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Sheltered or Tested? Choosing Between Catholic and Secular Universities

Philip Howard

Kim Scharfenberger - published on 08/09/13

Indeed, a common criticism of a strictly Catholic-based higher education is the inability for growth in one’s personal convictions due to a sort of “sheltering effect” through the prevalence of a singular faith environment. There is certainly some merit to this, as being challenged can encourage consistent growth and reaffirmation of one’s convictions.

However, Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate Nick Grevas points out that this type of environment can actually be fruitful for a young person just beginning to grow in their beliefs. Nick was able to establish a household at his university that helped to him impact the lives of those around him. “Through our Catholic fraternity, we were constantly building up each other in our faith and calling one another to holiness while sharing many laughs and adventures along the way.” The vast acceptance of Catholic values on campus led to a shared deepening of faith among the student body and countless opportunities “for discussion with those who had trouble understanding one or two Church teachings.”

Judging from Nick’s experience, young Catholics who attend these Catholic universities naturally have an advantage in feeling largely positive about their faith as well as learning more about it, both in the classroom and out. And with the majority of American society being largely secular, any “sheltering” that may occur would be useful as a firm, faith-filled foundation that effectively prepares young people to face a culture well-versed in misunderstanding the Catholic faith.

Yet as evidenced from the success stories of Steven and Rachel, a secular college environment does not immediately indicate a loss in faith. In many situations, young people can remain firm in their convictions while still facing a vast majority of peers who do not share their values. There is little question that the college lifestyle has become deeply secular throughout the years and can prove a difficult environment for young people of the faith, but with enough personal conviction it does not have to be a spiritual death sentence. Regardless, those four years of college life can effectively mold a person into the adult they will be for the rest of their lives, and the faith issues considered above are certainly worth keeping in mind when selecting a university.

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