No Faith? No Problem!

I feel like I haven’t been writing as much this semester as I used to. It’s probably safe to say it has something to do with the increased workload – both in the classroom and in the activities I’m involved in on campus. But, hectic schedule aside, I plan to make more of an effort in writing to you guys. So, I figured, what better place to do so than on the ride back to school after Easter break? A good 2.5 hour drive, a bag of Chex Mix, and the Riverdance soundtrack keeping my mom and me entertained. Yep, even getting stuck in Philly traffic provides an opportunity to admire the multitude of church steeples we drive past.

Church steeples…Church…Spirituality….If there’s one topic I haven’t really talked about on here, it would have to be the Catholic/Jesuit tradition at Loyola and the role it plays in shaping the student body both in and out of the classroom. And honestly, that’s a very complicated topic to address.

Sure, it’s easy to point out that Loyola’s core requires students to take 2 Theology classes, and one of the key community organizations is Campus Ministry, but there’s more to the individual’s exposure to religion than that.

Personally, I was raised Catholic and am currently…not sure. I’ve been told that my moral/ethical values align strongly with Catholic thought, but my societal views cause me to question some of the Catholic teachings. That isn’t to say that I’ve ever felt out of place or uncomfortable at a Jesuit school with the student body being mostly Catholic.

If anything, I’ve felt accepted here.

Both by students and faculty members, no matter their department. Some of my friends are Catholic, some atheist, some protestant, and some are everywhere in between and beyond. I’ve been able to have debates about the existence of God without feeling uncomfortable with them, either during or after. The professors I’ve encountered encourage questioning and a search for meaning in life, even if it isn’t strictly Jesuit or Catholic in the end. In this regard, there aren’t boundaries or restrictions to spirituality at Loyola.

Yes, there’s a chapel on campus, but no, I don’t feel its presence looming over me. At Christmas it hosts Lessons and Carols, one of the school’s well known and much anticipated traditions (good luck finding a seat, it’s packed within 15 minutes of the doors opening). Year round you can see alumni wedding parties arriving or taking pictures on the quad.

But even with a heavy emphasis on religious tradition, I’ve never felt like Jesuit teaching was shoved down my throat. True, it’s a big part of the campus culture: service, core values and classes, care of the whole person, insert school catch phrases here. But these are what make Loyola appealing, and I think define the school itself. Personal spirituality helps the transition into college and the progression through it, but it isn’t required.

So to those of you who wonder (and I promise I’ve been asked this), Is being Catholic required to enjoy the Loyola experience? I say No, But learning about Jesuit values shapes the way you think and interact with the world around you.

Making The Loyola Investment

As you walk around campus in this nippy February weather, you’ll notice here and there signs of spring popping up from the earth. Along with the new blooms follow a new crop of students, coming in droves to tour the school and attend information sessions with their families. Pretty soon the quad and bridge will be clogged with newcomers on Saturdays, and you just might get asked by a lost parent where to find Boulder.

Sometimes, if you’re really lucky (and I’m being serious, this is pretty cool), you’ll be asked what you like the most, what you don’t like, and the most personal question, why Loyola at all? What was the deciding factor? What was in the balance?

For those of you who have been with me since the beginning, you already know some of the answers. But not all!

To give you an idea of where I was by this time senior year of high school, I had heard back from a few schools, was still waiting on others, but had more or less narrowed it down to Loyola, Fordham, and Rutgers.

After taking the tour and seeing the freakishly large campus of my state university (and learning I’d have to take a bus to get to classes), I crossed out Rutgers from my list. I had already visited Fordham before I applied, but after I went to the accepted students day, I just wasn’t feeling it. I loved the programs they offered: their History, Women’s Studies and Irish Studies departments were very strong and they, too, had core requirements. I loved how it was in the city with the world at my fingertips. It was tied with Loyola, until I got their financial aid letter.

Suddenly I was faced with two schools I wasn’t very keen on and and third I had visited multiple times, but hadn’t had that “This is it” feeling which everyone talks about.

Don’t get me wrong, Loyola was on my Top of the Top List from the first time I took a tour! I really liked the campus, the students were nice, the department representatives I met were so friendly and open to questions, and the emphasis on service and core classes drew me in tenfold. But between the first time I visited to merely consider it and the second time for my interview, I still hadn’t been able to say “I can see myself here.”

February passed, and then some of March, while I watched my friends make their deposits to their dream schools. Then one bleak and rainy day (I’m not kidding, it was downpouring on the walk from my bus stop), I received a letter from Loyola saying I’d been awarded a merit based scholarship, which added a new factor to my interest in the school.

I attended the accepted students day in April, which included a breakfast for scholarship and honors program students, along with the crazy amount of activities to keep you busy. And that’s when something changed. There was no Eureka moment, no fairy chanting Abracadabra over my head to result in a poof of inspiration.

It was a gradual acceptance.

As the day wore on, I saw more that I liked, I heard more challenging and simultaneously appealing ideas, and I met more people I saw as like-minded peers. There was a sense of community I hadn’t felt at other schools, a deep grounding in the Jesuit teaching of core values. There were so many ways I could get involved on and off campus, I just had to know where to look. Even the dorms and living-learning communities were calling to me (give me a kitchen and I’m happy). I found myself being able to say that I could truly see myself as a Loyola Greyhound.

And that was more or less it. By the end of the day I had submitted my deposit and triumphantly called my sister to tell her the news. But there was a moment during that afternoon that’s always stuck in my memory and is one of my biggest motivators to do well.

My parents and I stood outside Boulder and figured out the financial difference between Loyola and Rutgers (I may have taken it off my list, but that didn’t mean it was off my parents’). Loyola was a stretch, even with financial aid and the scholarship. But my dad put it into these terms, “This isn’t just a monetary investment. It’s an investment in you.” And honestly, it’s an investment in Loyola.