As someone who grew up primarily in Catholic and Christian environments, transitioning to a non-religious college campus was a surreal experience. I was used to praying three times during the school day and studying theology as part of my curriculum. I saw religious sisters around every corner, and participated in prayer services, Masses, and Confession. My faith was incorporated into every activity I did—and I loved it.
I chose my college because it was perfect for me. It was a small school with an excellent writing program. It was in a wonderful location, had tons of exciting opportunities, and felt like a home the moment I first stepped onto campus for a visit. The only concern I had was that it was not a Catholic school. I was a little afraid to be somewhere that didn’t embed religious education in my learning. As I began adjusting to these changes, dialoguing with fellow peers, and living out my faith on campus, I gained some valuable insight that could help those just beginning their own College journey this Fall.
Transitioning to college meant a lot of changes. I got confused when I entered classrooms and couldn’t find a crucifix and a statue of Mary on display. I couldn’t set my internal clock by the timing of school-wide prayers. I had to foster my faith independently for the first time. It took a lot of adjustment. However,the college right next door had a Catholic center that opened its arms to students from my school, so I trusted that I could find community there. The Catholic Center gave me a home base and was very helpful in fostering my faith journey. In that space, I felt connected to fellow believers.
On my own campus, I felt like I was in a faith desert. Whenever people around me talked about religion, it was usually in a derogatory way. Most people that I encountered had been raised Christian or Catholic, but their faith had faded, and they had walked away from the Church. The predominant attitude on this campus is one of disillusionment; they think that if you still believe in God, you’re naive, and you haven’t questioned the world around you enough.
This prevailing attitude makes me think of a quote from Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” The people around me all have very skewed ideas of the Church. For whatever reason, and from whatever circumstance, they don’t know the truth about Christ and about His bride, the Church.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20, St. Paul states, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” That role of ambassador has come to inform my movements through this campus. There are so many people that I encounter who don’t know the Church, but think they do, and I have the opportunity to educate them and expose them to the reality of the loving Church I grew up in. I am so grateful that God has blessed me with this calling.
Whenever I am in a conversation with someone about the Catholic faith, I do so with love. I never want to come in swinging with fire. Often times, these people have heard enough of that. They have heard the condemnation offered by judgmental people of faith, but they don’t know the love that God has for them. My goal is to reflect Christ by loving those around me, and building trusting, friendly relationships with those I encounter.
Because of that trust, when a topic of faith comes up in conversation, we can discuss it. It can be an uncomfortable topic for some, but I try my best to make it accessible. I maintain a conversational tone, often using slang, references, and even memes to explain concepts of faith. I’ll sprinkle in some of the official Church teachings but present it in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating. If someone is receptive to learning more, I will bounce questions back at them, and try to learn more about where they’re coming from. I will then tailor open-ended questions toward their perspective, so that they think about God in new and exciting ways that lead them slowly closer to a relationship with Him.
For a Catholic, attending a non-Catholic college school may feel isolating at times, but there are many exhilarating opportunities for outreach. I am so grateful that I get to be the representation of Jesus and His Church for the people I encounter every day. I pray that God bestows on me the grace to represent Him well. I also pray that God blesses me with a love for His children that grows stronger every day, so that I can show the people around me the beauty of our Church.
I have learned that you won’t convert people with fear. I will admit, being Catholic is not always easy, and the road to salvation is paved with suffering. There are difficult issues to grapple with, hard questions to answer, and deep-seated changes that need to be made in order to follow the Lord more closely. Though most people aren’t typically attracted to suffering; they will always be attracted to love. Once you inspire them to foster a strong relationship with God in their heart, conversion will follow because it is motivated by love.
You don’t have to fix every issue and answer every question in one day. You just have to show people that a relationship with our Heavenly Father is worth it. You can demonstrate God’s love by living out your life joyfully and loving everyone around you. Live your faith through example, and they will be drawn to you. Then point them toward God, who is the source of all love, and continue your journey towards Him together.
No matter what college we go to, the majors we pursue, or the communities we become involved with, we are called to share our faith to the best of our ability. By encouraging fruitful dialogue and transformative interactions among your peers, you may be able to inspire those who are searching or struggling. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Only then can we reap the joys of sharing our faith with those who would have never even thought to give it a chance.
Stephanie Hauer is a writer and editor who lives in Vermont and aspires to have a position at a Catholic Publishing house. Growing up in New Jersey, she developed a passion for language from a very young age. She contributed to the fourth edition of the Catholic Youth Bible from Saint Mary’s Press, and has published articles with To Write Love on Her Arms and Rehumanize International. Her poetry is featured on the Create | Encounter website.