The Udisciple Team caught up with Mia Zelesco to chat about her experience of being a young catholic on campus in Melbourne. Mia is in her third year of studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Psychology and Philosophy.

What kinds of challenges have you faced as a young catholic student on campus?

University is undeniably secular, not just in its culture, but in its curriculum. This definitely comes with challenges…especially as a Philosophy major, haha! However, being challenged is also a blessing, and I’ve gained so much from having to think more critically about, integrate, and often rebut the secular content I’ve been introduced to.

It has actually really enriched and solidified my faith. In this kind of academic environment, where challenged and often downright rejected, I can’t just accept my faith at face value — I’m required to deeply understand and even defend it. It’s also really thrilling to see how the Catholic faith can be illuminated and complemented by secular content.

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Mia Zelesco

Have you noticed any common struggles among catholic students?

For many Catholics, university life is a critical juncture where the future is more uncertain than ever, and we are faced with many opportunities and choices. As Catholic students, the term ‘discernment’ is thrown around almost as liberally as hand sanitiser amidst a pandemic. In my own discernment, I’ve found solace in G. K. Chesterton’s wisdom: “the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Don’t keep your mouth open forever - you’ll get COVID - and don’t settle for a vocation of perpetual discernment. Have courage, take a risk, try out a path, and give yourself the grace to learn and fail along the way.

How do you practise your faith on campus?

At Melbourne Uni, I’m blessed to be able to attend Mass when I can on campus, and to bring my joys and struggles before the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel. I find it so nourishing to learn and discuss the faith with my peers at Catholic Society and COSDU. It is really special and edifying to be able to pray with friends. I’m also learning more and more that all my studies - my every effort - can be offered up to God throughout the day. My studies do not need to distract from my prayer life - they can actually deepen it, as all that I do can be given to the Lord.

What is helping you to keep growing closer to God?

I find that I grow closest to God when I recognise and embrace spiritual poverty – that emptiness of self that allows space for me to be filled with God’s life and love. The more I grow aware of my littleness – my poverty of spirit – the more I can rely on God’s grace to be the person He is calling me to be. This childlike reliance on God is epitomised in the sacrament of penance. Regularly receiving God’s mercy in this way has been essential for my spiritual growth.

What do you recommend to Catholic students who are in their first year on campus?

As first year university students, you might be feeling quite uprooted and overwhelmed by the challenges that come with adapting to university life. I recommend finding community amongst your Catholic peers and building up that community. Your faith will certainly flourish with the influence of other Catholics who are earnestly desiring God. I’m blessed to say this was transformative for me in my first year at university. I joined the Catholic Society at Melbourne Uni in 2020, during the first wave of lockdowns. Meeting, learning from and praying with Catholic students who were striving for holiness was such a gift for me. It was the first time I realised I could strive for holiness, too - right now, in the middle of my ordinary vocation as a student. Making friends who kept me accountable and practiced their faith with me, allowed me to grow so much in my spiritual life. Praise God!

How do you think we can empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ on campus today?

To live as disciples on campus, we need to know God and not just know of Him. It is so tempting to settle for a God within the confines of syllogisms, of our own intellect. Yet, whilst we must understand and explain our Christian faith as disciples, we can’t be content with this alone. The God we speak of to others is above all speaking to us. We need to continually listen to Christ, be converted by Christ, and strengthen our love for Christ. Saint Paul challenges the Corinthians that “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Amidst all our good efforts to know of God and speak of Him, let’s remember to keep listening and resting in His love, too.

JPII House

Bring your laptop and head over to 169 Grattan St, Carlton. A great place to study, pray and catch up with other young catholic university students from around the Archdiocese of Melbourne.