Faith In College
Most mornings Sai Chavali ’11 wakes up with a lengthy to-do list. But before heading off to breakfast or an economics lecture, the junior makes every effort to complete one important task: prayer. “It’s a place to collect myself before I go about my day,” said Chavali. “It brings a lot of calmness and a lot of concentration. It keeps me grounded.” Chavali, a practicing Hindu from Bangalore, India, sits at his desk, places his palms together at chest height, closes his eyes, and begins his 10-minute prayer by invoking God’s name. “I feel more awake after doing it,” he said. “The prayers help me think every day about doing things right.”
In the face of what can at times be an overwhelming whirlwind of classes, exams, papers, and social life, many Colby students find resolve in the form of faith. Some, like Chavali, practice alone, collecting themselves through prayer, self-reflection, or meditation outside of organized religion. For these students religion is primarily about personal discovery.
Others are drawn to the sense of community provided by Colby’s religious groups. Whether due to a sense of heritage or the comfort and joy of practicing with others, students come together at Colby to share their own experiences in faith. In college, where the religious path can be difficult due to distance from home, others’ perceptions of belief, and reconciling faith and school, a community eases concerns that might arise for students of faith. “One of the things I find about religion is that it’s highly personal but at the same time highlighted and enhanced by communication with other people,” said Brendan Shea ’11.
Shea is a member of the Newman Council, the student-run Catholic group on campus. Members help with Mass every Sunday afternoon in Lorimer Chapel before going to dinner with the Catholic chaplains, Father Daniel Baillargeon and Brother Rex Anthony Norris, affectionately known as Father Dan and Brother Rex. At these dinners members can talk about faith, schoolwork, or whatever is on their mind, but ultimately the meals provide a fresh starting point for the week. “It really puts things in perspective to step back and say, ‘Think of where we just came from in a worship service and church,’” said Shea.
For Newman Council member Julianne Kowalski ’11, who left a close group of religious friends at home, the council also provides diverse viewpoints on religious issues, which she says strengthen her friendships within the group as well as her own faith. “I enjoy it for those different personalities,” she said. “You can be surrounded by people who believe the same thing but don’t act the same way. And they’re not just religious friends, they’re my friends.” In a recent poll 100 Colby students were asked what religion offers them. Most said “a sense of community.” That beat out philosophical questions about the origin of the world, the meaning of life, or the fate of the soul.
The Colby Muslim Group, Colby Christian Fellowship, C.I.R.C.L.E. (Collective for Insight, Refuge, and the Celebration of Life Experience), and Colby Hillel (the Jewish group) also provide forums where the benefits of a community founded on faith emerge. “We come together to share different backgrounds and learn from each other,” said Daniel Adams ’08, the volunteer Protestant chaplain. “Sometimes we’ll talk about things you might not have thought of yet.”
Through these groups students can engage with their nonreligious friends at Colby as well as the community beyond Mayflower Hill. Members of the Newman Council, for instance, teach CCD (Cofraternity of Christian Doctrine) to middle school children at St. Francis de Sales Church in Waterville and volunteer at the local food pantry. Colby Hillel hosts a Passover seder for Jewish students on campus, and the Colby Muslim Society puts on its annual Eid dinner at the end of Ramadan, an event that attracts students, staff, and faculty of different beliefs. “I look forward to that so much, because it’s just kind of celebrating your religion,” said Aqsa Mahmood ’11, president of the Muslim Society. “And having your non-Muslim friends there to celebrate with you means a lot.”