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Single Living

I recently moved to a town with a larger Catholic population than my
previous home. The area has two Catholic churches; one has about 2,000
parishioners, the other is a smaller church of about five hundred people. There
is also a Catholic school (kindergarten through high school) and a
Catholic hospital. I hoped that there would be more social
opportunities for single Catholics my age than I had been privileged to
previously. I was wrong.

After attending Mass and seeing no relevant announcements in
the bulletins, I met with the priests. I asked about ministries and
programs for single Catholics. Their programs were only for widows and
widowers. They had nothing for never married or divorced/annulled
Catholics–and, I mean nothing, as if such persons didn’t even exist.
I asked about ministries and programs for young Catholics. They told me
about the youth programs for ages 10-18. I asked, “Don’t you have
anything here for college age or young professional Catholics–single
people between the ages of about 20 and 40?” One priest replied, “No.
We have no young people here. They grow up in the Church, they go to
college and they come back when they have kids. However, you are
welcome to come to our Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast. It will
be at 6 AM. Also, there is a Rosary group, but that is mostly women.”
“What are the average ages of the Knights and the women in the Rosary
group,” I asked? “The men are around 70 and the women are in their
70s,” he replied. “Is there anything at the church for me,” I asked? “I
encourage you to come to Mass and Adoration. When you have kids, they
will find a great school here,” he replied. I volunteered to start a
program for young Catholic singles, but the priest told me, “There are
no young people here.”

And, that was that.

I don’t understand why the priests believe there are no young
people in the community that would participate in the Church. The
Protestant churches are bursting at the seams with huge youth and
singles ministries. They advertise their programs for young people and
singles. They have concerts, retreats, dinners, speakers and all sorts
of social activities. Single Protestants are being welcomed into their
churches and bringing friends. They are meeting other singles there,
dating, marrying and having kids that then grow up in their churches.

I see a few single young Catholics who attend Mass. They come
to church alone and sit by themselves. No one speaks to them except
during the obligatory “offering a sign of peace” during Mass, which is
merely a reminder of just how alone you are when it is the only time
anyone acknowledges your presence. They leave quickly after Mass and
disappear into the parking lot, as if fleeing a situation that is
uncomfortable and even unpleasant. It is impossible to meet another
single person at Mass due to its very nature–it is a time and place of
reverence and silence. You can’t shove your way through aisles of
kneeling, sitting and praying people to introduce yourself to someone
you see sitting alone on the other side of the church.

After doing a little research and speaking with Catholics in
other parts of the country, it seems my experiences are not only
limited to the Protestant South. A friend who attends Mass at a huge
Catholic church in New York told me, “The only people at my church are
old people and parents with little kids; I’m never going to meet anyone
there.”

The only Catholic churches that seem to spend much energy on
outreach to young singles are those in college towns. So, what happens
if you don’t get married before you graduate, or you move after
finishing college? I guess you have to look for a mate outside of the
Church, which makes it far less probable that the person you meet will
be Catholic. My last serious relationship was with a Protestant–it
ended in large part because she could not accept the teachings of the
Catholic Church, and I didn’t want to marry and still attend Mass alone
– or raise children outside of the Church.

Maybe Catholics have traditionally “left” the Church for a
while after high school and come back after the birth of their first
child. However, the Church and the community have become increasingly
separate, populations have become increasingly mobile, society has
become increasingly secular and the majority of Americans are waiting
until later in life to marry, staying single or marrying and divorcing.
All of these factors make it more difficult for single young Catholics
to come back to the Church. Meanwhile, the Protestant churches are
growing. Single young Catholics are visiting Protestant Churches to
take part in their programs. Many are marrying Protestants and leaving
the Church.

Pope John Paul II taught that Catholic laity should be
involved in the life of the church, and that the church should be very
much a part of their lives. When he was a priest in Poland he formed a
group for single, young Catholics who had been his students when he
taught at the university level. He took them hiking and kayaking,
mentored them, was a matchmaker, provided them with a social outlet and
cared for their spiritual needs. He married many of them, and baptized
their children. As pope, he taught that bishops and priests should
encourage and foster programs and ministries geared toward laity.
Recently, on EWTN, Fr. Benedict Groeshell said that caring for single Catholics
should be a high priority for priests, so that there will be more
Catholic families. He ranked single Catholics just under instructing
kids and caring for the elderly.

Maybe the Church will takes steps to address this problem. The
Church always does the right thing, but it often takes generations for
our 2,000+ year old institution to acknowledge and solve its problems.
In the meantime, breakfast at 6AM with the Knights of Columbus just
won’t cut it! I never could have imagined that joining the universal
Church, the Body of Christ, the Family of Christ would have ushered in
my awareness of just how socially alienated young adults feel in their
Church. I’m fairly sure that this isn’t the way things are supposed to
be.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Catherine-135441 September 6, 2010

    Great article! The author expressed many of my own thoughts and observations. This was right onthe mark.

  2. Stephanie-539445 July 14, 2014

    I completely agree and have had identical experiences in the supposedly very Catholic North East (Boston area). I have also heard the opinion that “they will come back when they have kids.” This is at best a foolhardy gamble with people’s souls (how can it be okay for people to spend years away from the Church in sinful behavior?). But if you read the current research, this is not even true – people are leaving the Church and staying away from the Church.

    I am writing a proposal to take to my archdiocese. I want the Cardinal to read it. I believe a radical shift has occurred and demands a radical change – we need to make evangelization our number one priority and we need to evangelize as if no one was Catholic or even Christian. I would be interested in everyone’s input on ideas.

    It may be too late for our generation, but unless we start now and try to bring back people, young people and people of all ages, there isn’t going to be a parish school or probably even a parish.

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