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March 29, 2009

Connecting suburban young-adult Catholics

By Alicja Pozywio


People between the ages of 18 and 37 often live lives filled with energy, creativity and potential, according to the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministry Office, and it’s a group that can use various methods of ministry. It is a diverse group that encompasses men and women; professionals and job seekers; singles, married and engaged people; people who are serious about their lives and those who have lost the meaning of their lives. Some attend church regularly, others haven’t stepped foot in church since high school.

To try and better minister to this large, diverse group, the Archdiocese of Chicago recently started Ruah, a group of regional suburban centers intended to build connections between young Catholics living outside of the city in Cook and Lake counties.

Through different types of programs and activities, Ruah wants to help those involved in the church deepen their relations with God, and those away from the church come back and learn what the church has to offer, said Terry Shelley, director of Ruah’s Isaac Hecker Center in Chicago Heights.

Dream to reality

Ruah began with a dream of one priest. “In 1977 Father John Cusick started the downtown ministry of young adults at Old St. Patrick Church. Since that time it has always been his dream to take the young adults’ concept closer to where people live and work,” said Shelley.

Ruah materializes the dream by organizing local young-adult centers outside the city. In August, two sites opened: Kateri Center in River Forest and Isaac Hecker Center in Chicago Heights. Ten sites total are planned and await funding.

The location of each site is purposely situated in Catholic facilities, but not parishes. Shelley said that is to make an area-wide outreach and avoid parochialism. Right now directors of both centers are making connections in the Catholic community around the sites.

The centers are not meant to compete with established parish young-adult ministries, but rather, enhance and support what’s already being done and better connect people and groups, said Elise Ainsworth-Bryson, director of Kateri Center in River Forest.

Other centers are planned for: St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein; Viatorian Province Center, Arlington Heights; Sheil Catholic Center, Evanston; Cenacle Retreat House, and Young Adult Ministry Office in downtown Chicago; Sisters of St. Joseph, LaGrange; St. Xavier University, Chicago; and Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Shelley believes that the key for his ministry to succeed is to show people gracious hospitality. “Invite and teach — those are the key words. These are very simple, but important things,” he said.

Young adults, especially if they are single, can sometimes feel like they don’t fit into the established parish programs that are often geared toward families.

“We need to extend a stronger welcome and make the involvement of this age group a priority if we want to see their involvement in the church in the future,” Shelley said.

Ainsworth-Bryson says the best model for her as a young adult minister is Jesus himself. “Jesus didn’t put an announcement in the bulletin saying he needed 12 apostles,” she said. “He went out and he met people and then he invited them to follow him.”

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