I never thought that I would feel more confident with my Catholic faith in public high school than at Notre Dame.
With experiences being told outright that Catholicism was “fake,” people joking about burning the cross or simply having close atheist friends; my time in public school was not where I would expect my faith to be the strongest. But it was.
It wasn’t just the party culture and freedom of college or even the hectic balancing of social, academic and extracurricular life that freshman year is known for. When a good friend of mine from back home asked me how my faith life has been recently, I realized that ironically, the atmosphere of a Catholic campus had the opposite of a positive effect on my beliefs.
I remember in high school, I always felt like an outsider for being Catholic—most of my friends were non-denominational Christians or didn’t practice. But I found tight-knit friendships with those few who could delve into good conversations about God.
I’m not saying that you can’t find this on campus; there are definitely plenty of extremely devoted people. But on the whole, what I did not expect was the general indifference from a campus filled with 80% Catholics. Although people attend mass regularly, a lot of students tend to just go through the motions. There is a sense that people go along because they are used to it, or their families told them to do so. Because here Catholicism is a given, it seems that many people never stop to think about what they are partaking in. Maybe family roots and traditions are emphasized stronger in the east and midwest than they were in California (where I am from), or it could all just pertain to my personal experience. But in essence, being Catholic is so common that it becomes less special.
Right now, it can be hard to maintain a true understanding of a moral belief without it being challenged. As with many other students, I find myself losing that personal connection with God, prioritizing it less and having less intrinsic desire to go to mass.
In retrospect, I am grateful for public school introducing me to people who have challenged my faith. People who mocked or doubted it encouraged me to really read controversial Bible passages and learn exactly what Christianity was so I could stand up for myself. Challenge leads to personal reflection. Without it, I would not have questioned my faith as deeply and therefore would never have developed as strong of an argument to defend it as I do today.
As we start the season of Lent, it is my goal to get back in the groove. Some of my plans include reading and journaling with the Bible every day to reaching out to new and old friends to find Christ in my relationship with others.
Obviously I can’t generalize for everybody, but what I learned from enrolling in both public and private school is that, for me, no amount of theology or philosophy classes can strengthen my beliefs as much as being surrounded by those who disagree with you can.