From Our Sponsor, Ave Maria University
God has never shown up at my door and offered me a lifelong blueprint. However, when I access His grace through the Sacraments, it’s infinitely easier to hear his voice and discern the next step toward where he’s calling me. He shines light on one step and asks me to trust in him as he provides for steps two, three, and four.
The cycle of trust-step-trust in the God of Provision continues to repeat itself in my life, and it’s worth pondering and remembering. Remembrance brings us to trust, which vanquishes doubt, fear, and temptation. What if the Israelites, while faced with temptation, paused to remember the God of Wonders, who was fighting for them? Perhaps the Promised Land would have come a lot quicker. When we remember how the same God has fought for us, we can also leave dessert seasons behind and come into the light of grace.
So, in the spirit of encouraging reflection, here’s my own reflection – into a time when I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going, but I saw God clearly paving the way and proving His faithfulness. This was my college journey.
Provision Through Community
Every college journey starts in high school, when college applications and visits begin. For me, I knew the name “Catholic” was deceiving when claimed by most universities – coming from a homeschool, ministry-driven family, I didn’t want just the Catholic title, I wanted to go somewhere I would grow in my faith and be equipped to discern and live out my vocation.
Because of my youth-group zeal, I seriously considered taking a gap year to serve with a missionary organization within the United States. This was not ultimately where God was leading me, so I discerned the list of Newman Guide schools. My pastor and a good friend from high school encouraged me to check out Ave Maria University (AMU) towards the end of my senior year. Upon talking to a current student, my heart was stirred by the strength of the Church at AMU and their mission to lead students to discern and live out their God-given vocation.
After a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots for clarity (and financial aid), encouragement from a good friend, and lots of phone calls with between my parents and staff members from my parents (as I was unable to visit – it was May at this point, and I was going to be gone for the summer serving at a camp), my parents entrusted me to AMU, seeing it as a continuation of their parental work.
Formed in Faith Instead of Fighting for Faith
I arrived on campus, and immediately experienced the peace of the Holy Spirit. With abundant access to sacramental graces through Mass and Reconciliation, the transition to being over a thousand miles from home was as smooth as it could have been. I experienced anxiety about how well I would do in classes, but professors expressed clear care for me from the start. A clear undertone rang out in every class:: We do not get to choose truth, but we can develop a relationship with the God who reveals the fullness of truth through the Catholic Church. And professors saw it as their vocation to lead me into this relationship.
Invested Professors, Developing Gifts
In my first two years of college, I was involved in a lot. Hired by the marketing department during my orientation weekend, I was blessed to be a part of launching the new communications program, which was all I wanted to study since I was a little kid. Additionally, I was swept up into campus small group leadership within the first month and offered some other ministry opportunities, enabling me to use my joint passion for ministry and communication.
I’d realized long before college I felt most alive when speaking and writing. Because of this, my career plan was to develop those skills, become excellent in my field, and serve the Church in some capacity. Professors and staff members took my heart, my vision, and my natural talent and ran with it – challenging me, creating with me, and cultivating excellence within me. God provided me with mentors excellent in their fields who saw my gifts, encouraged them, and gave me ample opportunities to use them.
Access to Grace & Vocational Inquiry
The core curriculum at AMU mandates students take three theology and two philosophy classes, but the truths of God and the Catholic faith bled deep into courses in every other subject matter. I was having daily encounters with the truth of the Church, and it brought me to my knees in wonder and awe. I was in classes where I would inevitably end up in the adoration chapel, notes open, in awe of God’s goodness and how He was revealing himself to me.
In all honesty, I didn’t always feel like I was at Catholic Disney World. This is the beauty of the college years: there’s a struggle, and in this struggle, God is showing himself. Emotions can be complicated, friends can be complicated, and life can be complicated. However, having access to grace brings clarity and stability to every season. Clarity is also easier to come by when you’re given the tools to inquire into every spiritual and professional vocation, and always met with answers.
There are always days prompting a death to self, questioning, “What am I doing and why am I doing it” followed by the resurrection, proclaiming, “Life is good, and I can’t believe I get to be here, doing this.” My journey through college did, at times, feel like a journey through a desert – even with the spiritual richness of constant access to Sacramental grace, college is temporary, and our hearts long for permanence. This is why it’s crucial to place yourself somewhere you’ll be surrounded by a holy and supportive community when you have doubts about yourself or when you struggle through various things.
Finding My Fiat
All while “figuring out who I was” and growing, I started a household at AMU and implemented two weekly worship nights. I designed and led a women’s retreat my sophomore year and helped with various other retreats and events. My dad always told me, “Life doesn’t start when you know your vocation. You’re already living and doing it, now.” Doing life at AMU in a preparatory season was real life, and it was beautiful.
By the time my junior year rolled around, I was convicted God was calling me to a vocation in communications. I gave my “yes” to him, and continued to discern whether he was calling me to live this out in a vocation to marriage, religious life, or singlehood.
After many conversations with faithful adults at AMU and through the beautiful example of the families present, I was fairly certain I was called to be a wife and a mother. Sure enough, in November of my junior year, I began dating the man who would propose to me shortly after my graduation.
My junior and senior years contained a different kind of growth supported by pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family professors and community who wanted what was best for both of us as individuals and as a couple. The memories my fiancé and I have of laughing in the cafeteria, celebrating feast days, breezy walks down our palm-tree paths, and late night beach trips are irreplaceable. We encountered God as a couple, surrendering to his will for our lives and becoming equipped to step into the world bearing the name of Jesus and raise a family in his name – this truth was ingrained in us in every class we took, and every event we attended, and in conversations we had with our peers.
Living Out Vocation: Joyful Collaboration
After I graduated from AMU, I continued working for the school as the social media and convergence lab coordinator. My boss asked me to come up with a strategic plan for our social media, and I pondered all of the ways I experienced God’s faithfulness through Ave Maria University. Through our content, I wanted prospective students and families to recognize the importance of having access to grace, excellent professors, a faithful community, all with the goal of helping discern their vocation. For me, this was quite literally life changing.
I wrote down three questions, thinking of how I would personally encourage high schoolers to make a college decision:
Is there daily access to the Sacraments?
Is Eucharistic adoration five minutes away from anywhere on campus and accessible 24/7?
Does this school celebrate Catholic feast days as a community?
The list grew and became titled “The Examination of College,” created so students could ask hard questions of prospective schools to determine how well the college would help them discern and be equipped to live out God’s call for their lives. Between the lines of these questions, though, are a million stories and moments of my own experience of God’s provision through Ave Maria University – speaking to this time when I learned who God was and encountered the beauty of his Church. Within these irreplaceable years, I discerned and realized my vocation, alongside hundreds of other faithful Catholics doing the same thing.
While 18-year-old me didn’t know God’s will beyond showing up at AMU for orientation, the Father had a clear plan for my four years (and beyond), as he prepared me to go forth and joyfully collaborate with him. As I prepare to embark on marriage and all that follows, I am endlessly thankful to have been grounded in so much grace. I come back to those memories so often, of how God was revealing himself to me, through my classes and the AMU community.
If you’re a high school student (or have a high school student in your life!), we’d love to send you a complimentary copy of the Examination of College. Sign up for yours here.
You May Also Like:
Anne Marie Schlueter is the Social Media and Convergence Lab Coordinator for Ave Maria University, where she also received her degree in communications. Her work has appeared on prominent Catholic blogs, including Life Teen, Blessed Is She, and The Young Catholic Woman. Anne Marie has spoken to hundreds of audiences of all ages on encountering Jesus, healthy relationships, and authentic womanhood. You can connect with her on Instagram @anne_marie_schlueter.