Thursday July 31 marks the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. The Jesuits are well-known for, among many other things, education of young people, running many schools from grade schools to colleges. It is important to them that people learn the Catholic faith and are able to defend it, so ideally this is a focus for their teaching. Not everyone is able to receive a solid education in Catholicism, however. Some people are forced to learn the faith on their own, which can seem more overwhelming than it's worth. Others are misled in the educational institutions where they learn, and without any other source of reference these people might continue on in ignorance of the truth of their faith. It is imperative, therefore, that Catholic parents take seriously this role of teacher for their children when it comes to learning about Catholicism, no matter what other education their children receive.
Having gone to public school from fifth grade through high school, my own knowledge of the faith was not necessarily where it could or should have been. It would have been much worse, however, had it not been for my parents. A parent's example can make an incredibly important impression on children, who watch what their parents do and listen to what they're saying even when it's not directed at the kids. What children learn within the family and from their parents is often either the foundation for a solid knowledge in the faith, or the cause of children disregarding their faith beyond Mass on Sunday (if even that), not realizing that it's something they should be living all the time.
By the time children go out on their own, the foundation they received at home will either show its strengths or its cracks. This is especially true when people head off to college or move out of the house. For many, it is the first time in their lives that they won't have a parent pressuring them to go to church regularly, or to keep up with anything religion-related in their lives. Lots of people fall away from their faith during this time, enjoying the new-found freedom without parents around.
The role of parents in their children's catechetical foundation should not be downplayed in its importance. Parents are the first introduction children have to faith and religion, whether good or bad. It is the duty of Christian parents to pass that on to their children and raise them in the faith even if the children get religious education elsewhere. Once those kids do head off to college, parents should also help guide their children to colleges that will be a right fit as well as continue to help them grow in the faith. It may be possible to increase and strengthen knowledge of Catholicism no matter what college a person goes to, but my own experience has taught me that being at a school that encourages and fosters further education in the faith can be very beneficial. While I doubt that I would have fallen away from my faith during college, having the example of others there who did more than just go to Mass on Sunday (similar to the example my parents set for me when I was younger) brought me into a fuller and deeper understanding of Catholicism that only continues to grow today. My parents had some suggestions for me when I was deciding between colleges, and they encouraged me to go to a school where my faith would be enhanced and nurtured rather than hindered. Obviously picking a Catholic university doesn't guarantee that a student's faith will be strengthened, but if there is a strong Catholic culture it can be much easier than at a school where students have to go looking for anything Catholic. The same is true at home – it's normally easier to live one's faith when the home environment stimulates instead of stifles learning about and experiencing Catholicism.
The new school year will be starting soon. Kids will be going back to school – public schools, private schools, home schools, colleges. Parents shouldn't forget to help them grow in their faith while they grow in their education. Books like the Didache series, parent resources found in our Religious Education/Home School section, and books on helping students pray such as Day by Day and How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard are great for keeping kids on the right path when it comes to their faith and college.