I’ve never been the homesick type, but I wept the day my parents left me at college and, through their car window, I could see they were crying too. Stepping into the unknown independently is one scary transition.
I imagine it’s even harder for the parents who have borne total responsibility for the protection of their child until this point. For those parents who have raised their child in the faith, there is an added worry, for the latest statistics show that 85% of Catholic young adults lose their faith in college.
It’s a grim reality for those sending a student off to college in the fall, but don’t get discouraged! There are several ways you can help your child transition to college with faith intact.
1. Use Scripture to fight for your kids’ faith. Parents of the 21st century are not the first to fight for the faith of their children amid worldly pressures.
St. Paul wrote to his spiritual children in Colossae, whose faith was being threatened by the culture:
As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught… See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8)
2. Talk about Jesus with your teens. Bring St. Paul’s exhortation to be rooted in Christ into conversations with your high schoolers while you still have them at home. Tell them you want them to be so rooted in Christ that they not only survive college with faith intact, but thrive with the radical faith of a disciple.
3. Encourage an examination of conscience. Have them evaluate their roots right now through examinations of conscience, identifying whether God or something else is the driving force of their day, and thinking about where their limits likely would be in situations of moral temptation in college.
4. Go to Mass and Reconciliation with your kids. Have them strengthen their roots by tapping into the life-giving water of the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and making it a habit of high importance.
5. Study the life of Jesus and the Saints. Begin to stretch their roots by looking at the radical mission of Jesus that He invites them into as disciples. Study the stories of the saints, proposing bold witnesses to follow as they embark into life independently.
6. Visit CollegeConnectionForCatholics.org, a practical resource to help your child’s faith thrive in college. Their online college search gives details on campus ministry at both universities and small colleges. If there is not an on-campus ministry, it gives details about outreach from the local Catholic parish. Help them find a good place to plant their roots once they get away from home!
7. Pray as Jesus did. Most importantly, pray for them daily. Pray the same way Christ prayed for them on the eve of His passion: “Holy Father, keep them in your name,… I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) Be not afraid, parents, for your prayer is very powerful. Remember, St. Augustine is a saint because of the prayers of his mother.
I encourage you to find ways to bring these topics into your daily conversations. And may God bless you in your mission to form and send out the next generation of disciples!
(Tessa Schealler, Youth Ministry/Young Adult Ministry Coordinator, Diocese of Des Moines)