Catholic students who attend colleges and universities affiliated with the Catholic Church are more likely to stay connected to their faith than students who attend universities not affiliated with Catholicism, according to a study released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate on Sunday.
The research, titled “Working Paper #9: Catholicism on Campus,” analyzed survey data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles to measure whether university students at both Catholic and non-Catholic universities moved closer to or farther away from religious practices and church teachings while attending college. The data surveyed college students about their stance on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty and the frequency with which they participated in religious practices such as prayer and Mass.
According to Mark Gray, senior research associate for CARA at Georgetown, the study showed that “[students] self-identifying as Catholic at Catholic colleges and universities remain profoundly connected to their faith in their junior year.”
CARA’s findings shows that of the Catholic students surveyed, 32 percent attend Mass less often during college, 61 percent showed no change in attendance and 7 percent attended more. These results point toward an overall drop in religious expression that occurs in college students.
“Young adults when they go to college practice their faith less than when they were at home,” said Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., executive director of Campus Ministry. “Our mission [at Campus Ministry] is to help students deepen their faith without forcing them to identify with [Catholicism].”
The CARA study surveys were distributed twice while participating students attended college – once during the participants’ freshman year and again during their junior year. Students who had the same answers to both surveys were considered to be “unchanged by their college experience,” while students answering differently in the second survey were considered to have moved farther from or closer to the Catholic teachings.
The CARA study was inspired by a previous study conducted by the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic watchdog group that focuses on Catholic colleges and universities; the CNS study reported that Catholic colleges and universities were not successfully engaging their students in the Catholic faith.
The CNS study also used the HERI data, but found that “graduating seniors are predominantly pro-abortion, approve of homosexual `marriage,’ and only occasionally pray or attend religious services. Nine percent of Catholic students abandon their faith before graduation.”
CARA has noted that their study is different from the CNS study because of a difference in research methods used.
“The Cardinal Newman Society was limited to a very small number of measures of belief and practice. CARA sought to replicate their work but expand it to additional issues that the Cardinal Newman Society ignored in HERI’s survey data.” Gray said.
According to O’Brien, the Campus Ministry’s accommodation of different faith traditions is still consistent with Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage.
“[It is,] because the Catholic Church calls us both to deepen our own faiths and to engage in dialogue with those of different faiths,” O’Brien said.
The Roman Catholic Ministry holds six Masses every Sunday at Dahlgren Chapel, including a monthly service in Spanish, and also holds Mass twice a day on weekdays. They are generally well-attended, indicating that Mass attendance in Georgetown’s Catholic community is not dropping as quickly as the CNS study would suggest.
Representatives from the Catholic Student Association could not be reached for comment.”
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