How to Navigate a Catholic College When You’re Not Religious



I attended public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. I almost never attended church, only going when the choir needed more altos, or I had the time to fit the youth group meetings into my schedule. I wasn’t raised in a religious household, and I didn’t keep it a secret.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when I announced I’d be attending Xavier University, a private, Catholic, Jesuit institution. 

As a University of Kentucky basketball fan, I’ll admit part of it was for the D1 athletics. The nursing school obviously pulled me in, being my major and everything. I liked the size of the campus and the size of the classes, but what intrigued me the most was what that “Jesuit” thing meant. I wanted to know more.

When I showed up on the first day of freshman year, inexperienced and overwhelmed by Manresa, I couldn’t wait to get started. I wanted to get going, get started on the college career I’d heard so much about; the “best four years of my life.” My parents and I sat down for Father Graham’s opening speech, and I began to get nervous as the crowd shared song and prayer.

“Oh, no,” I thought. “I’ve made a mistake.”

During my Theology class freshman year, I experienced a similar moment. Everyone in the class had grown up in private schools and had Catholic backgrounds, reciting stories from the Bible verbatim. I sat in silence and blinked, sometimes nodded so I looked like I knew what I was doing. I went to my professor afterward and confessed I knew nothing about religion, not really, and I felt that I shouldn’t even be in this class. 

She reassured me that it wasn’t a necessity to know the Bible front to back to be here. Something in me relaxed then, and I could really start to enjoy Xavier for the experiences it was granting me.

I don’t consider myself religious, but there is an aspect of spirituality that I relate to and take comfort in. I believe there’s something bigger than us, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I have had too many random occurrences in my life not to believe there’s something more outside of what I understand in reality. But that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

If you’re uncomfortable with the religious aspects of the Jesuit values, think of it this way instead. A few appear similar to aspects of mindfulness and overall, seem like good guidelines on how not to be a jerk. 

Have no fear! I’ll break the values down past the fancy words that hang on the walls of our residence halls.

  1. REFLECTION: important for stopping to take in the world and your place in it.

  2. DISCERNMENT: debating between two “goods” and working through each, debating how each will change your path and contribute to improving your surroundings.

  3. SOLIDARITY & KINSHIP: walk and speak with, not for, other people in our communities, both local and farther away.

  4. SERVICE ROOTED IN JUSTICE & LOVE:  invites us to invest our lives into the well-being of our neighbors, particularly those who suffer injustice.

  5. CURA PERSONALIS: in caring for others, you must care for all parts of them, seeing what makes every person so different.

  6. MAGIS: in short, it means more – not in quantity, but quality and depth leading to more fulfilling and meaningful action. 

The values are what keep me centered and focused on my mission here at X, and what has helped me change from the nervous freshman I was into a more confident leader and individual over the years. It doesn’t take much work to involve the values above when you stop thinking of them as something unattainable or confusing, and instead just guidelines on how to live a fuller, more genuine life.

Reflection is an attainable thing anyone can accomplish. Journaling, talking with friends, even just sitting with your thoughts. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to recap, and a few minutes at the beginning of the day to think what you have lined up for yourself.

Discernment can be tricky. The way I’ve learned it is debating two “good” outcomes and weighing them in regards to how they impact your path in life and how each path will help you to be a better person or give you what you need to be a better person.

Solidarity and kinship is one that I’ve taken a particular liking to, as well as cura personalis. Both fit in with the holistic view of nursing I’ve been studying for four years here. The statement helps to add to the idea of “men and women for and with others,” part of our student commitment statement. Service rooted in justice and love goes hand in hand with the previous two values. You do not serve to bring someone out of their situation, you serve alongside them and get to know them as individuals – not their situation or surroundings. This is humbling and reminds us all that at the end of the day, we’re all human.

Magis is the last value, and one that I reflect on often. I ask myself how I can give more, how I can be more, but not in quantity. How can I be more involved with my community, intentional with my time so I can get the most out of it possible?

So, if you’re like me, non-Catholic or non-religious and trying to find your place here on campus, don’t worry. That time will come. There’s a space here at Xavier for everyone, and there are more than enough spaces that are available to help foster your growth and leadership without having to subscribe to any certain religions – or one in particular.