The night I graduated from Harvard, my family held a small gathering at our favourite little restaurant in Cambridge. When it came time for the toast, I expected my family and friends to praise my academic achievements. I was profoundly surprised when they each commented on how proud they were that I had kept my faith at university.
Since then, and throughout my time as a postgraduate at Oxford, I have often been asked about how I managed to keep my faith as a student. My response became my first book: How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard. I wrote it for parents who are worried about sending off their Catholic children to university and getting back atheists, and for students who are worried that they will miss out on having a real university “experience” because of their faith.
Both of these concerns, while legitimate, do not reflect the reality of my time at Harvard, which was a season of great spiritual growth for me and for many of my friends.
The book is largely devoted to dispelling misconceptions. The first is that, if you are a person of faith, you will not have friends. I worried about this a lot in the summer before my first year, and eagerly looked for anything I could find about Harvard Catholics online. According to the website, their last event had been more than a year earlier, so I mentally prepared to feel alone in my faith there.
My experience was precisely the opposite. At the student activities fair, I found booths for the Harvard Catholic Student Association, the Knights of Columbus and various volunteering programmes at the local parish. These days, one would also find the Daughters of Isabella and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus).
Each group is full of sincere believers, since few would bother to be Catholic at a secular university unless they were serious about their faith. For me, these were the people who became the lifelong friends that everyone hopes to make at university.
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