Packing faith for college

Photo: Janis Olson Photo: Janis Olson

This time of year, many parents are saying goodbye as their children head off to college for the first time. Like our young adults, we are excited about their new adventure. But we also may worry a little — will they eat right, go to all their classes, make good decisions?

And what about their faith life?

When I was a student at Washington State University in the 1980s, I really benefitted by attending the St. Thomas More Catholic Student Center, one of some 250 Catholic Newman Centers in the U.S.

The centers, and other Catholic campus ministries carrying the Newman name, were inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman, a 19th-century theologian and convert to Catholicism who will become a saint on October 13. Cardinal Newman believed that faith and higher education are two parts of a whole — both are needed to fully inform the other — and he advocated for the Catholic student.

At WSU, having a parish so centrally located was not only handy, it was essential. It was easy to be involved in parish life; Father Mike and Sister Rosalie helped us live out our faith through retreats, classes and other opportunities.

What was eye-opening for me were the booklets they distributed on how to defend our faith. I soon learned why they did, as every week seemed to bring a new group to campus trying to persuade people to join and assume new beliefs. Vibrant-seeming communities wanted to tell us that our Catholic faith was erroneous, but Father Mike and Sister Rosalie ensured we had the tools to help ourselves, and maybe to educate others as well.

One of the best things parents can do is bring their student to the Newman Center for a visit, said Dominican Father Jordan Bradshaw, director of the Prince of Peace Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington. It’s an informal opportunity for the student to meet the priests and staff members and find out what programs are offered, he noted in an email.

At the UW, Catholic students also staff tables around campus during the school year to answer questions, welcome students to the center and encourage their involvement in the many activities and opportunities the center offers, Father Bradshaw said.

Father Bradshaw’s advice is echoed by Emma Fisher, director of the WWU Catholic Newman Center at Western Washington University in Bellingham. It’s important for parents to let their students know the Newman Center is a place not only to receive the sacraments, but also to find a welcoming community.

At WWU, Fisher said in an email, they have a weekly fellowship night, but also work with students one-on-one and in small groups. “We have 10+ Bible studies running and the fruit that is borne from that intimate time with others who are growing in their faith is incredible,” she wrote.

As a parent of college students (past and present), I know that support from home is also important. We want our young adults to have the tools to fly the course God intends for them. So, when sending a care package to your young adult, add some nourishment for their faith in addition to the usual homemade cookies and caffeine.

Congratulations to all families in your new beginnings, and may God guide your every step!

Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart speaks to heart, Cardinal Newman’s motto).

Five ways to keep the faith at college

1. Find a Newman Center (check

2. Stop by the center to meet the staff and other Catholic students.

3. Bring questions about programs, resources and the faith.

4. Attend Mass; pray daily.

5. Go on retreats, attend Bible studies and participate in other events offered during the year.


Faith in a box

Keep your college student connected to faith and family by including one or more of these items with your regular care package goodies. Send a faith care package on your student’s baptismal anniversary, the feast day of their patron saint or just when their spirits need lifting.

Handwritten prayer or blessing

Photo of family celebrating a special religious event

Religious jewelry

Icon of patron saint

Bible, rosary or crucifix

Traditional or contemporary Christian music

Holy card

Books by Catholic authors

Prayer journal

Northwest Catholic - September 2019

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno is a member of Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish. Contact her at