The college semester is upon us again, and at most universities the new academic year is either now beginning or has recently begun . For the returning students, this means a return to familiar stomping grounds and reunions with friends before the courses really buckle down into the semester grind. For the new students, it means leaving hearth and home, setting out on an adventure of sorts. New friends, new experiences, new hobbies—and also old trials and temptations in new forms.
For all involved, it is a time of many challenges against the Faith and many questions asked about it. Even some of the innocuous questions can become challenges—and in my own experience, many more of the questions are meant to be innocuous than meant as open challenges to the Faith. There is a strong curiosity in Protestantism about the thing against which it protests. There are also a great many misunderstandings about the Church, some of which are unfortunately even held by and thus promulgated from Catholics.
These challenges and questions are also invitations to grow in faith and in knowledge. They may want answers even when those who ask them do not . To that end, Mr. Tom Perna has published a list of five books which very Catholic college student needs to possess (and presumably, to read and/or refer to). It’s a decent list, and I think that having access to the Catechism and a decent translation of the Bible—all of it—are especially necessary.
That said, there are many other good books which one ought to read, and it’s not a bad goal to set for oneself to read at least one book per month during the year . School needs to come first , of course, so your mileage may vary.
There are roughly seven months which really fall in a typical school year cycle . Here then are seven more books which I would strongly recommend for the Catholic college student.
1. Letters to a Young Catholic, by George Weigel: simply put, this is an excellent introduction to and survey of Catholic culture, from the thinkers to the saints to a few of the events which shaped the Church in the modern world. It is also and excellent springboard to any number of other Catholic books—the reader is given a tour of ideas and thinkers and believers, any of which may hold some special interest.
2. Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton: technically these are two books, but they . These books are a good introduction to Chesterton, who has written a number of excellent books; they are also a good introduction to two of the Church’s most timely saints. Saint Francis may be the most well known and well-loved of the specifically Catholic saints, if at times the most misunderstood . Saint Thomas is quite probably the Church’s most important thinker, and his philosophy is the Church’s perennial philosophy. Between these two are encapsulated the spirit of evangelization, both as missionaries of service (e.g. to the materially or intellectually or spiritually poor) and as witnesses of Truth.
Chesterton, for his part, is usually a pleasure to read, especially for those who enjoy paradoxes and alliterative prose writing.
3. Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, by Karl Keating: this book provides two important and related services to the Catholic. The first is that it outlines many of the basic fundamentalist objections to (and arguments against) Catholicism and then provides short rebuttals to each. The second is that it explores the foundations of these common arguments, many of which are based on misinformation (if not deliberate disinformation).
This book is a sort of intellectual life-raft for the Catholic beset by many questions and challenges from their Protestant friends—in particular for the fundamentalists (and to a lesser extent, evangelicals, Baptists, etc.). It also helped to keep me afloat during the two years that I had an on-again off-again anti-Catholic roommate.
4. Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer: this is a sort of either/or deal. These books are for the prayer life of those who wish to pray with the whole Church daily from home (or from the dorm room, or the student lab, or wherever). In either form, the book basically contains the Liturgy of the Hours, which is prayed daily by all priests and many lay people around the world.
5. Disorientation: How to Go to College without Losing Your Mind, edited by John Zmirak: this is a collection of short essays contributed by a number of Catholic intellectuals and apologists. It essentially contains a rogues’ gallery of the big intellectual mistakes which are prevalent on the typical college campus, from scientism to cynicism and from feminism to sentimentalism, and from progressivism to modernity.
Each of these bad ideas if briefly presented and then addressed in brief. It makes for a nice handbook for the student who is navigating the world of ideas in academia.
6. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, by Fr. James V. Schall: this well-written book might serve as the manual on what one would hope to get from a good education. It’s a generally wonderful book, and a pleasure to read.
7. What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, by J. Budzisewski: I should probably open this with a disclaimer—J. Budziszewski is the only author on this list whom I know. He is actually a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, and a convert to Catholicism from nihilistic atheism. As for this book, it is an excellent introduction to Natural Law, the philosophical framework of much of Catholic morality.
That’s seven Catholic books for seven months. Since there is often a partial month in August, I should add a bonus eighth book, one which is not by a specifically Catholic author. C.S. Lewis’ has written a number of very good, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand, yet reasonably books of popular Christian theology. If I am to recommend just one of these, I suppose it would be Mere Christianity, which is a generally excellent introduction to apologetics (offering an intellectual defense of one’s beliefs) and which largely surveys the topics in his other works.
There are of course many other very good books which I have left off of this list—I tried to pick mostly short books (almost all of these are under 300 pages). But these should help to prepare one for the challenges to the Faith found in college—and help to grow in that Faith. Beyond them, my advice is to pray and to get involved with the local Newman Center or Catholic Center or Catholic parish.
Happy reading, and I hope that all of you students have a great year.
 Exception: many schools on the West Coast use the quarter/term system and won’t begin until mid or even late September.
 And there are times when the person asking the question really doesn’t care about the answer, or doesn’t think they care. Still, the vast majority of questions I’ve had through the year—whether from Protestants or adherents to other religions or atheists and agnostics—have bee sincere questions asked in a spirit of curiosity.
 One chapter per day is a difficult though attainable goal for all but the busiest of schedules. As a graduate student, I often worked in excess of 14 or 15 hours per day (often including weekends) and still made time to read for a least 15 minutes per day. Of course, when the schedule gets that busy, the quality of reading tends to be worse.
 Actually, faith and family should take priority over school. I meant here that school takes priority over leisurely activities, unfortunately including reading.
 The seven are September, October, and November in the fall; and January, February, March, and April in the Winter/Spring. December and May are mostly final exams, August often is half-in-half out, but is also that orientation month of social events to kick off the year. Hence, the bonus text.
 The apostles are probably mostly more well-known, as are Sts. Joseph and Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas, and St. Patrick… all of whom predate the East-West schism in the Church.