December 8, 2014 — Jobs in lay ministry have historically attracted those looking for a second career or reentering the workplace, but a fresh crop of young adults are bringing new energy to campus ministries and parishes across the country. As these positions become more popular, Jesuit colleges and universities have developed programs specifically designed to train students for careers in lay ministry.
One such program is Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, an ecumenical program where students can earn master’s degrees in pastoral studies, transformative leadership, transforming spirituality or relationship and pastoral therapy.
Over the past decade, the school’s dean, Mark S. Markuly, has noticed a large increase in the number of young adult students enrolling in these programs. Today, about 25 to 30 percent of the student population is under the age of 35. These new, younger ministers have some advantages, including more time and energy to devote to their jobs and an instant credibility with the teens they minister to.
My young adult students, Markuly has noticed, are particularly interested in entrepreneurial ministry — starting new ministries to tackle social problems. “They’re asking questions about where the church needs to grow in reaching people, and they’re kind of imagining how they might be on the cutting edge of trying to do that,” Markuly says. “In very real ways, they’re asking some of the same questions that Pope Francis is asking: How do we get out to the periphery?”
Brian Schmisek, director of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago, has noticed young adults are particularly interested in social justice issues. “We find the students self-identify as being change agents,” he says. “They want to go out and change the world.”
Jesuit Father John Whitney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Seattle, believes much can be gained when religious and laypeople work together. “To me, the idea of a lay partnership in the church is a no-brainer,” he says. “The church is primarily laity, and in order for the church to thrive as a clerical or religious establishment, it has to be run by the people in the pews. Priests and religious bring a huge dimension of history and spirituality and hopefully focus, but it has to be run in a way that is apostolic and grounded.”
John DeCaro, 32, is currently pursuing his master’s degree in pastoral studies through the online program at Loyola University Chicago. Currently, he works as a math teacher and campus minister at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C. After graduation, he is hoping to pursue lay ministry in a different form: as a university campus minister.
DeCaro says he was inspired to work in campus ministry rather than parish ministry because of his undergraduate experience at Boston College. “There was a lot of passion there and a lot going on in terms of retreats and stewardship and, for me, that was really what sparked my faith the most,” he says. “I really want to give back and be in that atmosphere, surrounded by other young adults interested in their faith background.” [Source: U.S. Catholic]