New York City Parish Strengthens Connection With Young Adults

HNP Communications Around the Province

NEW YORK — Living in New York City can be daunting for young adults moving there to start careers or returning home from college only to find their friends are gone.

“For young people, living and working in New York is an adventure, but it is not easy,” said Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in Manhattan. “Finding the right job, locating a place to live, and making friends are all challenges.”

The church’s young adult ministry was launched in 2012 to meet the growing needs and spiritual longings of 20- and 30-somethings. St. Francis is the latest in a growing list of Province ministries offering programs for this target age group.

“They want to ‘get connected’ to each other, to Church and to God,” added Andrew, “and our group is a good way for them to do this. Most of the individuals in the group were not born in the U.S.A., so we enjoy a great cultural diversity.”

Andrew, who has been at St. Francis since June 2011, said after a few months it became clear there was a need for this type of ministry. In early 2012, he asked staff member Joseph Nuzzi, pastoral associate, to begin planning.

“When I arrived here, several goals had been set for future ministries. One of them was for a young adult ministry,” he said.

Serving Spiritual Needs
The group’s mission was to serve the spiritual needs of adults in their 20s and 30s and to collaborate in a creative ministry, continuing to do the work of Jesus by leading people to recognize God’s kingdom in the midst, he added.

This age group represents an important time in life, said Andrew, as people prepare to marry, be godparents, or have their children baptized. “We try to help our members make these moments meaningful and enjoyable.”

When the first meeting was announced after Lent, Andrew and Nuzzi hoped for perhaps 15 people to attend. “As the evening progressed, they kept coming and coming,” according to Andrew. “There were 30-plus young adults who showed up. We had to change rooms for the next meeting because the one where we originally met wasn’t large enough.”

The program, which promises to help people grow in faith, learn more about Catholic traditions, introduce people interested in speaking up about their faith, create a community based on Jesus’ teachings, and to encourage volunteering, was structured after a program from the Archdiocese of Hartford called Quest.

The biweekly meetings, on the second and fourth Mondays, are based on the upcoming readings for Sunday Mass and provide a reflection and question- and answer session.

Attendance varies, said Andrew, because of busy schedules, but generally between 20 to 24 people come to each meeting. Committees have been formed and the group is now leading itself.

Including Post-Grads
The ministry is trying to reach post-college students with special events for alumni of Catholic colleges, including St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, Notre Dame in Indiana, and Villanova in Pennsylvania. The goal is to bridge the gap between college campus ministry and life in the wider Church by gathering together alumni once a month for after-Mass socials specifically for them, said Andrew. Members of these alumni associations and their friends worship at the 6:15 p.m. Sunday Mass and then meet for socializing.

“One Sunday afternoon in December, I cooked brunch and Joe gave a reflection on the meaning of Christmas,” said Andrew. “Last evening, we had a potluck dinner which was enjoyable. It has been a great experience for Joe and me.”

In November, the ministry hosted a Theology on Tap program with the theme “Everything You Wanted to Know About Catholicism but Were Afraid to Ask.”

The ministry’s page on the church website defines the group’s purpose best:

“This is a ministry of, by, and for Catholic men and women in their 20s and 30s. At St. Francis, we believe that ministering to young adults, or for that matter, ministering to people of any age, begins by creating an environment where people feel welcome. This welcoming spirit should lead people to feel at home by worshipping God together in a way that feeds the spirit: with inspired preaching from our priests and music that helps lift minds, voices and hearts to God. Finally, our contact with Christ together in the community of the church should help us to hear Jesus’ call to serve one another, and those in need wherever we meet them. In other words, young adults at St. Francis are invited to deepen their relationship with God, to be part of a community of faith where real relationships are formed that help each of us grow as people of faith, and to find meaningful opportunities to get involved.”

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. She wrote a story about the young adult program at Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine that appeared in the Oct. 10, 2012 issue of this newsletter.