Many say choosing a college is the biggest decision you will ever make during your young adult years. The choices you formulate in selecting a place to receive an education can be numerous: Choice of majors, affordability of tuition, size of the campus, sports affiliations and scholarships, are only a few that come to mind. But for many, religious needs are one of the major focal points of a college or university.

While selecting a college based on programs offered appears to be number one in the decision factor, a close second is the fulfillment of spiritual needs. Many choose private, Catholic universities because of the close proximity of others who share the same faith, and the opportunities for Mass, confession and eucharistic adoration that are easily found on campus.

But no matter which college you choose – a state or a private, Catholic school – there are always ways to keep close to God and your faith, such as what Beth Mangin found when enrolling at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh in the fall of 2005.

The Newman Centers at the University of Wisconsin campuses provide a place for students to meet, pray, study and work while attending school. Mass, eucharistic adoration and confession are available on a weekly basis, as are Stations of the Cross during Lent, for students wishing to maintain a deep relationship with God. Through these Catholic opportunities, Mangin discovered more ways to connect with her faith.

“Through the Newman Center, they have something called the ‘Busy Persons Retreat’ in the fall,” Mangin explained about how she became more involved with her faith. “You meet with a spiritual director and spend a half an hour in prayer yourself … It helps you stop and see where you’re at with your faith and what you’re struggling with or dealing with.”

The self-paced retreat in which Mangin participated gave her a chance to nourish her heart and soul, and find spiritual energy and meaning in her life, much like what UW-Stevens Point Newman director of campus ministry, Wendy Mitch, hopes for.

“Our ‘Busy Student Retreat’ we do in February. It’s a weeklong retreat for students that they will meet with their spiritual director that we bring in,” she said.  “They meet once a day for a half-hour with a student for spiritual direction, prayer, and we have dinner every night and then evening prayer as well…it really is a cool program.” In addition, late-night Masses, Catholic speaker lunches/dinners and scripture studies are also available for students who are constantly “on the go.” 

“Teens Encounter Christ,” a Catholic retreat program that reaches out primarily to young adults between the ages of 16-25, was another opportunity that Mangin took hold of.

The mission of TEC is to communicate the Paschal Mystery to young people through a powerful experience that takes them through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord by allowing them to celebrate a “mini-Triduum” during a weekend encounter.  In addition to spiritual exercises, fun activities and surprises are also included for participants.

A number of missionary and service trips that UW-Oshkosh provides to its students, in addition to weekly Masses at the Newman Center and classes on exploring faith, were also staples for the 22 year-old nursing major.

“I really feel like my faith has grown throughout college and through the Newman Center,” Mangin reflected. “It was a nice experience, and I enjoyed being involved there.

“I think I could have gone to a private, Catholic college. I mean, it’s all of what you put into it,” she said, explaining her thoughts on the tools that the Newman Center gave her to continue in her Catholic faith. “If you’re looking for it, that really depends on the person. So I think you can get a good, spiritual guidance at a private or public (college); it’s what you put into it.”

Monica VonRueden, 21, is vice president of the Electric Company, an all female social independent group at St. Norbert College in De Pere. The purpose of the Electric Company is to promote a sense of active involvement on behalf of all our members and provide an atmosphere appropriate for open discussions and statement of ideas, creativity, individuality and cultural diversity, according to its mission statement. It was a group that VonRueden eagerly embraced.

VonRueden, who is majoring in Fine Arts with a Graphic Design Emphasis, took advantage of the unique music and scripture opportunities that the Catholic, liberal arts college provided to its students.

Song and service are my two favorite ways to feel closer to God. Throughout my years at St. Norbert, this one being my last, I have been able to take advantage of both,she explained through e-mail. For song, we have a church choir as well as praise for worship. Two students put together this reflective time where anyone could come after mass for 45 minutes and sing songs of worship. One student played piano while the lyrics were projected on a screen, so those who did not know the songs could join in.

“As for service, my favorite activity would be in winter when we wrap presents that were donated. I enjoy seeing the community come together to bring joy to others in such an important time, Christmas,” she added.

Jessica Corder, 21 and a student at Marquette University, enrolled at the university for the fall semester of 2006 because of their biomedical program, that allowed students to be “hands on” in the learning process. But on walking on campus for the first time, she discovered that having spiritual opportunities so close by was a huge comfort for her.

“It was more an ambition and career driven decision,” Corder explained about why she choose Marquette. “I know a lot of my friends (at Marquette) went to Catholic high schools, uniform and all that stuff. I went to a public high school, nothing like that, and I don’t think that they came to Marquette because it was Catholic any more than I did, or any less. As far as influencing my decision, it was kind of a reassurance after I had already decided.”

Corder found a number of ways to get involved in her Catholic faith while on campus. She attended daily Mass at the Joan of Arc Chapel and became involved with the Schoenstatt Women’s Group on campus, which has been disbanded for the time being.

Corder also became a regular in the student retreat circuit at Marquette University. The university offers a broad range of various directed retreats, including “First Year,” “Marquette Experience,” “Ignation Preached,” “Finding God in All Things,” and “Silent Directed,” which also happened to be one of Corder’s favorite.

“It’s a five-day silent retreat where they took us up to Door County (Wis.) and just kind of threw us into the wilderness and we didn’t speak to each other,” she laughed. “I really enjoyed it. By the end of it, though, I was ready to talk.” Modeled after St. Ignatius of Loyola, it’s an opportunity for students to have personal prayer, reflection, rest and time outdoors.

Those additional activities, along with the theology courses the university requires students to take, caused Corder to rethink her chosen career selection in the biomedical science field.

“It was an ‘Intro to Theo’ course that I had to take, and I started to realize just how much I liked it and had a passion for it,” Corder explained about the class that changed the direction of her life. “I was also discerning religious life at that time. I’ve since changed my mind obviously, I’m getting married,” she laughed.

“But, I just felt myself being drawn in that direction by a ton of different things.”

After much discerning, Corder eventually switched to a double major of theology and philosophy, but continues to search for a way to combine those with biomedical sciences. Her next destination, she believes, is to attend graduate school and combine her bachelor’s degrees with her interests, eventually coming out with a master’s degree in the field of bio-ethics.