Student Loan Debt + Working in Ministry

how to pay off student loans

Soon after my conversion in 8th grade, I knew I was being called to serve God through His Church. I wasn’t sure what this service would look like, but soon enough, the Lord slowly began to reveal it to me. Maybe God has called you or is calling you to serve in the Church, too?

For the role to which God was calling me, I needed to receive formal training at a Catholic University. This involved eight+ years of study, internships, time away from my family, numerous flights, sacrifice and understanding of my family and friends, and oh, lots and lots of money!

My parents supported me as they were able, I had side jobs where I earned a little here and there, I even had a small settlement from a serious car accident I was in, but student loans covered much of the expenses. I felt I had no choice. There was no other way to cover the cost of these studies. I felt a calling and I was convicted it was a path I needed to pursue.

The Cost of Education for Ministry

I believe many feel a similar call. But, at this point in time, the price of Catholic education is nearly impossible for one person to cover, especially for young people from middle class families. In my experience, young people from lower income households have more access to scholarships and grants and upper income families are able to provide more assistance for the annual tuition.

Young people from middle class families are pretty much stuck and have to make the choice whether or not to take out loans and hope for the best as they seek the Lord’s promptings or take the safer route of not pursuing a Catholic education.

What many of us don’t yet see from this is how this is impacting vocations! We must do something.

What Can We Do to Help Lessen the Burden of Student Loan Debt While Working in Ministry?

Pray the Our Lady Undoer of Knots Novena

One of my biggest struggles during this journey of seeking to pay off my student loans is guilt and worry. Did I do something wrong? Was it pride and ego that drove me to study Canon Law? Was this not the Lord’s will for my life? After all, God does not will us to have bondage in our lives that keep us from being free and who he has called us to be.

As I have struggled with these questions, I finally said, “Enough! God, I made this choice in my youth and I surrender any and all sin that may or may not be attached to my past choices.”

I went to Our Lady Undoer of Knots to undo any knots in my life from the decisions of my youth.

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Ask Your Parish Community for Help

The parish is the community of faith God blesses us with for our journey. Each of the baptized are called to be active disciples. Parish communities are privileged to journey with you as you you fulfill your call to mission. The parish is where you are fed and receive the support for the journey.

What a better group of people to call on for assistance? Let them know of your struggle. Truly, people are good, generous, and want to help! The most important thing to communicate to your parish community is that you feel called to serve and how your student debt is holding you back from service to Christ’s Church.

I’ll Say It…Get a Second Job

As tough as it may be, to be able to help you for a while, and as you seek to find a solution for freedom, you may need to secure a second job. But only for a short period of time to avoid burnout.

From my personal experience, I suggest your second job be something in Church service, too. Do what you can to not hold two jobs that are extremely opposite. Let the positions of service flow from one another and breathe life into each position and the people you have been called to serve.

Encourage the Study of Trades, Priesthood and Consecrated Life

If you serve with young people, don’t be afraid to encourage different paths of study.

We need professional men and women formed in various trades. What about iconography? Carpenters? Sculptors? Organists? Farmers, gardeners, etc. We need strong formation in humanities, but we also need men and women who are skilled with their hands. Look at the incredible work of our ancestors that have come before us! How much do we long for the quality of the U.S. Catholic churches of the late 1800s and early 1900s?

For some young men and women, it may not be too soon to pursue the priesthood and consecrated life right out of high school. We need to be providing solid discernment opportunities for these young people earlier on in life. Evangelization must be happening simultaneously as they are receiving instruction on the Catechism. If there is no flame… the instruction will not stick. This is the responsibility of parents and families in conjunction with the parish. We cannot rely on parish staff to provide for our children falling in love with the living God.

Trust and Know God Has a Plan for Your Life

As St. Pope John Paul II would always say: “Be not afraid!” God does have a plan for your life, even though the loan payments may feel heavy and with no end in sight. Do not be discouraged as God is always working for our good. But you must act and keep seeking ways to obtain financial freedom, because God desires us to be debt free in order to live a generous life and be available to help others!

Give Back

What is key in all of this though? Once you obtain financial freedom due to the generosity of others or your incredibly hard work and/or simultaneous to you seeking to be debt free, we must give back. This may mean you start a scholarship fund for the youth in your parish, encourage youth to have a plan to avoid debt and to only take out small loans, approach your parish and diocese to see what is in place to help with student loan debt, etc. Most importantly, do not make the journey to be debt free about you!

Again, the main reason to be debt free is to live a generous life and be available to God and help others! All is a gift and we are made to be a gift for others.

For Further Reading on the Catholic Education Student Loan Crises

How have you obtained financial freedom from your student loans? How has it helped you to listen to God and be of service to your local community and the greater Church?

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Amanda Zurface resides in Pueblo, Colorado, where she serves as the Vice-Chancellor for the Diocese of Pueblo. She also serves as the Catholic Content Specialist for Covenant Eyes. Amanda holds a License and MA in Canon Law and a BA in Catholic Theology and Social Justice. She is the co-author of Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized CultureConfident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure and Transformed by Beauty.

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