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 second Q&A is with Nico Church, who did his Bachelors of Arts at the University of Ottawa, then graduated from Queen's with a degree in Urban Planning. Read our first Q&A here.
CM: What did you find hardest about staying faithful to the Catholic Church during your time at university?
Nico: As exciting as university can be, it can lead to a lifestyle that strays from the beauty of the Catholic faith. For me, I encountered opposition to Church teachings in many classes, among classmates and professors. There was sometimes this disheartening sense that other people in the classroom had little patience for the Church and what they though She represented, and that I seemed to have few, if any allies, in the classroom.
This disregard for the Church and Her teachings (especially the moral ones) was also encouraged in how people lived their lives – the university culture has no time for the Church’s difficult teachings that may force them to change their lifestyle.
In addition to all that, there is a tendency as a university student to go “all in” – to spend every waking hour studying or otherwise being occupied, which leaves little time to develop a good daily routine. The lack of routine hindered my efforts to devote time to the Lord in prayer, in going to Mass, and in learning more about the Church. The need to do schoolwork and the anxiety surrounding was one particular excuse of mine in not spending time with our Lord in prayer.
These were all struggles that never really went away during my time in university. My heart sunk at hearing the Catholic faith being belittled in class, I often failed at upholding a good moral life, and it was a constant struggle for me to get some prayer in each day. I was still able to tread water and grow in part because of the sense that the faith I was trying to follow is the truth that leads to eternal life.
CM: What (or who) helped you the most in staying with the Catholic Church?
Nico: As a Catholic student, I was able to find solace in Catholic community and friendship. I would often make time in between classes or in the evening for organized events or informal socializing with likeminded, faithful students, as well as spiritual mentors who challenged me to grow in my faith.
I also frequently partook in the Sacraments, namely Reconciliation and the Eucharist, including Mass on weekdays. The power of the graces that the Lord pours down on us through His sacraments cannot be overstated in terms of helping to strengthen us in our faith.
One last thing I’d like to highlight is that there were a lot of structured events or programs that I took part in. Whether it was a faith study, going to a Mass that is scheduled at a certain time every day or week, or helping out at a retreat, I found it was useful for me to be able to put concrete things into my schedule that I could look forward to. Concrete things that we put into our schedule were, in my own experience, easier to commit to rather than just hoping that I’d like to pray at some point in the day. In the busy, hectic life of a university student, wishful thinking was far too easily swept aside.
CM: What advice do you have for Catholics entering postsecondary this year?
Nico: Two things:
- Establish a daily routine that you can stick to that includes time for the Lord through Mass and prayer. Even, or rather, especially in the midst of a busy, difficult day, time spent grounding yourself in the Lord is key. There is a constant temptation to make other things our God. For university students, that may be studying and attaining perfect grades, or partying. Make sure you spend time everyday reminding yourself who your God is.
- Don’t try to go at it alone. The faith journey is hard enough as it is. Be surrounded by faithful people who can motivate you to take your vocation as a student seriously, but who are also willing and able to assist you when you are overwhelmed with the demands of school or the young adult life.
CM: What advice do you have for Catholics who have strayed from the faith in postsecondary but want to come back?
Nico: Welcome back! The Lord is merciful and loves you. It is not too late to enter into a relationship with Him. One caveat, though: leading a life of faith, especially in university, is not for the faint of heart. It will not lead to a life of comfort. What we are called to is heroism, greatness, the desire for which is written deep into our hearts. Patience, hard work, support from others, suffering persecution, and cooperation with the Lord’s plan for your life are essential in becoming a saint. In other words, no, being a faithful Catholic is tough and there are no guarantees that God will whisper the correct answers to you in the middle of your exam if you go to Mass more. But despite this, and in part because of these difficulties, being a faithful Catholic is totally worth it in so many ways.
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!