November 7, 2008

‘Universal Call to Holiness’: New archdiocesan initiative aims to help young adults connect with their faith

Catholic young adults set up food and water to serve a meal to homeless people in Indianapolis in September. College students and other young adults are the focus of a revived effort by the archdiocese to connect with young people during a critical period in their faith development. (Submitted photo)

Catholic young adults set up food and water to serve a meal to homeless people in Indianapolis in September. College students and other young adults are the focus of a revived effort by the archdiocese to connect with young people during a critical period in their faith development. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

It’s one of their favorite moments so far, a moment that occurred when Father Rick Nagel and Mary Schaffner traveled to different college campuses this fall as the leaders of a renewed archdiocesan effort to connect with young people.

The moment came during a trip to the University of Indianapolis—part of a schedule that will also lead Father Nagel and Schaffner to Butler, Indiana, Marian, DePauw, Indiana State and Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis by December.

“We were meeting with some Catholic students on campus,” recalls Father Nagel, the director of young adult ministry for the archdiocese. “A guy on the track team told us they have a Bible study program and they have Mass there every Wednesday night. He told us he invites the track team all the time. Then there was a girl who works in food services who invites others to the Bible study. They both said that it’s OK with them when people say ‘no.’ They still keep trying.”

The meeting served as inspiration for Father Nagel and Schaffner, the program coordinator of the archdiocese’s young adult ministry.

Since they started the revived effort on July 1 at the request of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, Father Nagel and Schaffner have listened to the hopes, concerns and stories of college students and young adults, wanting to know what place the Church has in their lives and what the archdiocese can do to make the connection closer. Hearing the faith of the two students showed them the potential and promise of their approach.

“Now is the time to re-claim, re-invigorate and re-establish our commitment to our young adults, who are starving for the nourishment of the sacraments, seeking understanding of the Catholic tradition, and searching for the supernatural love and presence of Jesus Christ in a secularized culture,” Father Nagel notes.

A critical time of faith

The increased efforts reflect the archdiocese’s commitment to connect with young people during what is generally considered as a critical time period in their faith life.

“From various documents and studies, it is known that college-age students make choices that will affect their practice or non-practice of their faith for life, or at least until they move into married and family life,” says Sister Carmen Gillick, a member of the Sisters for Christian Community, who has worked as a college campus minister for 20 years.

“So these years are critical,” adds Sister Carmen, who now serves at St. Joseph University Parish as the pastoral associate for college students in the Terre Haute area.

She also says it’s significant that the archdiocese is seeking different approaches to connect with college students and older young adults.

“It’s very important to see the difference in the needs and expectations of collegians as opposed to young adults who are not collegians,” Sister Carmen says. “You can get collegians together at 10 p.m. If you try that with people in the workforce, they’ll tell you, ‘You have to be kidding. I have to get up at 5 a.m.’ I do commend the archdiocese’s outreach to both groups at this point in time.”

So do college students.

“I think it’s a real blessing that the archdiocese is realizing the potential our generation has,” says Missy Hintmann, 23, a student at Butler University in Indianapolis and the president of the college’s Catholic community. “To help us know ourselves and our faith better is the most important thing they can do for us.”

Students say that the Butler Catholic community especially benefits from having a priest, Father Jeff Godecker, on campus as a chaplain.

“It was a really hard transition coming here my freshman year,” says David Martin, 20, a sophomore who grew up in St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. “When I first got here, I was lost. It helped to get involved in the Butler Catholic community, and having a priest here makes a huge difference. The sacraments are always available. You can talk to him if you have troubles. He provides a link to the archdiocese that we wouldn’t have. I think it’s just essential.”

A need for a stronger connection

At 27, Allison Witmeier believes that young adults need a stronger connection to the Church, too.

“It’s an age group that can easily be underserved,” says Witmeier, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “I know a lot of people my age feel left out. After you graduate from college, there’s not a lot of involvement for you until you have kids. A lot of people let their faith go. They don’t feel there’s a lot there for them. They don’t have that strong connection. I think the archdiocese reaching out to people that age is excellent. It needs to happen.”

Father Nagel and Schaffner agree. They will spend the first year of their initiative by meeting with young adults and researching approaches that have succeeded so they can develop a

five-year plan for re-establishing campus and young adult ministry.

The initiative already has the theme of a “Universal Call to Holiness.” Two of its main goals involve evangelization and an increase in vocations.

“When we’re at colleges, one of the things the students immediately talk about is the presence of priests on campus,” says Father Nagel, who is also the associate director of vocations for the archdiocese and the associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood.

“When the priest is there, the sacraments are there. They see that clearly. It’s also the Catholic identity. They want to have Mass on campus. They think it would help evangelization. We are called to evangelize to all people, not just Catholics. It leads into vocations, too. Every comment the archbishop makes on this is with an eye on vocations.”

The challenge and the future

For young adults, an emphasis has also been placed on making parishes more welcoming to them, giving them opportunities to be involved in parish programs and helping them connect with people in their age group.

“The opportunity to serve the community is something my age group and younger feel is important,” says Witmeier, who has been involved in guiding confirmation classes at Christ the King Parish with her husband, Andy, who is 28. “Service opportunities would be a great way to get people involved. There’s a passion there to make a difference. And people my age like opportunities to be social and have fun, too.”

The leaders of the archdiocese’s young adult ministry are listening.

“Our challenge is to gently, persistently invite them into a parish faith community,” says Schaffner, a mother whose children range from teenagers to adults in their 20s. “That’s where we become part of a faith community. That’s the piece they need to be invited into.”

Father Nagel nods and adds, “It’s a culture they’ve grown up in, a culture that says it’s OK to pick and choose. But it never really connects them to the ownership of a parish and parish life. We’re looking for unity in community.”

In that pursuit, Father Nagel and Schaffner continue to cross the archdiocese, racking up the miles between college campuses, spending late afternoons and evenings listening to the hopes and concerns of young people, and even sending out round after round of text messages—all with the goal of bringing young adults closer to the Church.

The effort strikes a chord with 22-year-old Kendal Dedinsky, a 2008 college graduate who was seeking a new spiritual home when she recently returned to Indianapolis, the city where she grew up.

“I think the archdiocese’s efforts to have more ministry with young adults is awesome,” Dedinsky says. “I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.”

(Young adults in the archdiocese are invited to a Young Adult Ministry Fall Summit on Nov. 9 at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish, 335 S. Meridian St., in Greenwood. Mass will be held in the church at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner and social at 7 p.m. The summit will begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information about ministry to young adults in the archdiocese, log on to

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