As many young Catholics head back to school, The Catholic Millennial will be sharing the insight of Catholics who have experienced the challenges of secular campuses. Our first Q&A is with Emilie, who studied Theatre and French at the University of Ottawa and now works for Salt + Light Media.
CM: What did you find hardest about staying faithful to the Catholic Church during your time at university?
Emilie: Many of my friends stopped going to Mass not long after we started university. I would ask them why they weren’t going anymore and their answers were honest. They felt they didn’t understand why they were going anymore. They weren’t getting much out of it. One friend told me she felt like a hypocrite for attending Sunday Mass when she had issues with the Church. I respected my friends for not wanting to do something that no longer made sense to them. I wish I had answers for them, advice to keep them in Church. But instead, it made me question my own reasons for sticking around. Was I wrong for wanting to go to Mass? What was I really getting out of it anyway? All of a sudden, I was in a place where the majority of young people weren’t practicing any faith, or so it seemed, and God didn’t fit anywhere. I was on shaky ground for the first few months of university.
CM: What (or who) helped you the most in staying with the Catholic Church?
Emilie: The first person who helped me get through was my mom. It’s the truth! We’ve always had a good relationship and I trust her completely. I never felt judged by her. When I was questioning my faith, I told her about it and “warned” her that I might not be going to Mass for a while until I figured things out. She only encouraged me to persevere. She reminded me that it’s normal to go through periods in our faith when we don’t get it, when we think God is abandoning us, or when we don’t even know if he exists at all. If we push through those moments, in faith, and keep asking God to give us clarity, He hears us and will answer. She left it up to me to decide what to do next after that conversation, saying her and my dad would never stop loving me even if I decided to stop practicing my faith. I realize now that was a huge act of faith and trust on her part!
Unsurprisingly, I followed her advice. I kept going to Mass. I kept praying once in a while - although it didn’t look like much. A few months after our phone call, a friend invited me to do a faith study (Bible study) with Catholic Christian Outreach. I didn’t really want to because I knew nothing about this movement. However, if I was serious about finding answers I needed to be open. Being a part of that faith study group was exactly what I needed and I stayed connected to CCO throughout university. Things did become clear; God hadn’t abandoned me. I eventually grew confident in my faith and it informed all of my decisions.
CM: What advice do you have for Catholics entering postsecondary this year?
Emilie: Finding a community of like-minded people is a game changer. I found people with whom I felt safe and found real friendship. That community (CCO) became my anchor, what grounded me, when other things in my life were so often shifting. Not every campus has CCO, but most campuses have some form of Catholic association. If it’s not on campus, there might be a youth group at a parish close by or a youth ministry office in the diocese. Get connected.
How do/did you manage as a Catholic on a secular campus? Share your experiences through our submission portal! We'd love to hear from you!