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Being Catholic at a Protestant University: How to Stay Strong in Faith

     I love Baylor with all my heart. Its Christian values were a big factor in my college decision, and they most definitely contribute to the unique and welcoming feeling I get every time I set foot on campus. I will admit, though, that being Catholic made me feel like a bit of a fish out of water at first.

     Before coming to Baylor, I didn’t realize how many misconceptions our Protestant counterparts had about Catholicism. I faced questions about transubstantiation, infant baptism, and the intercession of the saints. I addressed claims about how the Catholic Church is “behind the times” because it doesn’t allow women to become priests. And, yes, I explained that the rosary is not, in fact, a necklace. In a nutshell, after finishing my first year here, I have come to realize that many people here have absolutely no idea what Catholicism is.

     So, I thought I could show them. I extended invitations to several of my Protestant (Non-Denominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) friends to join me for Mass any weekend of their choosing. After all, each one of them had mentioned to me that they were participants in a curious phenomena that I had not encountered before entering the Baylor bubble: church hopping. I have come to realize that this peculiar concept is analogous only to speed dating, but motivated by a much different kind of love; they would attend Sunday service at a different church in the Waco area every Sunday before ultimately choosing to commit to the one that was right for them. I was 99% sure they would turn me down—politely, of course, by saying they would “keep it in mind” even though they had no intention of taking me up on my offer. Even so, 1% of me naively clung to the hope that for one Sunday, I wouldn’t be walking to St. Peter’s alone. After all, if they were hopping to churches of varying Protestant denominations, why wouldn’t they hop to a Catholic one, too?

     Lo and behold, not one of my Protestant friends decided to hop over to St. Peter’s with me. After this turn of events, I realized that I had to look elsewhere for ways to keep—and grow—my faith. So, here are five tips on being Catholic at a Protestant university.

     Go to Mass alone (at least every once in a while). Every Sunday, most of my Protestant friends pack their cars full of people, ready to head over to church so that they can sit and worship together. For the record, I know a lot of Catholics who go to Mass in groups, too. However, if you inevitably end up taking the walk to St. Peter’s by yourself one Sunday—or, even better, if you choose to do so—then make the most of it! Going to Mass alone is a wonderful experience; sitting by yourself gives you the chance to be in solitude with God, and the walk is a perfect opportunity for a silent, peaceful reflection on your faith.

     Embrace your role as “resident Catholic.” You’ll quickly find out that there usually aren’t many Catholics in your classes, especially in smaller ones. Your professors and peers will likely turn to you for clarification on Catholic doctrines or practices, particularly in your required religion classes. Learn to love your new identity as “resident Catholic”; it gives you a chance to share your faith and deepen your own understanding of it.

     Join a Bible study. Before college, I had never done a Bible study before. However, after my first semester, on a whim, I signed up to join one led by one of the officers of the Catholic Student Association. Joining a Bible study is great for two reasons. First, it provides you with scheduled “God time,” which is quite helpful when you realize just how often you become “too busy” for it. Second, it gives you immediate access to a community of young men or women who are on similar journeys in their faith—a community which very quickly yields amazing friendships.

     Do a daily devotion. You’ll discover that there isn’t much free time spent alone in college. If you’re not studying, then you’re eating, trying to maintain a social life, or squeezing in a few hours of sleep. Be intentional about adding your faith into the mix, and tell yourself you’re going to do a daily devotional, whether it’s a rosary, the Stations of the Cross, or a Divine Mercy chaplet; it ensures that you don’t get stagnant in your spiritual life, and it serves as a much-needed mental reset from the chaos of college.

     Get involved with the Catholic Student Association. Before college, I underestimated the importance of having Catholic friends in my corner; my best friend was Hindu, and a great number of my other friends weren’t religious at all. However, I have discovered that it is almost essential to have at least a few Catholic friends—people who can say a rosary with you, understand the slightly scary yet healing experience of confession, and share your obsession with Mother Teresa. Getting involved with the Catholic Student Association is a must-do; fellowship is even more fun and valuable when it’s with other young Catholics who are in the same phase of life.

     In college, keeping your faith alive is like a job. You have to be intentional, manage your time, and prioritize. As a Catholic at a Protestant university, you will probably have to do those things a little bit extra. At the end of the day, though, remember to give yourself grace on this journey, and remind yourself that you’re not alone in this experience.

Jenna Fitzgerald is a freshman University Scholar concentrating in Political Science, Journalism, and Spanish at Baylor University. She is from Carrollton, Texas, which is just north of Dallas. When she isn't in class, she can be found doing puzzles, binging Criminal Minds and Star Wars, reading, or having Just Dance marathons with her friends.
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