As young high school graduates prepare to leave home for college, their parents harbor mixed feelings of pride and concern about how their offspring will handle their new independence.
Catholic parents, like their non-Catholic peers, are talking to their children over the summer about balancing their social and academic lives, caring for their health, assuring their safety on campus, seeking help if class work seems daunting and checking in routinely with their families.
In addition, parents of Catholic high school graduates pray that their children will hold onto their faith and continue their spiritual growth as they become exposed, often for the first time, to academic environments where their Catholicism may be challenged.
“I am excited. But I also am nervous, anxious,” says Paige Tecca, describing how she feels as her 18-year-old daughter, Morgan Byrne, a graduate of J. Serra High School in San Juan Capistrano, prepares to study at the University of California at Berkeley.
Tecca, a single mother, says she and her daughter, who will double major in history and legal studies, have talked about the possibility that some Berkeley professors could espouse atheism. “She is concerned about being able to articulate her faith in a constructive manner without being argumentative,” says Tecca.
Tecca says her daughter discovered that Berkeley has a Newman Center where she can attend Mass and a Catholic fellowship group she will join.
It is fortunate that Morgan will also meet non-Catholics, her mother says, so she will “learn to have tolerance for people of other faiths,” and those with no faith. “We have discussed that we are all children of God whether we know it or not,” Tecca says.
At an orientation for prospective freshmen and their parents at Berkeley, Tecca says, “there was a lot of discussion about the transition to young adulthood.”
“As a parent you just pray that you instilled in them the ability to make good choices and know their moral responsibilities,”” she says.
Kelly Bauer, director of the guidance and counseling office at Mater Dei High School, says as a parent she would want her college-bound child to know how to advocate for himself and to have the campus phone numbers for medical care, counseling and law enforcement.
College students, especially girls, should be warned never to walk home alone at night to their dorms and instead to travel in groups for safety, she says.
Bauer says prospective freshmen should also be warned about social media—something that didn’t concern previous generations. She says if they post inappropriate pictures and messages on the Internet it could gravely tarnish their graduate school and employment prospects.
Michael P. Brennan, the principal of Servite High School in Anaheim, says his chief concern and that of many Servite parents is for the graduates to keep on track spiritually. Parents “see the changes in the world and that our colleges are becoming more secular,” Brennan says.
Brennan urges the young men not to be swayed by professors who may tell them that knowledge and reason will give them power and that they don’t need God.
Marjan Dunn, whose 17-year-old son Richard is a Servite graduate heading to Harvard, says she and her husband “are excited for him, and that kind of overshadows every concern.”
She says her son has a solid faith that she does not believe will be compromised. During a weekend orientation at Harvard in April, Dunn says, Richard “went and sought out a Catholic church on that Sunday and met the priest and some people going there and really enjoyed it.”
Richard was an enthusiastic high school debater and will use those skills if his values are questioned, his mother predicts.
“I think he is up to the challenge,” she says. “I don’t expect most of the people he meets will share his views. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear him argue with them. I don’t think they know what is coming.”