pages a day” suggests Katie Aldridge, another graduate from California State University of Northridge.

Of course the ideal would be to be steeped in the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and other great theologians before going off to college. Books like A Tour of the Summa by Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, and courses on CD of basic philosophy from Catholic sources are wonderful ways to start learning sound reasoning—the basis to all education.

4. To dorm or not to dorm, that is the question Whoohoo! “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last”, the old slave song goes.  And those who are young and have been at home for sixteen to twenty years are usually very ready to sing it at the very thought of going away to college. That desire to get out on one’s own and test one’s wings is very natural, but is suddenly jumping into the same building with a multitude of other people who have very different values or no values at all so wise for someone who is still maturing?  “You may think when you are eighteen, that you know everything…, but you don’t.” says Katie Aldridge, who happens to be, ahem, eighteen. “It’s kind of hard to drift when you have your mother watching what you do, and always asking how school is…even though it may be really, really annoying (at times)…” Tim O’Flaherty, graduate of University of Northern Texas who lived with his parents throughout his twenties while he was working and at school, put living at home on the top of his list of ways to stay Catholic too. Of course sometimes it’s impossible to live with family if the school is too far away, in which case finding a good traditional Catholic family to live with can help also.

5. As long as there are tests there will be prayer in school — “The most important duty in our everyday life is prayer. On it depends all our happiness” says Fr. Paul O’Sullivan. With that huge pile of laundry that needs to be done, an even larger pile of homework, a chit-chatty friend and family that needs attention, how does a student find time for prayer? Sometimes a prayer life needs to be adjusted to fit into school and sometimes school needs to be adjusted to fit prayer.

“Staying close to Our Lady keeps you on your feet”, Christendom College graduate Amy Raab insists. To Sister Lucia of Fatima, Our Lady promised that anything could be obtained by daily recitation of the rosary, and St. Louis DeMontfort says that praying the rosary daily is a sign of predestination. Finding time for the rosary is doable.  “I could say it on my way to class or between classes and I didn’t need a rosary (although it is certainly preferable to have one) or a prayer book”, says Katie Aldridge. Mrs. Audrey DeRemer who attends a community college, noted that praying it (with the beads in hand) outside of class often led to a chance to discuss the Faith.

Surprisingly, the most important prayers that can be said on their own are even shorter. “Morning and evening prayers are the most important factors in human life” says Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, author of An Easy Way to Become a Saint. “By making the morning offering with full deliberation each day the countless actions of each day become acts of merit” he continues.  Without it “all these countless hours are…completely lost.” Yet the morning offering as outlined in the missal takes only a few seconds. The evening prayers, an examination of conscience and act of Contrition, which are equally important, take a couple of minutes. Saying these prayers along with spontaneous prayers from the heart throughout the day (like, “God PLEASE help me with this test!”) not only help us get to heaven, but help us throughout the day.  “You can’t survive without it” Amy Raab says of prayer in college. Harsh and demanding God is not.

6. Friendships, making you or breaking you “…a faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality; and they that fear the Lord shall find one.” (Ecclesiasticus, vi.16) “You’ve got to have a support group” says Amy Raab “…whether they are people that you knew from when you were little, or people you go to Church with….or whoever you can talk to on a regular basis about things you encounter at college.” Facebook and Catholic Match online are great ways to find traditional Catholic friends who share the same beliefs as you do and who can help in a pinch.  “It’s important to have a sounding board,” echoes Tim O’Flaherty who found friendship and a sounding board among his own family.

Meanwhile, the converse is true as well. A friend who does not share the basic Catholic Faith or is not willing to learn can be a danger to the soul, “Be in peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counselor; If thou wouldst getteth a friend, try him before thou takest him and do not credit him easily.” (Ecclesiasticus vi. 6,7.)               

While it’s helpful sometimes to make friends with whom you can study or share a laugh, it is important to save close friendship for other Catholics. “With the people in school your friendship is going to have to be utilitarian”, Amy notes of her years at junior college “You go to school together, you study together and you share that sense of camaraderie, but your relationships can’t go that far…because they’re not going to help you when it comes to the better things.”

7. The Most Basic Rule of all — College can be where you “learn how to sin,” as the old saying goes, or it can be where you learn how to become a saint by resisting temptations to sin. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love Him.” (James i. 12).  But the Church teaches us that we are all called to sanctity, not only in the next life, but also in this one.  If all Catholics going to college, as well as those who are not, worked their hardest to become saints, there would be little fear of “losing the Faith”, as sanctity includes and goes above just “keeping it”. 

Of course the secret to striving for sanctity in college is starting to strive for sanctity before college.  It’s much easier to continue on a good path throughout college when that path is a habit.  Hence the most basic rule is to love God and work on loving Him perfectly.  Once you do that, all the liberalism, temptations and stress of college, instead of being a road block, become the means to achieving something positive.