Summers were always refreshingly quiet at the Newman Center. Like any college campus, for a few precious months our public university was reduced to the satisfying hum of summer students and a steady stream of high schoolers coming for campus tours and orientation. I met many Catholic students and parents as they stopped by the Newman Center after their campus visit. There are a few of these students I will never forget, but there were also many whom I never saw again. In seven years of Catholic Campus Ministry at a public university, there was no shortage of parents calling us for help with a student who was struggling or who had stopped going to church. While we did what we could for them, their calls echoed the same question I saw in the eyes of my summer visitors: how can I help my child stay Catholic in college?
Unfortunately, I can’t give a sure answer here. There are no Catholic parenting shortcuts or magic buttons. Your child is a gift from God, and God (whether we like it or not) created your son or daughter with free will and the ability to walk away.
Raising kids in the faith is no simple task. I stand in awe of you, parents, of your courage, and your love for your children. I deeply respect all that you have done and sacrificed to raise them in the faith, and I am inspired by your desire to help them know and love Jesus. You know better than I that, even with every good intention and effort, at the end of the day your son or daughter will decide for themselves whether they will pursue Christ in college.
The question is, how can we support them? Now that kids are headed off to college at the end of the summer, what can parents do to help their child decide for themselves that the Catholic life is worth living? Here are a few practical suggestions:
Pursue Christ yourself.
The most powerful thing parents can do for the faith of their children is to live their own faith with integrity. Take time to come to know God in the quiet of your own heart and in the Scriptures. Attend Sunday Mass (and daily Mass if possible), serve others, and pray for your child every day. When your own love for God grows, it can flow out to your children in an intriguing and attractive way.
Talk to your child and truly listen to their perspective.
It is especially important for your budding adult to know that you respect and love them. It is also important for them to see that your faith is unwavering in the midst of a fickle and constantly changing culture. Listen to your son or daughter and respect them without backing down from what you know is true. If you are unsure about the Church’s teachings, study and seek the answers you need to understand the faith well. When paired with unconditional love and support, consistency in your values can actually deepen the respect between you and your child.
Help them find the resources they’ll need to grow.
Present opportunities and plant seeds. Ensure that your child knows when and where to find Mass and the Catholic ministry on campus. If possible, visit the ministry and/or the church with your son or daughter and meet the staff with them. Encourage your child to go to Mass and the ministry’s events and to get to know people there. Even if he or she is not interested, this information, given in love, may be something they turn to in a time of need.
College is an exciting time of new opportunities and self-discovery. It is a great good that God wants to use in the life of your child. We, parents and mentors of college students, can love them, get to know them, invite them, and witness to them. Ultimately, we trust that God has a plan for their life and he is with them as they go.
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