August 14, 2009

College Catholics

Catholic collegians get introduced to new cultures and share own beliefs

By Kamilla Benko

When Kathleen LaMagna, 19, went college searching, she always wrapped up the campus tour with a final question:

“OK, where’s the church?”

With this question, LaMagna was preparing to live a Catholic lifestyle in a place where Catholics are not the majority.

For many incoming Catholic freshmen, college will be the first time they interact with people of different cultures and beliefs. It may be the first time they meet a Muslim or speak with an atheist. It may be the first time in their lives that their religion is not practiced by the majority of the student body.

But as a 2008 graduate of Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind., LaMagna was prepared for being in the minority.

“I was comfortable enough from high school to be able to enter college knowing that I was still going to uphold a moral Catholic lifestyle,” said LaMagna, who finished her freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington.

She recalled one Ash Wednesday in middle school when she was called on during class by a substitute teacher to explain why there was a smudge on her forehead.

“Since I didn’t go to a Catholic school, my parents would take [me and my siblings] to 6:30 a.m. Mass on days of holy obligation [and other feast days],” LaMagna said.

For Ali Carson, it was a different story.

At Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, she was surrounded by other students with similar backgrounds, and attended school-wide Mass once a month and on holy days of obligation.

Going from Roncalli to Purdue University was a bit of a culture shock, she said.

“At a Catholic school, I was pretty much surrounded by people with the same beliefs and morals as me,” she said. “And at Purdue, it’s definitely not like that.”

To help new students adhere to the Catholic lifestyle at college, LaMagna recommended finding a friend with a similar background at the university.

“I think it’s really valuable to find someone you can talk with about [the Catholic faith],” she said. “It’s so nice to not have to explain yourself to people who understand why you feel that way. There are no questions asked.”

At college, many Catholic students will find that questions are being asked about their religion by non-Catholics. For some Catholic students, it will be the first time people ask them to describe their faith.

“I didn’t realize how many people are—I don’t want to say un-accepting—but just don’t agree with my beliefs,” Carson said.

For her sophomore year, Carson will be rooming with three other students in a suite. One student is Catholic and the others are Lutheran.

“[My roommates and I] always find ourselves in discussions and we ask, ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ Sometimes [my Lutheran friends] will look at us like we’re crazy,” she said.

“But it doesn’t really change what I think,” she said. “It’s just interesting to hear an outside view of the Catholic Church.”

LaMagna said the best way to deal with the questions is to be confident in your faith.

“We’re a society that is concerned with what’s politically correct, and the religious teachings get washed away with that,” she said. “I don’t think people are confident in their faith, and that causes people to feel apologetic and guilty.”

College is a time of huge transition, but it should not be a time to ignore your faith, LaMagna said.

“I think college is the perfect time for Catholic kids to really develop a different relationship with God than they have had in their past,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to become close to the priests you meet and other people who share your interests.” †

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