How to Stay Catholic in College

August 26, 2019 | Fr. Patrick Wainwright, MC

One of the toughest realizations I had when I started working with college students was the amount of Catholics who stop practicing their faith within the first year of school or so. A smaller number abandon their faith later in college, or after graduating.

Many, however, wish to stay faithful to our Lord, but are worried that they may end up following the current. Of course, going to a sound Catholic college that has a theology department and a campus life that is in line with the Catholic teachings is a great way to ensure your perseverance in the faith. However, this may not always be possible.

So, what should you do to keep and strengthen your faith during your college years?

You must desire and pray for it!

The first thing you should do is to desire and pray daily to our Lord to grant you the gift of perseverance and growth in holiness. Perseverance is a gift of God—and obtaining it will depend more on our asking for it than on our efforts and human means.

Give your spiritual life the first place among your priorities

When you are in college, life gets so busy, and there’s a lot of pressures placed upon you. Grades, projects, sports, and social life—all these things require a lot of time and attention. However, none of them are as important as your eternal salvation, your relationship with God, and the well-being of your soul! As our Lord says in the Gospel, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). Do not let the things of this world, as important as they may be, make you postpone the practice of your faith. As a practical example, do not miss holy Mass on Sundays because of some other commitment that you choose to take on. In this sense, it is useful to see everything from the point of view of God—asking yourself frequently, “what would our Lord want me to do?”

Surround yourself with good friends

As you step into your new campus, you will begin to have a new group of friends. Friendships depend greatly on things that we share in common—ideas, sports, activities, social events, etc. If you want to grow closer to our Lord, make sure your friendships are inspired by your faith. Try to make friends that will actually bring you closer to God. Friends have a great influence on us, because we try to join them in whatever they are doing, speaking, or feeling. There are relationships that can lead us closer to or away from God, Who is our most important friend. Never allow the friends of this temporal life to cause you to lose your friendship with Jesus, Who loves you infinitely and is more faithful than anybody else.[1]

Avoid the occasions of sin

Being away from home and living in college will give you an immediate sense of liberation from authority, which should be an opportunity to increase your sense of responsibility. However, many fall into the temptation of living a life of dissipation (a.k.a., the “college experience”!), which might include attending parties where alcohol and drugs are available. This can quickly become your downfall, even if you had been a devout child of God in the past. My suggestion would be to avoid those gatherings where the main focus is to drink or do drugs. A key principle of action is to never even try any recreational or illegal drugs and never give in to alcohol abuse. You may think that you are in control, but sooner than later, you become a slave. This will not only cause you spiritual damage, but also even potentially endanger your health, your future career, and your entire life. The same goes for the temptations against lust, impurity, and pornography. The farther you can stay from these vices, the better it will be for your soul and your relationship with God.

Develop your spiritual life

On the positive side, I would highly encourage you to strengthen your faith, your relationship with God. Imagine your soul as a plant that has the life of faith within it, as a little seed. You want to protect that plant from the rough elements, you want to fertilize it and feed it—well, the same happens with life of grace in you. You need to protect it and nourish it to make it grow. Here are some suggestions:

Have a daily prayer routine

You should try to pray every day. Pope Benedict XVI[2], quoted St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s famous statement: “He who prays will be saved, and he who does not pray, will be condemned.”

Having a daily prayer routine will help you make prayer a part of your life. For example, try to do a daily Morning Offering[3] right when you wake up. In the evening, before going to sleep, to a daily examination of conscience, and a Night Prayer.

During the day, you should try to do a time of meditation, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. If you do not know how to a time of prayer or meditation, you could check this blog post. And finally, pray the Holy Rosary, or at least part of it. Having devotion to our Blessed Mother will always be a safe haven for your soul.

Grow in your relationship with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist

Apart from going to Mass on Sundays, you could try attending Mass during the week, maybe once or twice, even if you go alone. This will strengthen you interiorly for your daily challenges, and make you understand much more deeply the meaning and value of the Mass. Jesus dies on the Cross for you during the Holy Mass, and gives himself to you in the Blessed Sacrament!

Besides, after Mass, He stays substantially present in the Tabernacle, under the appearance of bread. And He stays there to be close to you, so that you can visit Him frequently—so make sure you try to swing by your local chapel and pay a visit to your Best Friend! In the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus is waiting for you! He is waiting to shower you with His abundant graces. He is there to listen to everything you would like to say, everything that burdens your heart. He won’t speak to you audibly, but He will speak to you in your heart. He did speak to me—especially when I was discerning my vocation to the priesthood—and He continues to insinuate His voice in my heart whenever I speak to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I can assure you that He will also speak to you!

Frequent confession

The most serious dangers for the soul are sin and vice—and therefore, one of the greatest means to preserve the life of grace and grow stronger is to go frequently to the sacrament of confession. Try to go once or twice a month! You do not have to wait until you fall into mortal sin to confess. You can also confess venial sins when receiving this sacrament. Check out what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on confessing venial and mortal sins frequently (#1456 and 1458). While at the beginning in might seem a bit intimidating, in the long run I can assure you that it will help you a lot to overcome vices and grow in the love of God.

Continue to learn about your faith

In college you will learn about a lot of things—most of them related to your future career. However, in many classes you may also hear things about religion, and very frequently you will hear things against God, against religion in general, and against the Catholic Church, its teachings and its history. This is why you should continue studying your faith on a regular basis—that is, to form your mind in the things that refer to your Catholic faith. This is the most important subject in your formation as a human person. How many times we form our minds with so many other things that are of so much less importance! News, blogs about fashion or sports, and random subjects that entice your curiosity—but how little time we dedicate to learn about our Faith!

Attend an annual spiritual retreat

If you really want to grow in your faith and find the will of God in your life, there is no better thing than doing a weekend silent retreat. The priests of Miles Christi lead these retreats in many places throughout the United States. These retreats will give you a unique opportunity to spend time with God, find the meaning in your life, and communicate personally with our Lord, while finding His will for you—you will never regret attending these retreats![4]

Find a spiritual director

Finally, one of the most effective ways to persevere and grow in your faith, is to meet regularly with a priest for spiritual direction. Having a spiritually-minded person that knows you and will help you through the challenges of life will be an incredible help.

These are some ideas which I hope with bring you closer to our Lord. I myself and many other people will be praying for you!

[1] St. John Bosco had several dreams in which God revealed many important spiritual teachings to him. In one of them, he saw how some boys of his Oratory were leading others to hell walking arm in arm. It was explained to him that this symbolized bad relationships that were an occasion of sin. (See the 40 Dreams of Don Bosco.)

[2] – General Audience, August 1, 2012, on the Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori

[3] You can find a “Morning Offering,” a “Night Prayer,” and many other great prayers in our Miles Christi Prayer Book, which you can get by emailing us, calling our office, or clicking here.

[4] Here you will find a better explanation and the different locations where they are conducted.