I’m guessing that the “very devout student body” schools unfortunately won’t be found in the Northeast, at least with academics comparable to Penn. So I’d assume they’d be smaller, liberal arts schools, if you’re okay with that.
I went to Georgetown University. Now, from what I’ve seen on this forum, most don’t consider it actually “Catholic” for one reason or the other. I had a great experience there, and I think you should consider it if you’re applying to Penn.
All classrooms have crucifixes. I worked part time in the hospital, and patient rooms also have crucifixes. There are statues around the campus, and there is a big, beautiful “Jes Res”-Jesuit Residence on campus. Jesuits teach many classes, and one, Father King, died over the summer, and the campus was definitely moved. He taught a popular class, and his 11:15pm Mass was always packed. The Jesuits have a big impact on the campus.
Now, the student body is over 50% Catholic, while Notre Dame, for example, is 90%+ Catholic, from what I remember when I applied to college 5 years ago. So, while the school is Catholic and it “looks” Catholic, you’ll have people and services for people from other religions. I didn’t have a problem with that, since that’s the world we live in. We have classes on many religions, and I even took a class on Hinduism. We have a Mass of the Holy Spirit to begin the academic year, and when you graduate, there’s a Baccalaureate Mass to end your academic career. There is a wonderful Christmas Mass, as well as Masses for all the major holidays. There is also Jesuit Heritage Week. We also have a great relationship with Holy Trinity Catholic Church, which is a block away from the front gates. And of course there’s the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC, which is on the campus of Catholic University of America. I went there a lot, I loved it.
Catholicism affects the way students go about their Georgetown career, whether they are Catholic or not. Service is very important at Gtown, and you can add a service learning credit to many classes as well. There are many ways to get involved in liturgy, and I was a lector. People from the surrounding community also come to Mass on campus, so it’s great to interact with non-students as well. There are six types of retreats offered by Campus Ministry, and all are very popular, especially the Senior Retreat, at the end of your career.
So, while some may think that Georgetown “isn’t really Catholic”, with many referencing Obama’s visit where they covered up “IHS” that was on the wall above where he was standing (I’ve heard conflicting reasons as to why that was done), I see Georgetown as being Catholic not just in having statues in your face all the time or people praying all the time, but Catholic in full expression, from the service mindset that is prevalent on campus, to Masses for all important occasions in your academic career, popular retreats throughout the year, a Jesuit community right on campus that interacts with the students, etc. And of course it’s a top school :D, especially if you’re interested in international relations or anything related to that (I studied psychology and took classes in international heath and health sciences).
Hope that helps! I LOVE Georgetown and am happy I went there. It’s a top school with top academics (it’s highly selective as well…when I applied it accepted about 21% with SATs in the 1400s and most people in the top percentages of their classes. So everyone’s really smart, but everyone has a lot of fun), top connections (both in school and after), and a prevalent Catholic culture that doesn’t overwhelm and isn’t forced onto you, that you put yourself into, just like in the real world. Good luck!