Staying Catholic in College: A Letter to Youth Ministers

Posted by Sarah Wallace on Jun 18, 2020 7:07:00 AM
Sarah Wallace

Wallace Letter to CYMs title

Dear high school youth ministers, 

Congratulations! Though it has had an ending unlike any other, another successful year is on the books and another amazing group of seniors has been launched from your ministry. While it’s sad to see them go, they’re off to bigger and better things, armed with a wealth of faith and wisdom gained from their youth ministry experiences.

But what is next for them in their life of faith? Will their relationship with Christ and their Catholic faith continue in college and beyond? These are hard but important questions. One Pew study reports that most people who leave the Catholic faith will do so before the age of 24. The same study also states that only 32% of those involved in Catholic youth groups remain Catholic as adults. Like high school, college is a critical time in the faith lives of young people. 

There is some amazing work being done in youth ministry and campus ministry programs across the country. Yet, a significant gap remains between when a high school student leaves their parish and when he/she finds a Catholic community at college. 

Even when a young person is engaged in their faith in high school, they may get to college and find the church strange or different, the ministry nothing like their experience in high school, and their familiar friends, mentors, and ministers missing. The places where they have met Christ in the past have changed as suddenly as the rest of the world around them. Add this to a newfound abundance of freedom, the pressures of making friends in a new place, adapting to heightened academic expectations, and juggling new moral quandaries in a “you-do-you” culture, and it is easy to see how even engaged Catholic high schoolers could lose their way. 

While factors at work in the faith lives of individual young people are complicated, the point stands that efforts are needed to bridge the gap between youth and campus ministry in our American Church. How can youth and campus ministers work together to walk with a young person through this challenging time of transition, preparing them to be lifelong followers of Christ? Here are a few ideas.

Connect them.

Get teens’ permission to share their name and contact information with their campus’ Catholic ministry. While a personal call or email is best, a site like Newman Connection can send spreadsheets of names securely to campus ministry leaders. It can be a game changer for a new student to be personally welcomed or invited by someone from the Catholic community when they get to campus. Make sure your teens know how to find Mass and the Catholic resources on their campus. Gather information to give to each senior as part of a graduation gift, or host a “fair” where representatives from your seniors’ future campuses are present to meet them in person. Finally, do anything you can to help your teens connect to people in their new community. One youth minister gave a teen a box of chocolate to bring to me (his campus minister) when he got to campus. The student connected with me and our ministry right away, and I never forgot him or his gift.

Visit them. 

Check in with your teens after they get to campus. Especially if there are multiple teens from your ministry on a campus, visit the campus if possible and gather them for dinner together. Invite the campus ministry or missionary staff to join you. Teens will get to connect with you, their youth ministry friends, and the Catholic life on their campus. 

Welcome them home.

When they return from college for the summer, have opportunities for your college students to gather and get involved. From helping with high school retreats or events to hosting a series of summer college social events or Bible studies, the summer can be an important time for college students to reconnect with their faith.  

Have you seen other great ways to connect your incoming college students to their faith in college? Share them in the comment section!

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Featured image by Stanley Morales via Pexels

Topics: college, youth ministry, campus ministry, faith formation

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The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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