Newsworthy Dads

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Choosing the Right College

In this podcast, Sister Marie Pappas guides parents and students in the process of choosing the right college. In addition to serving in the Education Department for the Archdiocese of New York, Sister Marie hosts a radio talk show on The Catholic Channel every Tuesday, from 1 -2 p.m.


Staying Catholic in College


Patrick Reilly

The headline was stunning: “Catholic Colleges Have Little Positive Impact on Faith, Values.” Released last month by the Cardinal Newman Society, the study claimed “most students on Catholic campuses reject key Catholic moral values and tenets of the faith, and significant numbers engage in premarital sexuality activity and the viewing of pornography.”


The Newman Guide to Catholic Colleges

To get a deeper look at the trends on campus, Fathers for Good spoke with Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, about keeping kids Catholic in college.

Fathers for Good: Many Catholic parents are concerned about the faith of their children when they go away to college. Your survey suggests that a Catholic college is not always the answer. What's a father to do?

Reilly: The survey certainly presents a dismal picture, but the results are representative of Catholic higher education generally. There are several outstanding Catholic colleges and universities -- we highlight 21 of them in our Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College -- and many others are making significant improvements.

The lesson is not to avoid Catholic colleges, but to look carefully at the curriculum, professors, campus ministry and student life of a particular college. It's a mistake to assume that Catholic identity means the same thing to every college. Most tend to mimic secular institutions while retaining the trappings of a Catholic heritage.

Other surveys show that at non-Catholic institutions, the education and student life are even more hostile to Catholic values. Parents should keep in mind that even a good campus ministry at a non-Catholic college (and many are not good at all) cannot provide the integrated curriculum and healthy campus atmosphere that students find at the best Catholic colleges.

FFG: Is there any good news in the survey?

Reilly: I expected the support for legalized abortion (60%) and same-sex "marriage" (57%) to be even higher. It's a good thing that I'm wrong! I don't know how the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. bishops can succeed in defending life and marriage when so many of our future Catholic leaders are in the other camp.

I suppose the best news is that nearly half (47%) of the practicing Catholics and most (71%) of those who chose Catholic colleges because of their Catholic identity say they want the colleges' Catholicity strengthened. It's good that the faithful Catholic students realize the failings of their colleges. I hope that as alumni, they encourage the colleges to move in the right direction.

FFG: If parents limit their children only to the 21 or so Catholic colleges and universities you recommend, are we building ourselves a "ghetto" or limiting their academic and earning potential? If my kid makes Ivy League, shouldn't he or she go?

Reilly: We all have different paths to follow, and every family has to weigh the pros and cons. It's a big mistake, however, not to put these issues in front of your son or daughter. The time families spend together choosing colleges is perhaps parents' best and final opportunity to teach an important life lesson: that our formation as Christians should never be set aside for friends, career or any other worldly purpose.

The worst part of my job at the Cardinal Newman Society is receiving calls from parents who are heartbroken about how far their children have strayed from the faith in just a few years at a college that claims to be Catholic -- and I imagine it can be much worse at a secular institution. Ultimately, families should make college decisions like every other major decision, with a child's soul as the first priority. Many great Catholics have emerged from Ivy League institutions -- but my observation is that too often families overestimate their kids' ability to withstand the influences of a sexually charged, left-leaning campus environment.

FFG: Father to father, tell us a bit about your own family and what plans you have for your own kids' higher education.

Reilly: My wife and I joke that with five homeschooled kids and a single nonprofit salary, the irony is that we may not be able to afford Catholic colleges. But I'm hoping for scholarships!

Seriously, it's a great comfort to know that many of the best Catholic colleges -- which offer a strong, integrated curriculum and an outstanding Christian campus environment -- are actually "best buys" in higher education, with reasonable costs.

I do have some personal favorites (seminaries for the boys?), but I have another decade before my eldest goes to college, and by then there should be many more good options. As I write this, I am headed to Michigan to give the Thomas More Lecture for the new Newman College, which hopefully opens its doors next year.

Cheer up dads, more choices are coming!

Patrick Reilly is the founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, which is dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities. He lives with his wife Rosario and their five children in Manassas, VA.