How Can I Keep My Kid Catholic in College?


Q. My eldest daughter is heading off to college this fall. She has been in Catholic schools since kindergarten but is going to a secular university. I’m worried she may not attend Mass on her own, and I wonder how we can assure that she is receiving the sacraments while she’s away at school.


I talk to my daughter about this frequently because I’ve seen many kids go off to college and stop practicing their faith, and I tell her this is how young people can be open to ideas that cause them to leave the Church. I’m more worried about this than any other aspect of her leaving home, and now I’m starting to wish we had required her to choose a Catholic college. Is there something we can do to make sure she’s going to Mass?


A. The short answer is: No. Not even attending a Catholic college would assure that she’s going to Mass on Sundays, and unless you plan to camp outside your daughter’s dorm and forcibly transport her into a pew, you won’t be able to assure that she’s receiving the Eucharist each week. Fortunately for you, this isn’t part of God’s job description for parents!


You did your part—you raised your young adult daughter in the Church where she received the sacraments, gave her a solid foundation with 13 years of Catholic education, and, I assume, provided a faith-filled home in which she has seen how God reveals himself through love and grace. Now, it’s time to let God mold her into a mature Catholic Christian.


Not that this will be an easy process to watch from the sidelines—and, to be clear, I’m not a parent who believes that the job of parenting is “complete” when our kids turn 18 and “can do whatever they want.” (I put that in quotes because that’s how I roll my eyes in print!) We’re never done being parents to our children, but our relationships do (and must) change as our children become adults.


When they are little, our role is to require obedience from our children as a way to model obedience to God. For this reason, I think it’s important to require that children who live in your home attend Mass, even if they’re doing so only because it’s a requirement of the house.


When they become adults (and leaving for college is certainly a mark of adulthood), our role is to demonstrate how we live out the tenets of our faith in our adult lives and encourage our children toward greater maturity in their faith. It’s not mature for your daughter to go to Mass while away at school simply because her parents insist that she do so. She needs to choose to practice her faith and make it the cornerstone of her adult life. You can’t choose that for her.


This is a fearful idea for many parents! They’re so focused on the “what ifs” —“What if she stops going to Mass? What if she decides to go to a different church? What if she becomes an agnostic or atheist because of the things she’s exposed to in school? What if she rejects us because of the faith we profess?” But what if the foundation of faith you gave her is enough to withstand the doubts, misgivings, exploration, examination, and thoughtfulness of your young adult daughter?


Remember, the Catholic faith has withstood the test of teenagers for more than 2,000 years. Jesus isn’t afraid of college kids!


Leaving home offers a great teachable moment for parents of young adults. When you take your daughter to school, do these three things:


1. Talk in the car about how glad you are that she’s a faithful Catholic. Instead of telling her how worried you are about her missing Mass, ask how she sees herself getting involved in her new faith community. (Note: She should be the one doing the talking!)


2. Before you take her out for that “last supper” with mom and dad, stop in at the campus Catholic ministry office—virtually every college has one. Meet the staff, collect the information on Mass times and ministry opportunities, and make sure the material ends up in her dorm room before you leave.


3. During the semester, don’t badger her; instead, find ways to gently remind her to pray about the things that are stressing her out, encourage her to attend Mass and stop by the church or chapel to shore up her spirit. Most of all, let her know you’re praying for her, each and every day.


Remember, God doesn’t bop us over the head and drag us into a relationship with him. He invites! Keep the invitation to faith open for your daughter by reminding her how much God loves her. God will handle the rest.

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