If someone were to ask me a year ago how I felt about going to college I could have thought of a handful of words to say. But the one word that came to mind more than any others was “change.” And to put it simply, that scared me beyond belief.
While I knew change was inevitable and didn’t have to be a bad thing, I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. Going to college didn’t only mean a change in school and daily routine. It also meant changes with my family, friends, and most importantly, my faith.
I say most importantly because my faith was what I was worried about the most. I knew that a little distance and change with my family and friends could end up being a good thing and might even make us that much closer. However, my faith was a different story. Distance and change were the absolute last things I wanted or needed when it came to my faith.
I had so many fears. Would I be able to go to Mass every week? Would I make enough time for my faith? Would my faith, the number-one most important thing in my life, be put on the back burner and become second place to all of the craziness I was about to enter into?
Well, I can happily say that what I discovered in my first year of college is something I didn’t expect, but more importantly something I could not be more grateful for.
This past May I ended my first year at Penn State University Park as an elementary education major with a special education minor. Senior year of high school, when I was trying to make a college decision, I really struggled.
Picking a non-Catholic school really bothered me, to be honest. I thought that it meant I was turning against my faith, in a way, and that I would be making a mistake by going there. However, I also feared going to a Catholic school, as strange as that may sound. If I had chosen a Catholic school, I would have been a theology major, something that Penn State doesn’t offer.
Now I know that doesn’t sound like a problem, but I was afraid that if I had chosen that path at the time, it would have been because I was at such a high point in my faith because of the Kairos retreat I went on senior year. I was blessed enough to go on once as a retreatant and twice after as a student leader. It truly changed my life, but I worried that choosing a theology path would be based off of something temporary. I feared that my desire to be a theology major would only last for a little while, wearing off eventually, and I would regret not choosing Penn State.
So, I set off for Happy Valley this past fall and discovered something so important. It hit me that my faith was never something temporary; rather, it was something that had always been there. The Kairos retreats taught me how to express my faith and showed me the importance of spreading God’s word rather than keeping it to myself. I realized this when I got to campus and still made sure my faith came into everything I did.
I found an amazing Catholic church on campus that has a number of different Mass times that accommodated any schedule I may have been on. I even found someone to go with! My roommate, Gina Paisley, whom I met at Penn State, just so happened to be a dedicated Catholic herself and so we constantly found ourselves going to Mass together and talking about our faith.
I also discovered that I would never miss a chance to talk about my faith, which was something I couldn’t really say before. I truly thought that I would be too uncomfortable or worried about being judged. Instead, I was so proud to stick by my faith and live out God’s word no matter what that entailed.
So if someone were to ask me today how I feel about college, change would still be the first thing to come to mind. However, I’m not so afraid of it anymore. My first year really taught me that no matter where live takes me, my faith is always going to be there for me.
I know now that no matter what career path I take, ministry will most definitely be a part of it. Faith is the one thing in my life that will never change and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Melanie DeFrancisco is a member of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish, Plymouth Meeting.