A few years ago my sister graduated from college and was quickly introduced to the brave new world of “Catholic adulting.” Life after college brought her to a new city, parish, job … and far away from the comfort of her close-knit Catholic campus ministry community.
After a few months, she called me in hopes that her “working for the church” big sister could offer advice on how to make the transition less painful. “Meg, I knew leaving college would mean a lot of changes in my faith, but I had no idea it would be this hard,” she said.
Each week she dutifully dragged herself to Mass on Sundays, alone in a church full of strangers. There were no small groups to join, retreats to attend or ministries in need of volunteers — and no one there to support and encourage her in this new stage.
If you are a recent college grad reading this, you may be nodding your head. So, what is a 22-year-old to do?
This challenge is a two-way street: Catholics of every age and journey of faith need to provide vehicles of accompaniment and support for young adults transitioning into parish life. At the same time, a few basic steps can help make the transition out of college easier:
— Buy a planner. Make time for your relationship with God.
A graduate came to me for mentoring because she was in a spiritual rut and said: “I feel like giving up; maybe I’m just not a spiritual person.”
I asked her to take out a planner and fill out everything that would be happening in the next week. Once she had it all on paper, we looked at it. “OK,” I said, “where can we fit in priority No. 1?”
Eventually we found consistent pockets that worked for her every day. She was able to fit in daily prayer, a decade of the rosary, time for spiritual reading and even a favorite Catholic podcast to tune in to while doing chores.
The following month she came back full of examples of how God had been filling her with a renewed sense of joy and purpose. We laughed about how her “spiritual problem” disappeared with a $5 planner.
— Invest in friendship.
Graduating can mean saying goodbye to friends that supported you in your faith throughout college. Keep in touch through the distance but don’t be afraid to step out and meet new friends: Show up at local Catholic events or join a small group or a sports league.
Colin, a recent graduate of George Washington University in Washington, shared: “My friends have helped me so much to pursue Christ in postgrad life. We hold each other accountable and pick each other up when we are down.”
— Find a mentor. Be a mentor.
In virtually every area of life, we are encouraged to seek out mentorship to be successful. Companies like Google are investing millions of dollars in mentorship programs because it brings out the best in their employees. It is no different in our faith.
Colleen, a graduate of the University of Dallas, said, “Having people, especially women of faith, to look up to, ask questions, and receive support from has been a game changer for me. My mentor helps me look toward the future with hope and a sense of mission. She also models for me what it looks like to have all parts of her life completely fueled by a love of Christ.”
— Join a parish and contribute.
Don’t walk away if you do not immediately see something in your local parish that fits your needs or lifestyle. Be “church builders,” not “church consumers.”
David, a graduate from Westmont College in California, said, “Taking on a leadership role in my parish has kept me committed to continuously grow in my faith because I know I’ll be asked to share it with others and be a witness.”
Megan Philip is coordinator for campus and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Washington. Originally from Dallas, she holds a master’s degree in theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington.
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