Community-building the aim of Young Catholic Professionals

Samantha Schott was inspired by the way her former boss would seamlessly and wholeheartedly integrate his Catholic faith into the workplace, even in the pressure-cooker environment of a courthouse.

“Every day he was living his life the way God wants us to live – just determined to help people and share God’s love. I wanted to be more like that,” said Schott, a 27-year-old attorney who sings in the 6 p.m. choir at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie.
 
Last summer, an opportunity presented itself when Schott, a regular at the “Christ in the City” adoration nights geared to young adults, clicked on an email from the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Young Adult Ministry. Associate director Chelsea Colomb was gauging local interest in the formation of a new chapter of the Young Catholic Professionals (YCP), a national group whose mission is to help young adults find a local community of peers and mentors while making them stronger witnesses to their faith in the workplace.
 
Schott immediately applied to be part of the leadership team, ultimately becoming its co-vice president.
 
“Our main goal is to reach people who maybe have stopped going to Mass or who aren’t as active in their faith, and just welcome them back, help them find a way back,” Schott said.
 
“I feel like we have some work to do,” Schott said. “I talk to so many people who say they grew up Catholic but they don’t really go to Mass anymore. I really want to reach those people and bring them back and help them realize what I have realized, which is that it’s awesome to open your heart up to God and let him work through you.”

Monthly speakers
Currently boasting 15 chapters nationwide, membership in the fledgling New Orleans chapter of YCP is open to married or single professionals of all faiths, ages 21 to 40. The group’s activities will fall into three core programs: Quarterly “Happy Hour” gatherings at an area bar or restaurant, offering young professionals a relaxed setting in which to network and socialize; a monthly speaker series at a rotating parish meeting space, featuring a 30-minute talk from a Catholic business leader focusing on his or her experiences as a witness for Christ in the workplace, with social time incorporated before and after each presentation; and two annual, half-day “St. Joseph the Worker retreats” – named for the group’s patron saint – usually scheduled during Lent and Advent.
 
The group will hold its kickoff event Jan. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Cannery, 3803 Toulouse St. in New Orleans. All potential members, their families and guests are welcome to attend the inaugural event, which will offer complimentary beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres.
 
The monthly speaker series and networking events will begin in February and will generally adhere to a second Tuesday at 7 p.m. time slot (chosen so the group’s gatherings will not conflict with already-established young adult Catholic programming).
 
The New Orleans chapter’s leadership team hails from fields as diverse as law, engineering, education, nursing, technology and marketing.

Brought idea to pastor
Alan Elmer, a 30-year-old civil engineer, heard about YCP from his parents-in-law, who had seen it in action during a trip to Texas.
 
“After doing the research we said we should really bring this to New Orleans, but we didn’t know how to go about it,” said Elmer, who at the time was looking with his wife Courtney for young adult Catholic programming at their new marital parish of St. Catherine of Siena.
 
“We went to Father Ronnie (Calkins) and Father Tim (Hedrick) to brainstorm ideas about forming a young adult ministry in the parish,” Elmer said. “The Young Catholic Professionals came into our heads, and so we proposed it to Father Ronnie and Father Tim and asked them how we could bring this to New Orleans and do it through St. Catherine Parish. Father Ronnie agreed St. Catherine could be the host parish.”
 
Elmer, who serves as vice president along with Schott, said the new group has received the full approval of Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Elmer said he hopes the group will expand the faith-related options for practicing Catholics, inactive Catholics and other faith-seekers who fall within “a very difficult age range to nail down” in today’s church: working professionals, many of them still unmarried and without children, who do not fit into the traditional parish men’s and women’s clubs.
 
“We have the really developed CYO groups for teens and then once (Catholics) go to college, they’re mostly on their own, so when they get back to their hometowns after college or go elsewhere, there’s really nothing pulling them back into the church,” said Elmer, commending the excellent young adult programs already in place in the archdiocese, but asserting that YCP will reach out to wider range of people, from all walks of life and stages of the faith journey.
 
“Our ministry in YCP is to bring in all of those people who are not Catholic or who have turned away from their faith at some point and to bring them back in,” Elmer said. “What really drew me into the group was the professionalism. I’ve been to a lot of networking events and I think they are a really good way to attract people to the faith.”
 
Schott said she is hopeful that the networking dimension of YCP will evangelize without having to hit people over the head with heavy catechetical programming.
 
“It’s sort of like taking baby steps back into the faith. We’re not asking them to attend a retreat or attend a function where they may feel a little behind spiritually,” Schott said. “YCP will help young adults start small, and hopefully after coming to a few events, they’ll find a community in YCP and eventually find themselves practicing their faith again.”
 
The group’s establishment falls in line with Priority 3 of the Ninth General Synod, which seeks to increase the number of young adults engaged in the life of the Church. Email info@ycpneworleans.org; visit ycpneworleans.org; or go to the group’s Facebook page, YCP New Orleans. Legionaries of Christ Father Jacob DuMont is the group’s chaplain. He will be assisted by Legionaries of Christ Father Zachary Dominguez and Father David Ducote.

Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

YOUNG CATHOLIC PROFESSIONALS’

N.O. CHAPTER HOLDS KICKOFF EVENT
> Jan. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m.

> The Cannery, 3803 Toulouse St., New Orleans

> Young adults of all faiths and their guests enjoy complimentary beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres while learning about the newly formed New Orleans chapter of the Young Catholic Professionals (YCP).

> YCP membership is open to all professionals ages 21 to 40 in the metro-New Orleans area.

Activities include networking socials; monthly talks from respected Catholic business people; and retreats.

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