Serving Young Adult Catholics in New York

You might remember how, about four-and-a-half years ago, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, then our auxiliary bishop, now the chief shepherd in the diocese of Camden, began what I call the antipasto for our current process of pastoral planning, Making All Things New.

He, along with a couple dozen faithful collaborators, toured the archdiocese, holding “town hall meetings” for thousands of the folks. His question was simple: what are the needs of God’s People? What spiritual care and pastoral service do you most expect from the Church? What especially would you like to see this archdiocese start, or do better?

Five or six pressing pastoral needs surfaced, and we’ve spent the last four years trying to respond to them. Let me mention one of them to you: young adult ministry.

Our parents and grandparents reported that young adults — that means usually post-college to late thirties — were drifting from the Church. Used to be, they noted, that young adults got married in their early twenties, had babies quickly after that, and got settled into a parish. No more! The average age for marriage (for those that do marry at all, which is yet another big challenge) is now late twenties and early thirties.

So, guess what? Young adults drift , and are sometimes in a “no-man’s land” when it comes to the Church. Thank God, some remain active and committed, although they may “parish-hop”; others become lacklustre in their faith; others, sadly, leave the Church, for no religion at all, or for another, usually evangelical Church.

The priests told us this was indeed the case, and that the problem was beyond the remedy of any one single parish. What was needed, they all urged, was diocesan-wide action. We heard you!

Over the last six-weeks or so, I’ve been to three “humdinger” events for young adults.

In Advent, our recently expanded Young Adult Office sponsored a Mass on a weekday evening at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and asked me to be the celebrant. They do this monthly. The cathedral was jammed. Confessions were heard prior to Mass; the music was excellent; I tried my best to give a decent sermon; the crowd was attentive, reverent, happy.

Young Adults gathered for Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

After Mass, I mingled with them, and heard them observe how much they appreciated the company of other Catholics their age. A big chunk of the group then adjoined to a nearby locale for “milk and cookies.” (You know better!)

Right after New Year’s, I attended another event for our young adults, this one called Catholic Underground, at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on East 90th Street.

Again, SRO, with even hundreds down in the basement. This crowd spent the hour in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, praying the evening divine office of the Church, with moving, live meditative chant and music as a backdrop. A half dozen priests heard confessions, and they coaxed me into saying a few words at the conclusion of our prayer. All adjourned to the hall afterwards for a concert, refreshments, and fellowship.

Finally, a couple of Sundays ago, I offered the 7:30 p.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue. I had heard that this, too, was a popular mecca for young adults, and sure enough, it was. Great crowd, uplifting music, good participation, well-planned worship . . . and drinks and snacks afterwards.

I heard the same message: these young adults enjoy sleeping-in and loafing on Sunday morning, and look forward to the evening Eucharist and good company later in the day.

These young adults tell us they search for three things: nourishment in their faith through good prayer and worship; friendship with others who share their religion; and opportunities for Christian service.

Our Archdiocesan Young Adult Office is hyper to respond to these needs. From what I have seen, they’re doing it! And, they’ve even got workers in the other areas of our expansive archdiocese to meet young adults there. Here’s how you can access them:

We’ll keep trying, because these young adults need the Church . . . and we sure need them!

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3 Responses to “Serving Young Adult Catholics in New York”

  1. Joe Kuligowski says:

    Dear Bishop Dolan,

    You don’t know how I wish and pray for a leader like you. In all your travels I hope you see the importance of LEADERSHIP. Yes. we have many “apologetic” people in place, but we do not have charismatic and evangelical REAL leaders. You know the type because you are one. Why can’t the Church take a chance to consecrate young and older men with wives and families to minister to her people. I know there is a lot of very qualified candidates out there if the “powers to be” would only be engaged. It breaks my heart that this is so obvious, yet it is ignored. Please, please, take the chance to see these people God is putting before you. I would gratefully appreciate the opportunity to further my thoughts on this subject if you have the time.
    In all do respect to our His beloved Church
    Joe Kuligowski

  2. Irene says:

    I would also say that we urgently need more youth ministries for teenagers and younger children (especially those who are not in Catholic school). I’ve live 30 years in this Archdiocese and not a single parish I’ve been in has had a youth ministry; youth services were limited to Sunday School or the Parish School.

    I think the lack of youth programming is a strategic mistake; these children are our Catholics of the future; we should be doing every thing we can to engage them.

  3. John Flannery says:

    When considering your message of outreach to the young adults and youth of our church, it is important that your message be delivered in a clear and understandable fashion by the parish priests who are charged with the daily interaction with their parishioners. In some communities, this is not being done.

    For example, at St. John and St. Mary’s parish this weekend, Msgr. Thomas Gilleece delivered a sermon on Saturday evening in which he told a story of a boy who had lost his tooth. Upon losing his tooth and being told by his parents that he should place the tooth under his pillow to allow the tooth fairy to come, the boy questioned the existence of the tooth fairy. The boy is then told by his parents that they in fact are the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and that none of these characters are real. Rather, they are all a fiction of our society. When the boy questions the existence of God, the boy is told that unlike those others, God is real. When the sermon was delivered on Saturday night, several children who are weekly attendees at mass and the church’s ccd program left the church crying and questioning their parents. When Msgr. Gilleece was told by parishioners that his sermon was inappropriate for an audience that included children, he responded that the kids at church don’t listen to him anyway.

    Apparently not being willing to accept the advice of the parishioners that this sermon was inappropriate, Msgr. Gilleece delivered the same sermon on Sunday morning. Not surprisingly, the children at the mass responded the same way as they had the night before. When he was again confronted by his parishioners, he jokingly responded that he guessed that he needed to find a new speech writer.

    If the goal is to involve young adults and the youth of our community in the teachings of the church and to promote our Catholic faith, the message being preached cannot be one that alienates and serves to debunk the traditions that our part of our culture. Doing so only serves to drive people away from the church. Certainly your preachings to the NY Diocese recognize this fact. However, those that you have charged with carrying forth this message are not necessarily doing so in the same manner as you have set forth. If you want to continue to involve the young adult and the youth of our community in our church, you need to address the parish priests to make sure that they are faithfully carrying out this mission and not simply driving a wedge between the church and our future generations of catholics.