College Matters

I was reading recently a letter written by a diocesan priest (published anonymously) detailing the struggles that faithful priests undergo in these perilous times for our Church. The letter revealed from the inside the mindset of those priests who have chosen to break their vows and how they persecute those priests loyal to Christ and His Church. While this is not the point of my post, nevertheless, a particular passage struck me as very pertinent to a point I’d like to address. Here is that passage:

There is such a thing as intellectual seduction, which is happening in a variety of ways. Those who are instructed by these men become victims of not knowing Catholic faith or morals, since they are taught gibberish in religion classes.

As a former college admissions director and a father of many children, the first of whom is applying to college this year, I am very familiar with the (often heated) discussion regarding which kind of college parents should guide their children to attend and which ones they should avoid. Some parents view college as primarily a time of career training and little else. Others understand college to be much more than that, not only a time of preparation for professional life but also a time of profound moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation.

My wife and I are decidedly in the latter camp. The guidance we provide to our children is based on the principle that college is the final stage of their formation for which we remain ultimately responsible and also for which we will be judged. From our perspective, we look to a potential college as a partner in our sacred duty of forming our children. We have formed them up to a certain point; it’s now the job of others to help complete that formation.

Contrary to popular opinion, 18 is not the magic flip switch that turns off childhood and turns on adulthood. As the genius Catholic educator and medical doctor Maria Montessori observed more than a century ago – and as modern neuroscience has confirmed – the human brain continues to develop well into the early to mid-twenties. So, even though teenagers can exhibit remarkable maturity and intellectual acumen, there is a much deeper, much more subtle process still occurring well into what society calls young adulthood. The hearts, souls, and minds of our college-aged children are still very malleable – and very vulnerable – when we move them into their dorms for freshman year.

There are many parents who are well aware of the dangers that dwell on the modern college campus, most especially at secular universities and the well-known Catholic in Name Only institutions. Some of these parents, seeking to mitigate the damage, will send their children to these schools as long as there is a relatively orthodox Newman Center on campus or a solid parish nearby. But is this good enough? I would argue no.

Now, can a particular student avoid the carnal pitfalls of immoral dorm living? Sure. Can he befriend solid, like-minded Catholic friends that will lend him support in a hostile environment? Of course. Can she find a holy, orthodox priest on whom she can rely for the sacraments and trustworthy spiritual guidance? Yes. But none of this takes into account what goes on in the classroom – the main purpose of attending college! – and where most of the damage is done.

Look again at the excerpt above from our anonymous priest. He is referring to the formation in the classroom of young men by heterodox priests and professors in the seminary. This is identical to what occurs in the typical college classroom, and for whichever subject you can imagine. Telling your child to jump into the ocean with a raincoat on won’t keep him dry. Sending him into an intellectual viper’s den, no matter how good a job you think you’ve done raising him, won’t keep him from getting bit – and poisoned. Our children, however well-formed they may be, are no match for an environment now wholly taken over by the enemy and hell-bent (literally) on undoing all the good they’ve learned.

Some say that in such circumstances our children can serve as “missionaries,” converting a fallen world. But is this the purpose of attending college? To be a missionary? Is it not rather to complete the intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation begun at home? And if so, why allow the completion of that formation – or rather the undoing of it – to be done in enemy territory? The overwhelming evidence from the past half century pointing to the failure of this kind of wishful thinking is sobering and irrefutable. I know well the practical considerations that require our children to attend hostile institutions; often these are the only places they can study certain subjects. Even so, as best we can, let us set up our children for success. Let us put the odds in their favor by guiding them to colleges that will support our desires for their eternal salvation. And ours, too: Do we not want the Master to say to us as parents, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Blog Post written by:

Eoin Suibhne

Eoin Suibhne