Young Adults: College years are a time of formation, change, growth

May 23, 2017

Recently, I attended the ordinations of two friends I studied theology with in graduate school. Our degree program at Notre Dame was one in which seminarians and lay people study theology, pray, and do ministry alongside one another.

Watching these men become priests through the Sacrament of Holy Orders was an experience filled with great joy — in large part because the event was something each of these men had been awaiting and anticipating for 10 years since their initial moment of feeling called to the priesthood.

The purpose of this time is formation, a term used in the Church to describe the process of preparation for ministry that encompasses intellectual, spiritual and personal development.

I believe that the term formation is helpful to understand young adult and college campus ministry. Formation involves both conforming ourselves to God, or growing in holiness, and becoming more fully who we were uniquely created to be.

It is a process of learning and growing, trying on and risking discovering something new about oneself. These are the essential tasks of not only ministers in the Church, but of every baptized Christian.

In particular, the questions of identity, purpose and meaning are felt quite palpably by college students and young adults.
The young adult years are those in which people define who they are apart from their parents, discover their values, talents and passions, and make decisions about their life’s ultimate purpose.

What will I major in? What career will I have? Will I marry (and who will it be)? What is God’s will for my life?

Perhaps, though, I’m struck by the concept of formation because it connotes a sense of the slow and steady work of God in our lives — conforming ourselves to God and becoming more fully who we are takes time.

It takes practice. It takes patience. We fall back into patterns of sin, struggle with unanswered questions, and pray through times when we cannot hear God’s voice. The work of growing in holiness and being authentically ourselves is challenging. But it is through these seasons that we are truly formed. 

We are formed not only for our careers and professions, marriage and religious life, but formed in preparation for our eternal home and union with God. We are being formed for heaven, and we have hope that God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).

At its core, ministry is accompaniment, walking and journeying with people. As a college campus minister, I walk with young people during some of the most challenging,
memorable and transformative years of their lives.

My students wrestle with big questions, especially those related to career discernment and practicing the Catholic faith in a secular environment. In ministering to them, I seek to listen and sit with them in their questions.

I share life with them — drink coffee and eat meals, cheer them on at sports games and participate in campus events with them.

And I look forward to the day when I can sit with them as Rice alumni and see how — through the studying and paper-writing, the existential crises and spiritual highs, and the tears and the joys — they have been transformed.

Nicole Driscoll is the campus minister at Rice University.