Diocesan News

Student Seeking God on a College Campus

Noel Guzman, 23, is a student at Queens College. Logic brought him to Catholicism, and he now goes to Mass daily. Photo: Alicia Venter

FLUSHING — Ever since he was very young, Noel Guzman has been determined to not stop until he gets his questions answered. He is a self-described discerner, who uses logic as his guide through the confusion of life.

So when Guzman, 23, was wrongly told that becoming baptized did not require water, he was determined to find out why. His search for truth led him on an unwavering path to Catholicism, and now, as he completes his degree in economics at Queens College, he is certain of his faith. He attends Mass every day, four of those days at the Newman Center at the college, and constantly invites people to attend with him.

His question about baptism arose at a Bible study session he was invited to attend by a friend, which he did as he searched for answers about what faith path he should pursue.

Guzman was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to New York City with his family at age 3 and, though he was baptized Catholic and had his first Communion at age 8, he says his family “never really went to church together at all — not even for Christmas or Easter.”

All through his high school career and his freshman year at Queens College, Guzman intermittently attended Bible study, all the while wrestling with another personal struggle. After years of training, he had the potential to go to compete in the Olympics for the Dominican Republic national track and field team. But when tendonitis brought his athletic career to an early end, he turned to God for guidance.

“I was getting into the faith and reading the Bible every day for three hours. I was praying and enjoying it. Then came the week we learned about baptism,” he said.

The Bible study leader wrongly told him that baptism didn’t require water, and said, “Wait until Jesus came back.” That answer made him feel “completely like the rug was taken out from under me.

“I really wanted to love God, and the one way to love him is by knowing Him. I was like, ‘I don’t know who this guy is.’ And if St. Paul says baptism is a basic teaching … it should be a serious concern that they don’t know [more about baptism],” he said.

As he began his personal research on baptism, he found the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote that wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. That compelled him to research the Catholic faith further. At first, he feared that his logic was a hindrance and that it meant he was lacking in love and faith in God. But now he knows otherwise.

“There are different ways we experience God in our lives. And since He’s all loving, all perfectly pure logic, it all makes sense. I’m not losing less of him by following Him in a direct way towards Him,” he said.

Omar Cortez, director of faith formation at Queens College, sees Guzman four days a week. In the student, he sees an intellectual discernment that echoes the teachings of St. Augustine. 

“He’s always inviting people to Mass,” Cortez said of Guzman. “He’s always getting people to the center. He makes it look easy,” Cortez said.

Guzman received his final sacrament of initiation three years ago, confirmed at his home parish of Holy Family Church in Fresh Meadows. He often attends the Spanish-language Mass at Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann Parish where Father Jose Diaz is the pastor. Father Diaz also serves as the chaplain at the Newman Center and appreciates Guzman’s constant positive attitude.

“Some people come to the faith through an intellectual pursuit, and that’s just as valid. Their intellectual pursuit can lead them to a deep encounter with Jesus. Why? Because I think faith is not against reason. That’s one of the lies people say today,” Father Diaz said.

As Guzman became more Catholic, so did his mother and two sisters. After he had a conversation with his mother about wanting to learn more about the Church, she asked him if he wanted to pray the rosary with her. Now, they attend Church as a family.

“It’s definitely great, in the sense that God gave them the heart to change … being able to facilitate that, play any part of it, whether in prayer or just my actions or how they see my life, it was beautiful to see,” he said.

Guzman graduates this May, and has a job at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital as a “transporter,” in which he helps escort patients to their rooms and handles discharges. As he leaves the Queens College faith community, he plans to continue his evangelizing efforts. He is still discerning, combining his logic and faith in an ongoing search for how he can best serve others.