When Caroline and Nick Rosa moved with their family to St. Louis, the couple sought a parish that would be a safe haven, filled with other Catholics trying to know, love and serve Christ — and who ultimately would help their family get to heaven.
The young family found a home at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood. Caroline Rosa said they started to feel a sense of belonging after meeting a few parishioners, who welcomed the Rosas, and spent time getting to know the family. Those parishioners invited them into different groups, and ultimately helped them become integrated into parish life.
“It’s these individuals and their spirit of outreach who really made the difference for us in feeling like our parish was our home,” Caroline Rosa said. “Building relationships seems to be the key to bringing young adults into greater participation in their parishes because it sends the message: ‘You are both needed and welcome here.’”
The results of the Disciple Maker Index survey conducted during Lent identified a dozen opportunities for growth in parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Of those responses, the top answer — with 4,720 responses — was a desire to see more young people involved in parish life.
Those parishioners at St. Peter in Kirkwood made such a difference for the Rosas and their experience that they are looking for ways to reach out to other new parishioners in a similar way. One small way in which the parish has boosted its hospitality efforts is through a concierge desk in the vestibule of the church established several years ago.
The U.S. bishops define young adults as individuals ages 18-39, “persons in their late teens, twenties and thirties who represent diverse cultural, racial, ethnic, educational, vocational, social, political and spiritual backgrounds. They are college students, workers and professionals; they are persons in military service; they are single, married, divorced or widowed; they are with or without children; they are newcomers in search of a better life.”
In surveying young adults across the Archdiocese of St. Louis over the years, the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry has identified several main desires of young adults when it comes to their involvement in the Church. They include:
• To be known, loved and welcomed into a faith community;
• More time for faith formation, prayer and Scripture study;
• More opportunities to receive the sacraments that fit with their busy schedules;
• More opportunities to serve the poor and the Church.
“When we talk about inviting young people into the life of the Church, it’s not simply about volunteering,” said Angela Miller, associate director of Young Adult Ministry for the archdiocese. “They won’t volunteer until they know they are valued.”
When she joined her parish, Epiphany in St. Louis, Miller said her pastor took time to get to know her before he started asking her to become involved in parish ministries. “I hear from a lot of young adults about the lack of connection. One person told me, ‘Don’t assume I am already connected or a (longtime) parishioner.’ Every person desires a community and a personal invitation. Don’t just say ‘hi’ to me, but invest in my life.”
Parish efforts to offer events and groups targeted specifically toward young adults are commendable, Miller said. But she cautioned that siloing and failure may occur if those events and groups are not approached with long-term goals in mind, because of the transitional nature of many young adults — such as moving, careers, marriage and starting a family.
Beyond providing ongoing support to parishes in their ministries to young adults, the Office of Young Adult Ministry is developing a formation program to help parishes better understand the natural maturation of the the typical life stages of young adulthood.
“The goal always needs to be complete integration into the Church and to become a lifelong disciple,” Miller said. “Part of that is how we prepare young adults to understand their place in a parish before discerning their vocation and making sure that parishes are ready to receive them.”
When the Rosas enrolled their children in school at St. Peter, they were paired with a family with older children, who made ongoing efforts to connect with the Rosas and welcome them into the school community. Caroline Rosa said the other mom would find her at Mass to say hello, or call or text just to see how they were doing. Nick Rosa also attended an ACTS retreat, where he got to know other men in the parish.
Viewing young adult Catholics and their role in helping to sustain the vibrancy of parishes, Caroline Rosa said parishes have “lot of opportunities for mentorship, discipleship and relationships to make people feel like they belong in the community.”