Editor’s Note: The Cardinal Newman Society recently announced Jace Griffith of Idaho Falls High School in Idaho as the winner of the Society’s first annual Essay Scholarship Contest for Catholic college-bound students.  Griffith will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward her education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan this fall.  Below is the full text of Griffith’s winning essay.  More information about the Contest can be obtained here.

I was fifteen the first time I attended the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference. Two thousand Catholic teenagers packed into a school auditorium. We were a community of similar age and similar beliefs, and on Friday night we knelt down together to adore one God.

The monstrance moved around the room for an hour in the shaking arms of the priest. His eyes were fixed on his Savior. In the darkness of the room, the illuminated host was the only light.

“Viva Cristo Rey!” came a cry from the back of the room.

Viva!” the congregation replied with one voice. For the first time, I understood that I was not alone as a Catholic youth, and my chest swelled up with fullness.

Growing up in a city where Catholics are a minority, dwarfed in number by “Latter-Day Saints,” has not always been a bad thing. Among Mormon classmates, teachers, and friends, I’ve learned to defend my faith and celebrate its differences. I’ve learned to turn to my Church when lonely. Most of all, I’ve learned that if I do not actively and willingly pursue Catholicism, my life will lack the fullness of God’s truth—and that I want to start that pursuit at a Catholic college. By fostering learning with an emphasis on the development of the whole person and surrounded by a like-minded community, Catholic colleges cater to those who wish to become not only successful in their careers, but also ethical and virtuous men and women with their eyes set on the great fullness that only God can give.

Catholic colleges are known for well-rounded development, encouraging community service, the pursuit of knowledge outside of intended majors, and rigorous academia. Curriculum at many Catholic colleges is centered in the Liberal Arts: this offers students a strong basis for philosophy, religion, literature, languages, history, and the fullness of truth. Not only do students learn the requirements for their majors and minors, they also learn things like why Aristotle is still important today, what exactly Ramadan is, and how many pages of procrastinated literature reading can be crammed into one night. For me, a dedicated daydreamer on track to become a psychologist, I want more from my education than a basic understanding of cognitive development. A Catholic education means psychology would be taught in the context of human dignity and the soul as a part of human health—and as I learn, I’ll be practicing those beliefs in the community through service projects and prayer alongside my classmates.

The benefits of Catholic colleges don’t end with the unique curriculum: Catholic colleges bring together young adults with similar goals and morals. Catholic colleges allow young adults to grow in their faith surrounded by people who are unlikely to criticize or misunderstand them for it. Instead, Catholic, Christian, and undecided students can find encouragement and community support in a mutually cooperative environment. Having spent most of my life with few fellow Catholics in my school, sports, and extra-curricular activities, I am ready to continue my development alongside hundreds of others with the same idea. After all, I’ve spent enough time struggling to explain why I’m skipping school for “a good Friday” and fending off tissues from well-meaning classmates who noticed the ash smudge on my forehead. I want to feel what I felt at ICYC when I was fifteen: fullness! Love and acceptance, strength in my community, and pride in my faith. I want to see that my faith is alive, and that it is alive in the people around me, each of us pushing and pulling each other on a stumbling path toward Heaven.

Impressed by the unique academics and enamored with communities full of the vibrant, persistent, delighted love of Christ, I trust that faithful Catholic colleges will continue to teach their students the fullness that is real truth and real joy. I’ve decided I want God to be the center of my life. In the end, it only makes sense to choose a college that wants the same thing.

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