The Unpredictable World of Young Adult Ministry

Author: Fr. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C.

“Across the country, parishes and dioceses are struggling to connect with adults in their 20s and 30s, especially those who have fallen from the practice of the faith.” – Retrieved from http://www.ncyama.org/.

Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of working with young adults – adults who are in their 20s and 30s through young adult ministry. My ministry to young adults began prior to entering seminary with the Congregation of Holy Cross. I had just completed a Masters degree at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and wanted to become more involved in my parish community of St. Bede Catholic Church, but also wanted to make some friends in the community as well. I had been involved with some other ministries at the parish including youth ministry and serving the parish on Sundays through a variety of positions, but I felt God asking me to consider a ministry that many in the parish did not think possible.  Create a Young Adult Ministry.

Fr Dan Ponisciak, CSC

It’s important to remember where I was. I lived in Williamsburg, known for the popular tourist destinations of Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens and also known for retirement homes. It’s not known for having a large contingent of young adults in their 20s and 30s. But, this is still where I felt God leading me. So I proposed to the Pastor of St. Bede an idea to launch a new ministry to young adults. Little did I know that this decision would influence my entire life since then as I have now launched 4 such groups in 4 different parishes.   

One of these parishes was St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church in Austin, TX. When I arrived in Austin two summers ago, I was surprised that there was very little being offered specifically for Catholic young adults especially because Austin is a very young and vibrant city. I spoke with our pastor, Fr. Bill Wack csc, and we decided it would be a good idea to launch a young adult ministry for the parish that would offer young adults an opportunity to grow in their faith and also meet some other Catholic young adults. Prior to launching, I surveyed young adults, and one comment stays with me about what young adult Catholics are searching for. He said, “young adults move to Austin because they hear it is a hip, young town with a great music scene. But they move here by themselves and tend to be isolated very easily. We need a place where we can meet other Catholic young adults to build relationships.” So we created the St. Ignatius Young Professionals Ministry. 

Since arriving in South Bend, in July at St. Joseph Parish, I was once again asked by the Pastor, Fr. Kevin Russeau csc, to launch a young adult ministry. We have launched our group here at the parish and are currently in the early stages of getting it off the ground.  While it is, for the most part, the same program, young adults are all different and completely unpredictable even if they say they’ll come to events via Facebook event pages.

Fr Dan Ponisciak, CSC riding bikes with a friend

Ministry to young adults is challenging because they are so unpredictable. In Austin, it was clear that people were looking for fellowship opportunities, I wasn’t sure what to offer in terms of a spiritual component. Here, in South Bend, I am working in collaboration with Christ the King Parish, another Holy Cross parish in the area, to develop a ministry for young adults on the local level of our two parishes, but also in coordinating Theology on Tap: Downtown for the Diocese. Ministry to young adults is challenging as well because in many cases, young adults do not belong to any particular parish, but instead church-hop and as a result it can be difficult to develop a relationship with people both between the young adult and the parish, but also between the parish and the young adult. Despite this uncertainty, however, young adult ministry is one that I love. It serves to unite young adults as one Body of Christ longing to know, love and serve Him in this world. There are young adults in every parish, though sometimes it can be hard to see them because maybe they come to the same parish once a month. But they are there!  It is our role as ministers in the Church to meet them where they are, to share Christ’s love across the boundaries and invite them to encounter our Risen Lord.  

Fr Dan Ponisciak, CSC

Fr. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C., took his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross in the fall of 2014, and was ordained a priest in the spring of 2015.  He was assigned to St. Ignatius Catholic Parish in Austin, Texas during his transitional Diaconate. He was recently re-assigned to St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, Indiana.  Fr. Dan is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

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