Pack your laptop — and your faith

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It's almost time for high school seniors to graduate and begin the next phase of their lives - college. It's a big transition away from the watchful eyes of parents, and often faith can get lost in the move.

Recognizing the impact college life can have on the faith of young people, Father Christopher Vaccaro, chaplain for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, founded the Associates of St. John Bosco in 2013 to "support high school and college students in remaining faithful during this challenging part of life."

Father Vaccaro spoke to seniors at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax April 23 to talk about the importance of keeping the faith. His presentation was titled "Pack your Faith for College."

Father Vaccaro began his talk with an alarming statistic.

"For those who go off to college, 80 percent will stop practicing their faith," he said. He added that only 35 percent of those will return to faith after graduation.

He said there are a variety of reasons given for the drop in church attendance at college, but it's mostly, "I don't have the time."

When you're studying for exams and living in the college environment it's difficult to prioritize your time. Faith is not something that can be quantified, said Father Vaccaro. It is not something you are held accountable for, he said. When you leave home you lose structure. The Associates of St. John Bosco are there to help students keep the faith.

"We are here to assist you," said Father Vaccaro.

"Don't say that you don't have enough time," said Nicholas Grevas, a missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. "Surround yourself with good friends."

Grevas asked seniors if they wanted to be a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer just registers the surrounding environment, while a thermostat controls it.

Maggie Bellau, a senior at Mary Washington, gave the students eight tips for a successful college career: college is an adjustment ,and you are not alone; find your Catholic Ministry; get involved with two clubs; develop a good relationship with your professors; bring an umbrella and boots; get rest, find good friends; and remember the church is always there for you.

Father Vaccaro said that every student who attends one of the group's free college nights sponsored by the Associates of St. John Bosco will receive the "Bosco Bundle," which includes a Bible, catechism, desk crucifix and a rosary, reminding the seniors to choose to put something else in their bag when they leave for college - their faith.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015