Tampa’s Sacred Heart Parish Starts Ministry for Young Adults

Joan Gaffney Features

TAMPA, Fla. — Over the last two years, the oldest church in Tampa has become one of the hippest spots for singles in their 20s and 30s. The young adult singles group at Sacred Heart Parish is a new kind of ministry, helping young professionals integrate spiritual beliefs into their daily lives.

While the parish has more than 500 registered single parishioners between 21 and 39, there had been no programs designed specifically for this group. When the Franciscans assumed the parish in 2005, establishment of a young adult group was important. Two parishioners — Joy Brown and I — agreed to work with Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor, and the other friars, to organize the first meeting.

The first event was a potluck dinner after Sunday evening Mass that attracted 18 young adults. Most said they had been interested by the opportunity to meet and socialize with people who shared their faith. The group identified three areas of focus — spiritual, service and social. Since that initial meeting, the group launched an online bulletin board to announce activities.

A Vibrant Group of 140
Today, more than 140 people are members of the group, which meets in-person and online. Members are encouraged to help plan and host events. One of the few guidelines is that events do not overlap or duplicate parish events. For example, those looking for Bible study are encouraged to take part in the parish Bible study group.

“As a single, it is hard to find people that share your faith and attend Mass,” explains Kim Colarusso, a 30-something sales executive. “The group has welcomed me and made me feel comfortable. I enjoy having Catholic friends to talk to who can relate to the difficult times we each face.”

Chrysteile Garner, an executive recruiter, found the group’s diverse activities interesting. “I am very involved in the Tampa community through several other organizations and charitable activities, but this group is by far the most rewarding. It combines all the things that are important to me. I have opportunities to give back to the local community, I get to spend time with quality people, and I have a wonderful group of new friends.”

Young Adults Go on Retreat
Late last year, the Sacred Heart young adult singles group planned a retreat for young singles. The Franciscan Center had secured funds from Holy Name Province’s Benevolence Fund for the CONNECT: God, Self & Others retreat. The program embodied the same spirit as the group — sharing the struggles single young adults face trying to live their faith in a society where values have deteriorated and faith is often ridiculed.

“We didn’t look to create an evangelical experience in the retreat,” said Brown. “We wanted people to know that they aren’t alone. CONNECT wasn’t about giving answers or instructing people on what they should be doing. It was about sharing ideas and experiences and developing relationships with God and fellow Catholics whom we can turn to when facing challenges.”

The group’s success is attributed, in part, to friar support and involvement. George Corrigan, OFM, frequently joins the group for events and monthly faith discussions. All three of Sacred Heart’s friars supported the CONNECT retreat.

Pictured in the photo above are participants in the parish’s 2007 retreat.

— Joan Gaffney is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa.