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There’s a whole list of things to be passionate about in this life. I have had many convictions over the years and still hold firm to most. To freely pursue the most important things to us, we may have to eliminate other things, even good things sometimes, that might get in the way of the most important thing.

To be available as possible to God and have room for the Holy Spirit to dwell, we also need to be free from sin and practice strengthening our will to avoid the near occasion of sin that may become a stumbling block. 

The devil can use both sin and unnecessary good things as distractions, tempting us to give away our freedom, make us feel stuck, enchained, or maybe you’ve heard it said before: “in bondage.” 

This is how I describe student loan debt. It is bondage and is one of the many things, but a considerable burden impacting 44.7 million Americans from being available to God. It’s keeping many of us from the self-gift we were designed for. In a very particular way, it’s impacting the lay leaders of the Church. 

Recently on the Compass Catholic podcast, I had the opportunity to talk about this issue’s seriousness and address how it weighs on lay men and women serving in diocesan and parish ministry.

If you are struggling with student loan debt, this episode is for you. You are not alone. God made you for freedom. We will get there together!

Q: I am particularly excited to have you on our show because you are a fellow young adult, like myself, and I am so impressed with your story and your generosity (and your website!), and I just loved talking with you for our pre-recording. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your story/ your vocation/passion to be generous?

A: Absolutely! Well, first, I want to thank you, Diana and Caitlyn, for inviting me on the podcast and for all of the great work of Compass Catholic. 

To start with the basics, I am a 33-year-old single Catholic woman, striving to be faithful to God.

My story of faith began in 8th grade when I had a significant conversion. From that moment, I did everything I could to get involved in the Church and learn more about the faith. But I was in my 20’s when I grew in my relationship with God.

I studied Theology and Social Justice in college. Then Canon Law in graduate school. 

I’ve served the Church in different capacities on the parish and diocesan level. Also, at the Holy See to the United Nations. I write Catholic content for faith-based organizations, including full-time for Covenant Eyes. And this past spring, I launched an online presence to provide virtual Spiritual Direction and Canon Law consultation. 

Regarding my passion for generosity, I’ve always had the charism and desire to help others who struggle and are impacted by poverty, whether material or spiritual. 

But because of my studies, I took on student loan debt. And this burden roused in me compassion and empathy for others. 

I have seen this financial difficulty hinder so many of my peers from being freely and completely who God is calling them to be; becoming a missionary, having more children, taking a low-paying job at a parish or diocese, even pursuing marriage or religious life.

Q: Your debt load was pretty huge but not uncommon. Can you tell us what you’re seeing among your peers? And by peers, I mean parish lay staff.

A: At the end of 2018, there were 44.7 million Americans with student loan debt. And the total U.S. student loan debt was $1.64 trillion. 

Parishes most commonly hire men and women with Bachelor’s Degrees in Theology, Catechesis and Evangelization, Youth Ministry, and Liturgy to fill ministry and teaching positions. 

Diocesan offices hire those with Master’s Degrees in Theology, Liturgy, and Canon Law. 

Regrettably, more often than not, there isn’t funding available through parishes and dioceses to sponsor higher education and the formation of laymen and women (like we’re able to do with seminarians.) 

So, lay men and women take out public and private student loans, leaving Catholic universities and colleges after having accrued large amounts of debt.

Examples of tuition rates:

  • Catholic University of America: $35,000 a year (Average)
  • Benedictine University: $50,000 a year (Average)
  • Notre Dame University: $32,000 a year (Average)

Q: One of the things that stuck out so strongly to Caitlyn and me is your generosity in spite of the fact that you yourself are still working on paying off your student loans. Talk about impressive and believe that the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity! Your decision seems so contrary to how the rest of the world lives- looking out for themselves first. How does one, especially a young adult, come to this kind of radical decision? What was the inspiration or thought process behind your generosity?

A: I believe, if we’re not giving – even when it hurts, we can miss the point of charity and our Gospel duty of tithing. Tithing isn’t supposed to be a comfortable thing. 

I love the Saint Mother Theresa quote where she says: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” 

Along these lines, a book I would strongly recommend to our listeners is titled “Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom” by Father Thomas Dubay. It makes the argument that when we give, we are giving our neighbor what is his. It was never ours, to begin with. 

But at the same time, those in poverty need our love and care as much as they need money. They need to know they aren’t alone! That’s what I am trying to do with the scholarship I provide. I am giving out of my ache to bring about a greater awareness, to show other men and women that they aren’t alone. I want to inspire this radical approach to acknowledge and tend to the needs of others. 

Honestly, I have tried and tried to come up with a solution for student loan debt for Catholic lay leaders, and this is where I’ve landed. It was actually my action plan for the The Given Institute Forum I attended a few years back, launched by the Sisters of Life. I think there’s a reason I’ve landed on the solution of providing a scholarship for the time being. I am supposed to learn something, and maybe others are to learn something too. 

Q: You said something when we first met that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. You said, “Debt is bondage from the devil to keep people from being who they are called to be.” Can you speak more about that?

A: The devil can use anything that keeps us from freedom to deter us from what God truly wants for our lives. The devil uses things in everyday life to rob us of the gift of God and the full life God desires for each one of us. 

In particular, student loan debt brings about a great deal of worry, overworking, obsessing, fear, regret, etc. All of this makes us unfruitful. It causes us to look in on ourselves and be less concerned about others’ needs and aches. The devil loves this unfruitfulness and uses it.

I would encourage anyone who is burdened by any great difficulty (not just student loan debt) to: 

  • Ask God to release His love into their particular ache.  
  • Ask yourself the question: Is pride keeping you from asking for help in your particular difficulty or struggle?

I genuinely believe we can be delivered from our various pain points, including student loan debt, but we must lean into God and our communities. 

Q: What do you wish you had known when you started your professional journey, to include education and training?

I think two things:

  1. I really wish I would have asked my parish community for financial support. I was too embarrassed, and I didn’t understand the gravity of debt at 18-years-old. 
  2. Also, I wish I would have listened to my parents and did my pre-requisites at a community college before entering a private Catholic institution.

Q: From your personal experience- do you have any advice or tips for younger adults entering college and thinking about taking on any kind of student loans? OR If you could tell younger Amanda 1 piece of advice, what would it be?

A: I want to encourage our young people interested in Catholic education to look into universities living up to their Catholic identity. It is a great injustice for a Catholic university to claim it’s Catholic, request the money they do, and then provide an education that isn’t anywhere close to what Catholic education should look like. 

Also, consider the amount of debt and compare it to the average pay for the position you’re looking at pursuing after college. If it doesn’t add up, you have to be realistic.

Q: HOT SEAT! What is your favorite splurge?

A: I remember crying to a priest advisor of mine a few years back about my student loan debt. His response to me was: “What are they going to do? Repossess all your coats?!” 

He knew coats were and are my weakness. There’s something so feminine and beautiful about them. If I am out shopping, you will no doubt find me looking at coats.

But also books… I enjoy them and need them for my work. Stationary, too! I love sending notes of affirmation. 

Q: What do you most regret spending money on?

A: Furniture and decorations. I’ve moved so many times to serve and study that I ended up having to give all those things away. 

Also, things like smartwatches, music downloads, and apps. I regret those purchases. 

Q: What money habit works best for you?

A: Automatic payments are an excellent way to make sure you’re not late on bills! 

Also, I haven’t always done this, but I plan my purchases now, and I make sure my monthly spending only fits into paying down debt first. 

Lastly, I don’t buy things just because there is a sale. This can hurt you.

Student Loan Assistance Scholarship

10% of my annual profit goes to my scholarship fund to help those who have accrued student loan debt to directly or indirectly serve the Catholic Church. Apply by June 21, 2022.

So what are my credentials?

At the core of my being, I want you to have joy, a relationship with God and his Church, and you to know your incredible worth. I am passionate about your journey, and you embracing every season of life. You’ll learn quickly that I enjoy every moment of prayer and conversation that aids my spiritual directees in living a full life as a daughter of God in the here and now!

Your Catholic virtual spiritual director!

I’m Amanda Zurface.