A recent article in the Washington Post discussed the struggle many young Christians face regarding his or her decision to leave and ultimately return to their faith later on in life.
The Newman Center, a building where Plattsburgh State Christians can congregate, estimates that there are approximately 1,200 Catholics currently enrolled at PSUC. However, the Center’s vocations director, Father Bryan Stitt, said he wondered how many of those students regularly attend mass.
“I’m not being condemnatory,” Stitt said. “I’m not condemning anybody, but I’m just interested because I’m guessing we don’t have that number coming here every Sunday, but we keep hoping and keep inviting them back.”
Stitt believes there may be multiple reasons why young Christians decide to leave the church.
“More often than not, it’s because they have gotten too busy, become disillusioned or because of moral reasons,” he said. “They find the teachings inconsistent with the way they have chosen to live their life. Sometimes it becomes too hard.”
The Newman Association, which is an interfaith student organization run by students from both PSUC and Clinton Community College, is a prevalent on-campus religious outlet. Co-presidents Giovanna Senese and Jill Biskup and vice president Emilie Murphy offered reasons they believe could contribute to their peers deciding to leave their faith.
“When you’re a young adult, you’re figuring things out for yourself,” Murphy said. “What do you want to do with your life? You have to forge your own path.”
Biskup mentioned the idea familiarity as another contributing factor.
“Sometimes you don’t have that special connection yet or find purpose in the church. It takes some independence and your own experience to find what pushes you back to the church,” she said.
Meanwhile, Senese spoke about how leaving the church can be an act of defiance or rebellion, as many college students are getting their first tastes of freedom after being raised in a specific faith by their parents.
In addition, Murphy said she believed students might be turned off to religion because of the level of commitment it takes, especially in a time where extremism is becoming more commonplace.
“I think (students) are afraid to commit because they don’t want to be associated with the extremist versions of people who are blamed for terrorism and acts of violence in the name of faith,” she said.
“You always hear of ‘coming out’ as something that the gay community does, but sometimes it’s hard to come out as a Catholic. Having that identity … there’s judgements with that that you see from people.”
However, it is clear that PSUC students are not the only ones who struggle with their religious identities.
“You can’t pinpoint why kids leave the church or why adults leave the church. It’s hard when you go to college. You see this a lot here, it’s hard to go to church. We have a great group here that goes to Newman, as well as going to church. It’s one of those things that you can take away that it’s not hard to go to church,” Senese said.
PSUC Director of Campus Ministry Mary Skillan said, “I think it’s been happening for a long time. It’s just not conducive to the millennial generation. I’m a baby-boomer, and I went through a time when I was not a regular church-goer.”
Skillan said that after she married someone not of the Catholic faith, it became easier for her to distance herself from the church.
“I became what we know as an E&C Catholic — an Easter and Christmas Catholic.”
After Skillan and her husband divorced, she said she found it difficult to return to her faith, particularly with the addition of her two small children, one with severe special needs.
“I just didn’t put church on the top of my priority list,” Skillan said.
As far as returning to their religious roots, Stitt said most people do so as they mature.
“Often times, it’s when people have kids. They realize that they want to pass on something to their children, some of the values that they were given.”
Skillan is a prime example of this.
“We divorced, and my daughter was of the age where I felt she needed to start going to church. Thus began my re-entry to regular church-going,” she said.
Email Patrick Willisch at firstname.lastname@example.org