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Catholics in College: A Reflection
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
I could not do justice to the depth of spiritual hunger among the students, which is not being satisfied in the present system of university education. Each contact with the undergraduates gives further evidence that they want to learn desperately about mans relations with God.
There are several reasons for this. Most college people had only a smattering of formal religious education before they finished high school. Some had a few years in childhood, which they have come to associate with pre-adolescent immaturity. Those who had a full complement of church- affiliated schooling often feel unprepared to meet the challenges of intellectual criticism that envelopes them like an atmosphere the moment they enter the college precincts.
I would stress the students desire of knowledge of why they believe what they do or why anyone should believe at all. Two kinds of students come to college: those who enter with a definite religious commitment, and the minority who have only the vaguest notion of what commitment means.
Every type in either class, however, is looking for the intellectual integrity which they have not been able to secure (with rare exception) before entering college. This is partly explained by the fact that the mind does not generally mature to a critical peak until the late teens. It should also be accounted for by the relative absence of a philosophical approach to religion in church-affiliated secondary schools.
Many Catholics come to a secular school because they believe it will better equip them for the problems and opportunities of a pluralistic society. They choose a secular college because they think the faculty and student contact it offers will give them a balance in dealing with the non-Catholic world, which another four years in a Catholic institution would not afford.
Behind this reasoning stands a century of Catholic higher education that has grown in numbers and equipment, but not always in its adaptation to the times. Both secular and church-related schools can profit from reappraisal. Catholic colleges are beginning to see their duty to prepare graduates for an integrated life among people who are not Catholic and not Christian. Tax supported universities are more slowly admitting their duty to prepare young Americans for religious maturity without sacrificing academic integrity.
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