Helping Catholic Students Remain Catholic in a Setting of Nietzsche and Beer Pong

NEW HAVEN — When she graduated four years ago as the valedictorian of a Catholic high school in Chicago, Marysa Leya received a present from her biology teacher. It was a hand-painted crucifix, intended for her college dorm room, with a note from him on the back urging her: “Be sure to stay as grounded and awesome as you are now.”

Ms. Leya has become part of a nationwide pilot program designed to keep actively Catholic college students just as actively Catholic after the last mortarboard has tumbled to earth. The program, Esteem, has operated from the contrarian premise that a college graduate who is suddenly reduced to being the young stranger in a new parish may well grow distant or even alienated from Catholicism.

This is great! If I had been Catholic while I was attending Purdue, I would have been drawn to a program like that. However, I wasn’t and while I still am in school, I’m getting my degree through distance education. Since joining the Church, I’m starting to involve myself as much as a full time worker and full time student with a boyfriend can. Boy is it difficult, but it’s just as rewarding!

That’s really fantastic. I wish they’d had something like that when I was in school. Heck, I wish they’d made at least something of an effort to reinforce the students’ faith when I was in high school. We had our required religion classes each year and school Mass about once a quarter, but nothing that encouraged us to stay active in our faith, especially after we graduated. We learned Church history, read about other religions, were taught basic morality, but we weren’t given any instruction on what it means to be a Catholic, why going to Church is important or anything that provided guidance on how to remain active Catholics as we entered college and adulthood. I’m doing my best to counteract that with my kids, so I’m hoping they never fall into the same malaise I had in regards to my faith during my college years.

I’m guessing you attended a Catholic high school?

I’ve wondered what that would be like. I thought they had Mass everyday, but I guess I’ve never really known any Catholic school student. What were your thoughts on Catholic school? Will you send your children to Catholic school if you have any or did you?

Just curious, I went to public school all my life and didn’t convert to Catholicism until this Easter.

I had 12 years of Catholic schools, did the same for my son and am planning on it for my daughters. We had weekly Mass in grade school, and “monthly” Mass in high school (meaning it was listed as monthly in the student handbook but was more like quarterly in practice).

I loved going to Catholic school for several reasons. Looking back, one big one is that it did give me a solid, although flawed, Catholic foundation. Our catechesis was…probably a product of its time. I grew up in the 80’s and I think much of what we were taught was a bit too liberal. Some of it was downright wrong (the bread & blood are only symbols, masturbation is okay, no teaching whatsoever on how often we really need to receive the Sacraments, etc.), but it gave me a much more solid foundation to build on than Catholics I know who never attended Catholic school.

Although attending Catholic schools certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stay strong in your faith or even attend Mass as an adult, I think it increases the chances of it, even if it’s just out of habit. My friends who had 12 years of Catholic school are much more likely to still go to Mass at least occasionally than my friends who didn’t go to 12 years of Catholic school, or didn’t go at all.

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