How To Stay Catholic In College: A Review

Saturday, August 14, 2010
(This review is is part of The Catholic Company Reviewer Program.)

How To Stay Catholic in College, written by Professor Christopher Kaczor, is a concise and comprehensive guide for any young person about to enter the treacherous waters of college. Kaczor manages to articulate in 17 pages what parents, teachers and priests spend years trying to convey. This booklet should be in the backpack of every young Catholic.(You can purchase it through The Catholic Company here.)

Kaczor begins by pointing out the college years are “a time of crisis, a turning point, a time of decision , where the direction of adult life is undertaken.” Make no mistake, the four short years spent in college have the capacity, for better or worse, to change a young person’s life forever. Therefore, he insists that students make the best of it, study well and make good decisions.

Professor Kaczor immediately launches into the prevailing pitfalls found in many humanities classes which incoming freshman are bound to encounter. Academia does not take kindly to religion, especially Catholicism, and anti-Catholic sentiment will inevitably be found within a liberal arts curriculum. Yet, he adds, “as a Catholic you have nothing to fear from embracing learning and acquiring wisdom.” With that said, students should be prepared to defend their faith and should therefore familiarize themselves with the great good the Church has accomplished throughout history, such as “the establishment of hospitals, the founding of universities, the upholding of the rights of young men and (especially) young women to consent, or not to consent to marry.” Every Catholic student should be armed with this information in order to defend against claims to the contrary.

Korczor warns students to gird their minds and to beware of false philosophy, most notably that of relativism. “There is no truth,” is a phrase commonly heard on most college campuses. In response to such a claim, Korczor quips:

“Similarly to say that “there is no truth” is to assert that it is true that there is no truth, but if there is even one thing that is true, then it is false to say that there is no truth. You’d be hard pressed to find a relativist who actually believes what he says in real life. If his grandmother dies, he does not act as if she may be dead for me but not for you. If grandma has died, then grandma is dead for everybody.”

Yet, Korczor insists it is simply not enough to be able to defend the faith. Students must resolve to grow in their faith and deepen their relationship with God. Korczor offers several key components to spiritual growth: attend Mass each weekend, pray each morning and evening, look for opportunities to volunteer to help others, strive to live an apostolic life and finally, go to confession at least once a month. By adhering to these habits, a young person can develop into a man or woman of character and faith.

Perhaps the best advice Kaczor offers is found in the middle of the booklet in which he encourages young people to put as much energy into their spiritual life as they do their academic endeavors. “As your worldly learning increase, let your spiritual learning keep pace.” He instructs them to learn as much as possible about their Catholic faith and culture. Read Dante, study Augustine and Aquinas, recognize renaissance art and architecture and learn to appreciate Gregorian chant. Keep the Bible and the catechism handy and learn to use them. By doing so, young people will not only develop their minds, but their hearts and souls as well.

Moreover, Kaczor acknowledges that college is more than just academics. Every good apostle needs a friend, St. Paul had Timothy and Titus and St. Peter had Andrew and James. Kaczor recommends the type of friends to look for and where to find them. “Be discerning and picky” when looking for friends he advises. He suggests attending meeting of solid Catholic groups, on campus or off. Pro-life groups are generally good bets for likeminded people, as well as “faith and reason” groups, parish organizations or service clubs. Establishing friendships rooted in the faith will last not only through college but entire lifetimes.

The title makes a bold claim and one which is based on the premise that the reader actually wants to remain Catholic in college. While Kaczor offers many excellent suggestions on how to maintain a vibrant faith life despite the wickedness and snares of college, I would add (and I’m sure the Professor would agree) that many of these lessons must be learned prior to university life. Parents cannot simply hand a booklet to their 18 year old and expect that in four years he will graduate college as a good and faithful Catholic. The work must be put in ahead of time. In an ideal world, Augustine and Aquinas would be studied before college and young people would graduate high school with a solid catechesis foundation, armed with arguments in defense of their faith. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world and many young people enter college with only a working knowledge of the basic Catholic prayers.

As someone who came to know the faith in college (and at an extremely liberal university I might add), I kept nodding in agreement with Korczor’s points. Yep, that will happen, yep that will help, yep that’s great advice.

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