When I play “Never Have I Ever,” I get a lot of people out when I tell them I’ve never been to public school. I went to Catholic school for my whole life. Two years of kindergarten, first through eighth grade and then the big whopper: an all-girls, college-prep Catholic high school. My parents identify as Catholic, and I still am Catholic. Growing up I had my religious experiences spoon-fed to me. Regular Masses with fellow students, field trips to beautiful churches, prayer services for the anniversary of 9/11. My faith was everywhere, but I wasn’t there with it. My Catholic school experience had made me so familiar with the basics of Mass and prayer that I took those rituals for granted, and I never thought making those decisions on my own in college.
This made me question my faith in high school. However, I was Confirmed with my boyfriend during junior year. I enjoyed the process of learning more about why I believed my convictions and “confirming” that I did, in fact, believe them. I learned what the words I recited in Mass actually meant and how to apply teachings of the Bible to modern-day life. I had young adults teaching me how to discern which college was right for me or how to deal with drama. But my boyfriend had zero enthusiasm for the process and mostly participated to appease his parents, which made me question if I was simply walking through the motions like him.
When I arrived at college, I gained more confidence in my faith. The Catholic Center at Northwestern organizes social-based programming the night before freshmen move in, where you get a feel for how you can function as a Catholic at Northwestern. I recall the big table in the lobby with smiling upperclassmen and immediately meeting my freshman roommate. We had opportunities to ask questions about practicing our faith in college or general questions about campus, and played icebreaker games that were fun instead of cheesy. I was proud of myself for going to Mass every week and saying hello to the few friends I met on the way.
I didn’t talk to my primary group of friends about my faith. It just never seemed to come up in conversation like it did with my Catholic Center friends. I didn’t fear judgment, but I didn’t want to talk about something my friends wouldn’t understand or relate to. But when I returned from the spring retreat my freshman year, I couldn’t hold back my excitement about the new friends I made on the retreat and how happy I felt with this newfound confidence. I traded phone numbers on the bus ride home and felt so grateful to have people I could talk to about anything, from boys to parties to religion, without censoring myself.
When I heard applications opened up for a trip to Nicaragua, I immediately filled out the lengthy form and plopped my butt down at the info session. I had never ridden on a plane before and didn’t know much about the health or safety of the country, so I was definitely scared. Once I saw pictures of the hands-on work that students had done on previous trips, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe I could make even more connections and go abroad to learn more about my faith.
For five days, we practiced Spanish, painted and learned more about bricklaying than I could have ever imagined. I never felt so connected to God in my life. I started doing a program at the Catholic Center that involved weekly seminars in addition to Bible studies and service opportunities. I felt like I finally found a solid community at college.
I felt guilty for “abandoning” some of my friends from freshman year. While I enjoy the occasional party, I’m not the type to go hard every weekend, and some of my friends got into that scene as sophomore year continued. I’m a firm believer in attending parties with people who have the same goals as you, and getting totally trashed was not my goal.
During sophomore year I began to prioritize what activities should stay and what should go, and I couldn’t let any of my church activities go in good faith (pun absolutely intended). While I wanted to hang out at the Catholic Center in my free time, I could also take on leadership positions, attend seminars, talk to staff members about stressors in my life and make new friends on a regular basis. I found everything I had ever wanted from the college experience inside that building.
I have never doubted my faith in the past two years. I see God in my friends, and not just the ones who attend the same church as me, and in the opportunities I’ve been given. I find that when I do question my faith, it’s because of an unfortunate or negative circumstance. Normally it comes from stress or from an acquaintance casting off my faith with no regard for my emotions. With my new support system, I’ve been able to take the good with the bad and look on the bright side of things more so than I did in the first 18 years of my life.
As I move forward into my last two years at Northwestern, I wonder how I will balance my faith and social life. I don’t know what to expect but I do expect my passions to remain the same. I will continue to find comfort with my friends from church along with my small group of friends from freshman year. Some people find home in a dance group in college or a Greek life organization or an academic club. For me, I found it at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern, and I found it for myself.