Faith Traditions Support Students' College Growth

Danny Rodriguez, Austin Juarez and Miranda Rappoldt knew when they first arrived as University of San Diego students that they were attending a Catholic university with a solid academic reputation.

Soon, though, they realized what most college students learn at USD or at any other college — the time spent outside the classroom is as valuable as it is inside, especially when faith has a significant role.

Opportunities to Grow

Rodriguez, a sophomore, gets up early on a Saturday morning a few times each semester for a day-long immersion trip to Tijuana, Mexico, via University Ministry. It’s an international destination only a half hour from campus.

“Many have a stigma about Mexico, but to debunk it and to be able to engage in authentic conversations there inspires me. Different lives are being lived just 30 minutes away from USD, but in one way or another, we’re all related,” says Rodriguez, who is also involved in USD’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) chapter.

Camp Wildwood Ranch in Ramona, Calif., is an hour from campus, but it’s here where thousands of Toreros have participated in the once-every-semester Search Retreat, a tradition for more than 20 years at USD. Juarez, a junior, calls Search “one of the best choices I’ve made in my time at USD.” He went as a sophomore and was a co-student coordinator for it this past year.

“It came at the perfect time for me, sophomore year. It was a chance to step back in the middle of the semester and look at where I saw myself. You’re away from everything, including your phone. You take a hard look at areas you can improve on, what you don’t like and how to make yourself a better person,” says Juarez, whose faith has grown through Search, being in Greek Life and this summer it will again when he goes on Medical Brigades’ trip to Honduras.

Rappoldt is graduating this month with a behavioral neuroscience degree. It’ll be different in the fall when she’s not at USD because she’ll miss the daily routine of spending time with friends and colleagues in University Ministry activities the most. She’s been co-president of Students for Life the past two years and has attended and served at Founders Chapel’s daily masses most of her college life.

“It’s always been a place of comfort for me,” says Rappoldt, who last fall was named the Catholic Diocese of San Diego’s USD Matthew 25 Award winner. “There are constantly people there who I can talk to, get support from and be with people who always want to make sure that you’re good.”

Marc Adams ‘05 returned to USD in 2016 as an associate university minister. He’s the coordinator for Search, for the East Los Angeles immersion trip and Holy Hour, a regular Tuesday prayer group in Founders Chapel.

“It’s a great privilege to run Search and the East LA immersion because it allows me to engage with students in a very special and meaningful way. I went on Search as a student in 2004. I remember being overcome with a sense of love and that’s what it continues to do. We really make sure people feel loved, that they experience what the love of God really is and have the love of a community that’s there for them.”

Exploring One’s Faith

San Diego’s private Catholic university, which was founded in 1949, has grown and changed over the years, but opportunities to celebrate one’s faith — Catholic or not — occur in a myriad of ways.

The academic year begins with University Ministry’s pre-orientation program, a Mass of Welcome at fall orientation and the Mass of the Holy Spirit is the first week of the semester. Mass for Peace is on Wednesday nights, Sunday Masses are at 7 and 9 p.m. There are retreats, immersion trips, the monthly Spirituality is Served and Theology on Tap, a Christmas tree lighting at the Paseo de Colachis, Lessons and Carols, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass, and the twice-a-year Candlelight Mass. The spring semester begins with the 25-year-plus All Faith Service, hosts retreats, the now 15-year-old Tijuana Spring Breakthrough, April is when Students for Life’s L.I.F.E. Week happens and all graduating classes attend the Law, Graduate and Baccalaureate Masses.

“Throughout the year, the USD community celebrates a variety of beautiful traditions,” Michael Lovette-Colyer, assistant vice president for Mission and Ministry, says. “These traditions provide a wonderful rhythm of life at USD and provide pauses we need to stay focused on what really matters. They bring our campus community together. As our founders intended, all are welcome! We’re better when we’re together, blessed by the gifts and diversity of all.”

Making Time for Faith, Making Memories

What advice do Toreros have for students who want to deepen their faith while in college?

Rodriguez helps with December’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass through MEChA, and he went on Search and Tijuana Spring Breakthrough this year. Opportunities outside the classroom help him build relationships and grow. “Coming to USD, you hear a lot about it being a Changemaker school, and you do get opportunities to put it into action. Through UM I’ve done stuff to create change, on campus and off. When you’re looking at college, don’t just look at what you’ll get academically, but also how it contributes to your life and what kind of change you can make.”

Juarez says to start your college life with a foundation and a place for early connections to ease the stress of being in a new and unfamiliar setting. “If you’re a freshman and you’re interested in the UM pre-orientation trip, do it!” he says. “Also, as a senior in high school, I never would have thought that being a practicing Catholic and being in a fraternity in college would work. Actually, being in a fraternity here helped me get involved in UM and opened the door to more opportunities on campus.”

Time management is an essential skill for all college students and that’s true, too, with one’s faith. “I recommend making faith a priority by scheduling time for it, entering it into your phone’s calendar. College life is fantastic, but busy. There are lots of opportunities and demands. Weeks go by quickly and if we’re not intentional about it, faith can slip into the background,” Lovette-Colyer says. “Each semester I encourage students to plan how they want to grow in their faith. Pick one of the retreats we offer, sign up for a service experience in San Diego or Tijuana, commit to attending a UM faith-sharing group, plan to be at a weekly Mass. Don’t try to do it all, but pick one or two things to nourish your inner life and your relationship with God.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Video done by Allyson Meyer '16


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