It is not uncommon for college students to consider (or reconsider) their faith in God at some point during their four years of school. This is especially true for Penn’s religiously–affiliated students, some of whom feel that their faith has differentiated their time on campus from non–affiliated students. There are few places on campus where this is more apparent than the Newman Center, Penn’s primary Catholic community. It’s a place where college and religion, two seemingly opposing concepts, don’t necessarily need to conflict.
Gabbie Ramos (N ‘20) came to Penn knowing that her religion would play a large role in her college experience. After attending an all–girls Catholic grade school and high school, she applied primarily to Catholic universities with a few “reach” exceptions. When she received her acceptance to Penn’s nursing program, however, she shortly got in contact with the assistant director of the Catholic Ministry at Penn and went on to participate in NOVUS, the Newman Center’s pre–NSO retreat.
“It was really important to me that there was a Catholic community on campus,” she says. “Not just a church that I could walk to but an actual community of students dedicated to their faith.”
Gabbie’s involvement at the Newman Center has not decreased one bit since coming to Penn, as she says she is there “almost seven days a week” and acts as treasurer for the board. She also lives in the Catholic Women’s Household, an entirely Catholic community where women “live together, pray together, and eat together.”
Pat McInerney (W ‘19), on the other hand, did not get involved with the Newman Center until the summer after his sophomore year. “I was a cradle Catholic,” Pat says, saying he went to church every Sunday with his family growing up but “never really had authentic faith by any means.”
“Freshman year you sort of lose the accountability of your parents and I think I kind of fell into the whole college culture,” he explains.
As a recruited Penn football player, Pat says that his faith, beyond just going to church on Sundays, was initially pushed to the background because of his athletic and academic commitments. “I was like, okay, I have these things, and I need to do them to the best of my ability. And then you get wrapped in the social scene and everything else, too. So there were all these distractions leading me away from finding that Catholic community. But I think what really got me was that desire and the need for it, and honestly I could not be happier.”
Pat eventually reconnected to his faith after deciding to go on a summer retreat in Texas with the Newman Center after finishing his second year at Penn. He says the experience “reinvigorated” him, referring to a specific analogy they used about embers in a fire.
“When all the embers are together, they burn hot and strong,” Pat recounted. “But when you pull one ember out, the whole fire goes out.” This, he says, was a call for him to rejoin the Catholic community at Penn through the Newman Center.
“It’s a home away from home,” he says. “You know there’s always someone there who’s willing to take you in with open arms, whether you’re having a good day or a bad one, and you’re there for other people, as well.”
As for whether Penn is a welcoming environment for students to practice their faith openly, both Newman Center members say they feel very comfortable with their place within Penn’s broader community. However, Gabbie notes that Penn’s culture of perfection can be a point of difficulty for encouraging faith on campus. She says Penn students are “very exact,” but that “religion, in general, is a place where not everything is exact and perfect and all laid out. It’s called ‘faith’ for a reason. There’s an element that calls you to be vulnerable and makes you uncomfortable.”
Pat also admits that Penn is a “pretty liberal place, which may not be as in line with traditional beliefs.”
“I might be more reluctant to share an opinion I hold in class, and that’s just kind of a cultural thing,” he says, “but it’s also on me. I should be able to share my view, even if it comes with some backlash, because I think I owe that to people for them to understand that there are people who think differently.”
Regardless, Pat says he doesn’t feel “ostracized” in any way for being religiously affiliated. “You just have to live it out,” Pat says. “Be authentic and vulnerable with people.”
Gabbie says that living out her faith at Penn has greatly enhanced her college experience. “It’s a time period where you’re on your own,” she says, “so what are you going to choose to do with your life? Your identity is completely your own. Who you hang out with, what you’re interested in, what you go after...in some aspects, then, college is the perfect time to rediscover religion or find it for the first time.”