So, it wasn’t ideal, but, as with so much in these times of uneasy peace, it was better than nothing. Friday was the traditional College Decision Day – one of my favorite days of the year. Each year on May 1st we have two things to accomplish in class: find out what each student’s future plans are, and investigate what next fall’s faith and service opportunities look like.
As we call roll in each class section, every student is given the opportunity to discuss his future plans. These plans most often revolve around attendance at a college or university, but sometimes there are plans to enter military service or to delay any major decision by a year or more. It is always interesting to see what people will be doing and why they have made the decisions they have made. But for me the highlight is to ask a few questions of each student and try to bring out their sense of excitement at what the future holds.
When viewed through a Zoom lens there is no doubt that the overall enjoyment of the experience has a lowered ceiling as compared with a live classroom setting, but I have to admit that it was a pretty neat experience seeing twenty or so students at a time on my computer screen all decked out in their Decision Day gear.
Beyond the fun of hearing what decisions were made there is a more important purpose for the day – a look at what the future holds in the areas of faith and service. To that end each student has in hand (well, electronically on the screen) a worksheet to fill in. The questions are intended to help them to discover an aspect of student life that was probably not a part of the campus tour or the glossy pages of any guide book.
Questions like: “What diocese will you be living in?” and “Who will be your bishop?” start things off. Throughout the worksheet there are questions about where and when to attend Mass or to go to confession, questions about service opportunities and retreats, and questions about theology class requirements or electives.
For most of our graduates, faith life will revolve around what are known as Newman Centers or Newman Clubs. Named for St. John Henry Newman, convert and leader of the Oxford Movement in the mid-1800s, these campus ministry groups are the Catholic presence on non-Catholic campuses. The first such group in America was at the University of Pennsylvania and the largest is at the University of Illinois. All of this information ends up on their completed worksheets.
Since so many of our graduates matriculate at one of Ohio’s public universities, as well as other non-Catholic schools around the country, it is important for them to arrive on campus with at least some knowledge of how to maintain their ties to the Church, as well as some sense that their faith should not be left behind at Saint Ignatius. Even at Catholic schools there are no guarantees – as the research has shown – and so making students aware of the richness of liturgical life, retreats, courses, and Catholic outreach into the community is essential for their continued growth in their faith lives.
This seed-planting at the end of senior year has been shown to reap real benefits once our grads find their way onto college campuses in the fall. I have had a number of students come back and extol the benefits of having the College Faith and Service worksheet in hand during the first few weeks of school. As Sir Francis Bacon so famously said, “knowledge is power,” and anything we can do to empower our youngest alumni will most certainly produce positive results.
Upon their arrival on campus for the first time students are being tugged in many directions, and not all of them are physically, emotionally, or spiritually healthy. Involvement in Newman Centers and the Catholic life on campus, no matter if the student is at John Carroll, Ohio State or Oberlin, is an essential continuation of their time here at Saint Ignatius. Such involvement can’t help but to bring our young alumni to a growth in virtue and, we hope, an aversion to those less than virtuous aspects of college life that pull people away from the True, the Good and the Beautiful.
If all goes as we pray it does, then each of our graduates will know first-hand these time-tested words of St. John Henry Newman: “Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure.”