I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students.
By Aurora Griffin, Ignatius Press, 2016.
Many religious parents mourn the fact that
a disturbingly large number of young people graduate from college considerably
less religious than when they entered.
This is a common problem, no matter where one goes, though many of the
most prestigious universities is the nation are known for being particularly
secular. On the television series The Sopranos, even though the titular
parents made their living through organized crime, during the second season
Tony and Carmela Soprano were particularly concerned about their daughter
Meadow’s choice of college, worrying that the feared evangelist atheist
influence of Berkeley would prove to be detrimental to their daughter’s
spiritual life, leading Carmela to use whatever influence she had at her
disposal in order to nudge her daughter towards Georgetown.
Aurora Griffin is a recent Harvard
graduate, a Rhodes scholar who studied philosophy at Oxford, and plans to
pursue a career in business. How I
Stayed Catholic at Harvard is her first book, where she describes her
undergraduate faith life, where she describes how she maintained and expanded
her religiousness in an environment that was not particularly conducive to
In his introduction to the book, Peter
things can be more important than the faith of the next generation. The future of our civilization, that is, the
goodness and truth and beauty of our culture, depends on the Source of all
goodness, truth, and beauty, God; and the umbilical cord to God is faith– not
just faith in anything, but the Faith, the one God invented, not
us. And the Faith is not automatic (it
doesn’t just “happen”), not is it genetic (God has no grandchildren); it must
be rediscovered, reaffirmed, chosen, and kept anew by each generation. If it falls into the abyss of the current
“generation gap,” our culture will fall into an abyss of even greater nonsense,
immorality, and ugliness than it already has.
Nothing is more practical than drawing a line in the sand here and now.
no place is more important than the university, because the university has
replaced the church, the state, and even the family as the primary teacher and
cultural determinant. Everyone who is
influential in our culture is formed by the university: media people, pastors,
teachers, politicians, scientists, businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, creative
writers, journalists– almost everyone but rappers and professional football
players. This is the battlefield, now is
the battle, and here is a very good set of weapons.”
The “weapons” in question are a series of
tips that Griffin advises as a means of maintaining a vibrant religious
life. The forty tips are divided into
sections: “Community,” “Prayer,” “Academics,” and “Living It Out.” Of course, this book presupposes that that
the person reading this book has a strong interest in staying Catholic and
living a religious life throughout college and afterwards. For the already lukewarm or disinterested
young person raised Catholic, there may be little incentive to take the extra
steps to strengthen one’s faith life, nor is there any particular desire to
avoid the entertainments and distractions that lead many young people away from
traditional Catholic morality.
There are a wide variety of tips, ranging
from engaging in an assortment of religious activities to maintaining a diverse
and supportive group of friends. In each
case, Griffin provides her own autobiographical experiences, explaining how
each of these steps helped her. At
times, it seems like Griffin was constantly under pressure from all sorts of
directions to drift into a state of unbelief or at least to start ignoring the
tenets of the Church.
a Catholic going to a secular university, it is all too easy to get swept up in
what the world says is important in college.
The attitude at most secular universities is that college is about
having fun and finding yourself by casting off old ways of thinking, leaving
your faith and values behind. For many,
it becomes about partying and embracing radical philosophies. A worldly lifestyle promises glamour and
excitement and fulfillment, but in the end it is empty. Only as we become the people God made us to
be, do we become freer, happier, and more ourselves.”
One of my favorite experiences in college
is when an acquaintance did the math to figure out just how much a single fifty
minute class cost, when subtracting food and housing from the annual tuition
and dividing appropriately. I don’t have
the exact number, but about fourteen years ago, every missed class was
approximately $180 down the drain. My
acquaintance and I put that line on the dormitory whiteboard as a kind of
motivator for the hungover students who believed that attending class was
optional. The cost has gone up
dramatically in recent years, and as Griffin points out, there are many
intangible and priceless benefits from college that may be missed through
improper use of time.
It continues to baffle me how many young
people believe that they are paying tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of
dollars a year for a four-year bacchanal.
Griffin observes that college is more than just paying large sums of
money and taking tests in order to get a diploma. College is an opportunity to learn and grow,
but as personal observations have shown me, many college students grow less
mature, less creative, and less intellectually curious. Griffin argues that to be a better student, a
better person, and a better Catholic, you have to continually strive to be
stronger– if your faith (or intellect) isn’t growing, it’s probably shrinking.
was my faith that kept me studying late at night when I was tired because I
felt obligated to be a good steward of my opportunities. It was my faith that served as the reference
point for all my studies, rendering no lecture of assignment irrelevant. It was my faith that led me to meet a great
group of friends, whom I’ll cherish the rest of my life. It was my faith that kept me out of the
dangers and drama of the college party scene.
Because I made these decisions– to work hard, to invest in good people,
to avoid trouble– my time in college was both successful and happy by secular
standards. And I gained so much more
than that from my faith. My college
years meant something. I grew in
the most important thing of all: knowing God.
And after graduation, I stepped into the world with a peace and a sense
of purpose that even my most successful secular friends do not have.”
If college students are determined to
burden themselves with crushing debt and spend the better part of their
weekends with their heads in public toilets, there is little their parents or
anybody else can do to stop them (unless their parents decide to stop paying
tuition). This is one young woman’s
testimony as to the importance of her religious faith in her life, and the
effort she was willing to make to keep it.
Not every college students shares her tenacity and dedication, but her
personal experiences are inspiring, and Griffin’s enthusiasm for being Catholic
radiates off the page.