First of all, I confess I am not proud of everything I tried and did in college. Some experiences were worth the risk. Others were totally insane. To start with, I went to college more than 800 miles from home at a school where I only know two other people (and I didn't know them very well). College was not an extension of high school; it was a complete restart.
Yet, in spite of (maybe because of), my many misguided attempts at finding happiness and fulfillment in life, God guided me closer to Himself and I began to fall in love with Him, His Church, and the idea of serving Him as a priest.
So, in no particular order, here are five things I tried in college that were totally worth it. I invite all college students to try them too.
1. Got involved with Campus Ministry. Knowing few people at my college, I headed to Mass the first few weeks, sat by myself in the back, and left without talking to anybody. Then, for the first time in my life, I didn't go to Mass one Sunday. The next Sunday I approached the Campus Minister and I told her, "I want to get involved and I don't care what you need me to do I'll do it." Over the next four years, I served our Campus Ministry in almost every capacity. I developed some awesome Catholic friends and, most importantly, being Catholic became a meaningful part of my daily and weekly life.
2. Carried (and occasionally prayed) a Rosary. The night before I left for college, my grandfather gave me a simple wooden rosary. He encouraged me to carry it with me and to pray then he told me he'd pray his rosary everyday for me. For four years, that rosary never left my side. No matter where I went or how much I messed up I knew someone loved me, someone was praying for me, and Our Heavenly Mother was looking out for me.
3. Attended a Retreat. Nora approached me after my first Mass in college. She was (and still is) one of the nicest and most genuinely caring people I had ever met. Consequently, I wanted nothing to do with her. She, on the other hand, had a knack for sitting next to me at Mass and at dinners after Mass and, almost always without fail, inviting me to upcoming retreats and events. She eventually won -- what's a guy to do when a cute girl keeps inviting him to a retreat -- and I went on my first voluntary retreat. It changed my life forever.
4. Met with a Priest Outside of Confession or Mass. Priests are busy men. To high school me, they were also holy men who looked down upon knuckleheads like me. Then I met Fr. Mike. Fr. Mike was funny, energetic, outgoing, and, shockingly, he wanted to get to know us students. Eventually, I agreed to meet him for dinner -- what's a college guy to do when someone offers you a free meal at a nice restaurant. After that dinner, Fr. Mike and I met somewhat regularly throughout my time in college and he helped me recognize more profoundly God's call in the depths of my heart.
5. Took a Spring Break Service Trip. Being a good disciple of Jesus, Nora was not satisfied with just getting me on a retreat. Sophomore year she convinced me to go on a Spring Break trip to West Virginia to serve the poor. That week helped me realize how beautiful a life of service could be.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.