[god]Some parents’ advice to their children as they move back to school is to “remember what you’re here for,” encouraging them to focus on studies and academics. After all, isn’t that where all the tuition dollars go?
But as students know, the college experience is just that: an experience, which entails much more than lecture halls Monday through (if you are lucky) Thursday. This is the time and place where futures are determined, and for some students faith takes center stage.
The Rev. Mark Inglot, pastor at St. John Catholic Student Parish, said, “College is a time when you think about the big picture of life. It is an essential time when students grow four ways — intelligently, emotionally, physically and spiritually. These are like four engines on a plane. If they’re not being fueled, they don’t fly right.”
Faith, for students like Elizabeth Kendall, is “a constant personal growth.” Kendall is a communicative sciences and disorders junior. In high school, Kendall was involved in Young Life, a non-denominational Christian youth organization, something she continued into her freshman year of college. But gradually, she says she felt called to something different.
After St. John Student Parish’s fall retreat in 2007, Kendall said she was on a “weekend high.””Getting to know the community at St. John was really welcoming. It’s different than any other parish I’ve been to. It’s lively,” Kendall said. But Kendall is not rushing into Catholicism. “At first I was really excited, so I had to slow down and take my time and let it soak in,” she said. [karl]
Kendall has attended one meeting of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This program introduces Catholicism to those interested in joining the Church. After nine months of training, members of the RCIA program can become Catholic by receiving the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Eucharist and Confirmation.
Kendall receives support from her family, although they remain non-denominational. Her desire is to become the person God wants her to be by “loving others and not doing so just by words but by actions as well.” For Kendall, feeling close to God is comforting and is something that gives her a more positive attitude. Many other students who desire to grow stronger in faith and closer to God share this feeling. [karljew]
“It’s important to make religion your own,” said Karl Gierach, an international studies senior. Throughout his four years at MSU, Gierach has studied Hinduism, Islam and is currently auditing a Judaism class. Inspired by the latter religion, Gierach is in the process of becoming Jewish.
Gierach started looking into Judaism last winter. Over the summer, he met with a rabbi who gave him a reading list. He said the books that have been most influential are the Orthodox Jewish Bible and To Life by Robert Kushner. Since then, he has been studying and reading on his own. When he and his rabbi feel he is ready, Gierach will go before a court of 10 people who will ask him questions about his wishes to convert. “They’re basically just to make sure I’m serious about becoming Jewish,” Gierach said. After that, there will be a ceremony called Mikveh. “It’s sort of like a baptism,” Gierach said. Males and females participate separately in the ceremony, and “they dunk you three times in water, and you have to be like you were at birth, so you have to take out piercings and be naked.” [strom]
Unlike Kendall’s family, Gierach’s did not take his conversion to Judaism lightly. He fell away from his Lutheran upbringing, and his mother took the news of his conversion the hardest. “I think my parents assumed that I’d rediscover Christ. They didn’t expect this,” Gierach said. In time, his family has warmed up to the idea and even attended a Temple service with him. Their lifetime of influence has been more beneficial than perhaps they know. “It’s only because of how important religion was to them that I picked one and didn’t become atheist,” Gierach said.
But while some students discover their faith in college, others, as Inglot put it, go on “sabbatical.” Faith sometimes can be put on the back burner while other things like school work, a new social routine, changing moral values or the fast-paced college lifestyle take center stage.
While religious communities as well as time play a significant role in the processes of conversion, becoming Muslim is more of a personal decision. Ryan Strom, the president of the Muslim Students’ Association at MSU, said: “To become Muslim, one simply has to express his faith in Islam, which is conveyed by reciting the shahada (declaration of faith), which is simply this: ‘There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.'”
[god3]This is not to say that becoming Muslim is simple. The words of the shahada are not merely spoken but sincerely believed. Strom converted to Islam in 2002. He said there are many reasons why students convert to Islam. “[It] is simply the belief that Islam is the truth and that the religion of Islam is the correct path that they should be following with their life.”
This idea of truth is a theme throughout Kendall, Gierlach, and Strom’s conversion processes. But while students may think they are searching for answers, Inglot said it is something else. “It’s not a set of the right answers. It’s a set of the right questions,” he said. Most times, when students convert, “They don’t know why and they can’t explain why, but they live into the answer.”

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