April 22, 2022

‘A great gift’

Act of kindness leads young couple to love and a mission to bring college students to God

Seth and Chelsea Monholand pose for a family photo with their children, Theodore and Cecelia, on the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle where the couple work together to bring college students closer to God. (Submitted photo)

Seth and Chelsea Monholand pose for a family photo with their children, Theodore and Cecelia, on the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle where the couple work together to bring college students closer to God. (Submitted photo)

13th in an occasional series
 

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion is featuring young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)
 

By John Shaughnessy

The love story of Chelsea and Seth Monholand began with a simple act of kindness in high school.

“I admired how kind Seth was,” recalls Chelsea, who is now 30, the same age as Seth. “He held open the door for our entire health class, even on cold days.”

Seth chimes in, “High school freshman health class—what a romantic place! I’ll bet you can guess the unit that came up right after we started dating. At the time, we were just two kids who had fun together—that God had much bigger plans for.”

Now, they are a young married couple of nearly nine years with two small children, and the plan that God has for them is helping to bring college students at DePauw University in Greencastle to a deeper relationship with God through the Catholic faith.

That plan seems a natural for Chelsea, who realized in the eighth grade that “a life centered around Jesus is what I wanted for myself” after her “first real encounter” with Christ during eucharistic adoration at a youth retreat. But for Seth, it was one of the last callings he could have imagined for himself as a freshman in high school, a time when he was skeptical about the existence of God.

Yet, as a simple act of kindness led him on the path to marrying Chelsea, a simple invitation started him on a journey to the belief that God exists and, even more, that he needs to have God at the center of his life.

An invitation and a proposal

“In high school, all of my friends were Catholic,” Seth recalls. “They would always invite me to youth group and Mass. And I would repeatedly say no—until one time I finally didn’t. I said yes for the first time in September of 2009. In youth group, they brought us adoration, and I knew that Jesus was there, and my life had to look different because he was real.”

During that transformation, Chelsea was at the heart of it all, and in his heart.

“There was a peace about her,” Seth recalls. “It wasn’t like she was trying to get something out of it for her. She felt it was good for me. She had this confidence in God as a real person who you could have a relationship with. That intrigued me into checking out the Church more.”

That connection with Chelsea and his growing faith led to two major choices in Seth’s life in 2010 when they were both college freshmen.

With Chelsea as his sponsor, he began Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes, eventually entering into the full communion of the Church at Easter of 2011.

In 2010, he also proposed to Chelsea, offering her a ring filled with 21 small diamonds and a special symbolism connected to that number of diamonds. Twenty-one is the result of multiplying three times seven: three for the Trinity and seven for the numbers of days of God’s creation.

“Our marriage is a new creation— something that brings forth new life, first for us, and then the hope that we wanted to be parents,” Seth says.

They were married in 2013. Since then, they have given life to Cecelia, who is 3 1/2, and Theodore, who is 1.

For the past five years, they have been working together to bring a new life of faith to students at DePauw. Seth serves as the campus’ team director for FOCUS—Fellowship of Catholic University Students—a national organization that invites college students into a relationship with Christ and the Church. Chelsea serves in an unofficial yet strongly supportive way.

Teaming with others, they sometimes see amazing results, including what Seth calls the “fun story” of the transformation of a DePauw student named Phil.

‘The need is so real’

“It’s actually one of my teammates’ stories,” Seth says. “Brandon was a FOCUS missionary at DePauw with me for three years. During Brandon’s first week on campus, Phil picked him out of a crowd. Phil was a practicing Buddhist and president of the Asian-Pacific Islander student club. He saw Brandon, who is Filipino, and said, ‘Hey, you look Asian, want to come to my club?’

“Brandon retorted, ‘Sure, but only if you come to Mass with me.’ Phil did, then joined RCIA and entered the Church that year, leaving Buddhism behind.”

As much as that story makes him smile, Seth also appreciates the quieter successes—when he sees a new student in line for confession, or when students come to pray at the holy hour that the FOCUS team organizes every weekday from 4 to 5 p.m., or when “someone who you know is Catholic returns to Sunday Mass after a while.”

Such successes help to keep him feeling blessed, especially as he faces the constant challenge of college students having “so-o-o many things on their plate, and they are always rushing around.”

“My favorite moments are when I get to witness the students make a free gift of themselves to God,” says Seth, who raises his own funds to support his ministry and his family.

“The need is so real. Getting to serve out on the front lines and talk to people about their relationship with God helps me to see there are a lot of people who do not know who they were made for. Regardless of whether or not someone is a cradle Catholic or completely unchurched, people want to know who they are and why they are here on Earth.

“Jesus gives us that answer through his bride, the Catholic Church. I get to go out and invite them back into full communion with God.”

At the same time, he and Chelsea share the joy of raising their family in this college community.

“Raising our kids in this mission setting has been so fun,” Chelsea says. “Having the kids around both in team life and with the students has been so beautiful. I think there is a lot of benefit for the students to see Catholic family life.”

So does Father John Hollowell. He serves as the Catholic chaplain at DePauw and the nearby Putnamville Correctional Facility where Chelsea worked as a nurse before the birth of Theodore.

“They are great witnesses to the students,” says Father Hollowell, who is also the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle and Annunciation Parish in Brazil. “They’re at Mass every day, and they bring their kids with them. It’s good for the students to see people living out their marriage with children.”

An opportunity to rely on God—and each other

As this year’s college seniors prepare to graduate and enter a new stage of their lives, Chelsea and Seth can identify with them. Five years ago, they left their homes and their families in Colorado to come to Indiana to continue the path that they believe God has for them. Like all new beginnings, it wasn’t easy, but it has turned out to be filled with blessings.

“Moving away from friends and family was really tough at first,” Chelsea recalls. “But what an opportunity it has been for us to rely on God and also on each other. I think being away from that known comfort has allowed us to really build our family here and raise our kids in the values we want. Our marriage has gotten stronger because good communication skills have become so much more crucial, and we have grown so much in that.”

Seth adds, “I’ve seen God work in me internally, throughout marriage—in how beautiful it is to make a ’til-death covenant with someone. It takes effort and care and putting the other first, and it models the selfless love of God to me. I’m not nearly that selfless yet, but I know God is working on it.”

As they head toward their ninth anniversary on July 13, Chelsea and Seth are committed to seeing their relationship continue to grow. They have the same goal for their bond with Jesus.

“Right now, I’m trying to find and hear Christ in the little tasks I do for my family every day,” Chelsea says. “For Lent, I gave up scrolling my phone and using social media when I’m rocking my son to sleep. I’ve used the time to listen to the Lord in silence.”

Seth says, “At this point, I think that Jesus wants me to recognize my sonship more and more. I feel the tendency to want to take care of everything myself, and Jesus just wants me to know that I’m provided for.”

He also has a continuing hope for other young adults. Actually, it’s his hope for people of all ages.

“The people in front of you are a great gift, Catholic or otherwise, practicing or lapsed. Seek to understand them, because they are made in the image and likeness of God.” †

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