Jesuit Brother Michael J. O’Grady padded to the center of the floor in stocking feet and arranged himself on a kneeling pad and bench, taking a moment to relax. Then he shared his experiences with about three dozen young adults seated in a semi-circle around him, telling them about living in solidarity with neighbors in a Cincinnati ghetto and as a prisoner of conscience who trespassed at Fort Benning, Ga.
The presentation came near the end of the “For the Least of My Brothers and Sisters” peace and justice weekend retreat sponsored by Charis Ministries, an outreach to young adults from the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus.
“I’ve never been on one of these retreats before, but I feel as though I am among friends,” said O’Grady. The brother, son and grandson of law enforcement officers, O’Grady left a career in business at age 32 to join the lay Jesuit Volunteer Corps. From there, he decided to join the society itself.
Many of the young people he spoke with are struggling to integrate social justice and faith issues with their professional and work lives, said Leigh Hartley, a member of the Charis board and team member for a retreat at the Warrenville Cenacle, outside of Chicago.
Hartley, 29, became involved with Charis by attending a similar retreat and then going on a service trip to Oklahoma with the group. Such activities allow her to continue a habit of volunteerism that stretches back to a service trip she took to Appalachia in high school.
Now Hartley, who provides faculty services for the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, is looking for ways to integrate the different parts of her life. “I thought this retreat would be an opportunity to put some of the pieces of my life together,” she said.
Charis, which works with young adult ministry offices and parishes in the Archdioceses of Chicago, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, offers spiritual direction, small faith-sharing groups, worship opportunities and pilgrimages in addition to retreats and service opportunities.
Jenéne Francis, Charis’ Associate Director, said the initiative uses traditional Ignatian spirituality and its emphasis on finding God in all things. It aims to help people in their post-college years keep faith amidst the whirl of competing work and social commitments.
“It’s a growing self-awareness of who you are as a person and what God is calling you to,” Francis said. “There’s a generation of people out there who are well-meaning and doing good. We want them to come at it with a faith consciousness, bringing together ways of serving the community and ways of praying. What they’re looking for is a language to put to the works they get called to.”
Jesuit Father Michael Sparough, who got Charis off the ground five years ago and serves as its director, said people who are young adults now often were failed by religious education in the post-Vatican II years.
“This generation was not acculturated into the Catholic Church,” he said.
Today’s young adults also are the first generation raised in a society where single parents were common and mothers working outside the home was expected, he said.
“They’re disillusioned about every institution, including the church,” he said. “You get a generation that finds it very difficult to make a commitment, and puts a high premium on their own experience.”
That’s one reason Charis events use young adults sharing their own experiences with their peers. It catches people at an important moment in their lives, according to Eric and Amy Totten, who provided the music for the social justice retreat.
Eric, 30, is a software engineer and Amy, 28, is an architect. They met through mutual friends at St. Benedict Parish in Chicago, where both are active members.
“This is when I feel like I’m at the peak of my energy and I can really do something,” said Amy.
“But for the church, it’s kind of a vacuum,” said Eric. “When you’re young, your parents make you go, and after you have kids, you want them to be baptized and everything. But where we are, there isn’t anything” that automatically makes you come to church.
“We go from confirmation as youths to marriage,” said Joanne Singleton, 33, a member of Holy Name Cathedral Parish. “And most places, the only way young adults get together is by doing the youth ministry. I think that’s why a lot of people leave the church and then come back.”
Charis, on the other hand, ministers to the young adults, said Singleton, who started attending Charis programs after moving to Chicago last year as a way to meet Catholics her age. In ministering to them, she challenges them to take on leadership roles in a variety of areas, from social justice to prayer.
“It’s amazing and very refreshing,” she said.
Editors: For more information, go to www.jesuits.net/charis or e-mail email@example.com.