A time of intellectual and Spiritual development

The last few weeks have been filled with college and high school graduations, an exciting time not only for our graduates, but their families as well.  The weeks leading up to graduation would have been busy with the seniors taking finals and the many preparations necessary for the graduation ceremony and the family celebrations to follow. As a campus minister though, there still isn’t time yet to rest. This week begins orientations for our incoming first year students.

At UMass Dartmouth, Deacon Frank and I will be among the many staff and students who will be welcoming 1,300 recent high school graduates and their parents to their new school. The two-day orientation they take part in this month is meant to help them to transition to college life and be successful as college students. In June they will meet other incoming students in their academic programs. Labor Day weekend the second part of orientation begins where they meet the rest of their class.

Catholic Campus Ministry will be a part of orientation as well. Recent years have seen an emphasis placed not only with college campus ministry, but high school youth ministry, in helping students transition from high school to college (and then college to career). As exciting as college can be, it is a bit of transition. Our role as campus ministers is to help students in the transition from high school to college life. In addition, we are there to help them grow in faith intellectually and Spiritually. In addition to providing opportunities for the Sacraments and opportunities like retreats and social events, we also provide catechetical and theological opportunities to help students learn to apply critical thinking to faith. I once saw a great line from a flyer from Virginia Tech, it read, “You came here to a higher education, why are you OK with an eighth-grade knowledge of your faith?”

Campus ministry also provides assistance and support with discernment. Simply put, discernment is the process that seeks to answer the question, what do I want to do the rest of my life? Discernment was the process that led the student to go to college and what college they want or are able to attend. This process involved learning about the different schools what they had to offer. In addition, it involved conversations with family, friends, teachers, coaches and others who’s opinions the student values. It involved time reflecting on the answers and then making the best choice based on the information available. As Catholics, we should also involve God in our discernment, not just in regards to college and the rest of our lives, but in the other decisions we have to make in life. We involve Him through our prayer and seeking assistance in discerning His call and Will in our lives.

There is in the college and university setting what we call “super seniors.” These are those students who graduate in five or more years. Super seniors are actually pretty common, at private and public universities. The most common reason why someone is in school beyond four years is that they change their major. That is part of discernment, being open that your decision may be wrong. 

One of the greatest challenges I face as a campus minister is working with the student who has their whole life planned out, even at times with dates in place. Now it is important to have goals and dreams and plans. These provide us with direction and motivation in life. However, college is a time of discernment, meaning that we may discover that what we thought was our career choice isn’t actually where we are called or we may discover a new field or career that we didn’t understand or know existed. This can be a stressful time coming to this realization, but if one is patient and properly discerns, making the decision to shift gears can be most rewarding in the long run. 

Tragically, sometimes there is someone who won’t allow themselves this opportunity, and all seems lost if they don’t achieve a milestone they had set for themselves or they end up in a vocation or career that they are miserable in. God desires that we live in joy and fulfillment. He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows how we can best find joy and fulfillment in life. I strongly encourage anyone in college (or high school or in transition) to allow God to be a part of your discernment. I encourage you to nurture your faith life, mind and heart, so that you may mature in faith and truly make your college experience one that is well-rounded.

In August, the Office for Campus Ministry is offering a retreat for any incoming first-year students, regardless of what college or university they may be attending in the fall. It will take place on August 9 to 10 at the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham. This is for students going to four-year schools or community colleges, living on campus or commuting. It is meant to help students in their transition and to help them to include God in the discernment that is about to take place. There is no charge for this retreat and more information may be found at www.fallrivercampusministry.com.

College is an exciting time, a time of great intellectual development and one in which friendships that last a lifetime are formed. It should also be a time where faith is not only nurtured, but strengthened. 

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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