By Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore
Some days are unforgettable, like your first day as a college freshman is likely to be.
One of my unforgettable days occurred in the spring of 2008 when I gathered with many of my fellow bishops and Catholic educators to welcome our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to Washington, D.C. He inspired us with the Church’s vision of a Catholic school or college as, first and foremost, a place to “encounter” God.
Now, that may not be what you had in mind for college. Most students go to college eager to learn—especially to prepare for a career—and to make some good friends along the way. Surely these are good things, but a Catholic education offers that and so much more. A Catholic education is not only preparation for a career, but preparation for the rest of your life.
And that is why your choice of a college is so important!
Think for a moment about what you really want out of life, and how the next four years might help you get there. We all desire to truly know who we are, why we are, where we came from, and where we are going. We yearn for what is true, beautiful, and good—something better than what our culture offers us today.
Whereas many American colleges have abandoned a strong core curriculum, a good Catholic education will help you consider the big questions of life by providing a foundation in Western thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition. Then—in a faithful, high-quality Catholic college—you will consider the ethical implications of our Faith and the intersection of faith and reason in all of your courses, whether in the liberal arts or business or the sciences.
This is important because you cannot be a truly excellent and virtuous businessman, scientist, lawyer, or other professional without an awareness of how your work contributes to society and serves God.
A good Catholic college will take you beyond the limits of a typical college education and prepare you to experience life in a meaningful way. During your four years in college, you are likely to discern not only a career but a vocation—married, single, religious life, priesthood—and may meet and fall in love with your future husband or wife. You will most likely be living on campus in common with dozens or hundreds of your peers, and you will be developing habits for the rest of your life. A good Catholic college will help you improve yourself physically, mentally, and socially in activities outside the classroom. It will help you strengthen your prayer life and to become a truly virtuous young man or woman.
For Catholics, life is certainly about career, but also so much more: marriage and family, serving the Church and our communities, and ultimately Heaven. Together these are the most important things in life, and so ought to be seriously considered when choosing a college.
First, consider the dangers of a typical college education. A lot of colleges are known for providing a good education. But what is “good”? If large numbers of students lose their faith in college—as the data tells us they do—then are students really getting a “good” education? And at what cost? One need only consider the high rates of substance abuse, abortions and social diseases, depression, and other maladies associated with college life to realize that certain situations may not be “good” for you at all. Caution is also necessary in the classroom; what may seem to be “neutral” is often opposed to a Catholic worldview, and there may be significant biases in today’s studies of history, philosophy, medicine, psychology, and so on.
Unfortunately at too many colleges today, the typical campus culture does not help students grow, rather it arrests their growth and may set them on a path that they otherwise would not want to choose for themselves. So it is important that you carefully consider the campus culture, the types of activities offered, and with what sort of fellow travelers you would be preparing for the rest of your life.
Now consider the possibilities of a faithful, Catholic education: studying the great works of mankind and coming to a fuller understanding of God, creation, philosophy, history, and science. Knowing not only the facts but the reasons. Learning not only skills but how to think clearly and rationally in any situation. Having a great time, yes, but also cultivating virtue so that you become the man or woman you and your parents hope you will be. Instead of enduring four years of the temptations of modern campus life, enjoying four years of a genuine Christian culture that cultivates love, respect, and fidelity.
What a wonderful opportunity you would have for four years! Access to the Sacraments, spiritual direction, Bible studies, courses in authentic Catholic theology, community prayer, and much more is available to you at a strong Catholic college.
I pray that you choose this type of wonderful education for yourself, because I truly believe that it will benefit you personally—but also because our Church and our nation need well-formed and educated Catholics. Our culture so greatly needs the contributions of intelligent, faithful Catholics in all walks of life. As a college graduate, you will have opportunities to influence others in your family, of course, but also in your workplace, your community, and your parish. And we need faithful, well-educated Catholics to serve in public office, to become your generation’s leaders on issues of religious freedom, moral concerns, and care for the poor.
As a bishop, I am so grateful for the work of Catholic educators and for what they provide young men and women like you. We need dedicated lay men and women, living unified lives of faith, hope, and love, to sanctify the world through their work and their families. We need prayerful, zealous, and intelligent men and women to answer Christ’s call to the consecrated life. We need a new generation of priests and missionaries to boldly and faithfully carry out the challenge of the New Evangelization.
For these reasons and more, it is so encouraging to me and my brother bishops that you have an opportunity to choose a college that provides an excellent academic education and that is deeply rooted in and faithful to the Catholic tradition. This publication will help provide you the tools you need to make such a choice.
Most importantly, I pray that your college education helps you become the saint you are called to be. To be a saint means to become, in the words of Catholic evangelist Mathew Kelly, “the best version of yourself.” It will mean succeeding at every level while learning “to be in the world and not of the world.” It will mean passing this on to others (evangelizing). Thus, you will need the tools and opportunities necessary to allow you, by the grace of God, to think and act like Christ.
Read on and then discuss your college options with others who care for your future—including, I hope, your parish priest or other spiritual advisor. Pray for guidance; and with your parents, I trust that you will come to a decision which will enhance your education and bring you closer to Christ, our Hope.
May God bless your college experience and the exciting life that lies before you! This I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.