Young Catholics: 5 years of podcasting and what we’ve learnt

young Catholics

It was a little over five years ago when one of us, we are not sure who (the origin story remains disputed, and given it was set in a bar over drinks, it is likely to remain unresolved), uttered the words that everyone in media has at least thought to themselves in the past 10 years: “We should start a podcast.”

In a flourish of juvenile, blind confidence, we three founding hosts of “Jesuitical” (our former cohost, Olga Segura, now an editor at The National Catholic Reporter, is someone to whom we remain deeply indebted for making the first three years of the show with us) assumed that we could just turn on the microphones during our normal, daily conversations, and other people would clamour to hear what we had to say.

Dear readers and listeners: We were wrong. Those first pilot episodes were unfocused, uninteresting and, frankly, painful to listen to. You might still think the show comes across that way, but we promise you, we used to be so much worse.

To mark our five-year anniversary, we are looking back on what we have learned from our guests to help us and our listeners navigate the modern world as people of faith.

Yet we had an inkling that something was missing from the Catholic podcasting space.

We imagined there must be thousands of young people out there who were involved in campus ministry or did Jesuit Volunteer Corps or always went to the same last-chance Sunday Mass with their college friends and who now found themselves in a new city with a perhaps lacklustre parish and hungry for the Catholic community and spiritual nourishment.

Taking a page from our Jesuit colleagues, we sought to meet these theoretical young people where they were: on their smartphones.

So, to mark our five-year anniversary, we are looking back on what we have learned from our guests—Catholics and non-Catholics vastly smarter and more interesting than we are—to help us and our listeners navigate the modern world as people of faith.

Lessons About Young Catholics

Young Catholics need formal and financial support from the institutional church.
Molly Burhans, the founder of GoodLands—an organization that helps the Catholic Church leverage its landholdings to further its mission—was recently profiled in The New Yorker for her heroic efforts to fight climate change.

Ms. Burhans is a devout Catholic whose ecology is rooted in her faith. And Pope Francis has clearly made caring for our common home a priority for the church with his encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

And yet, most of the support Ms. Burhans has received in her ministry has been from the secular world.

After Ms. Burhans created the first global map of the Catholic Church’s landholdings, Pope Francis approved a plan for her to move to Rome and establish and run a Vatican cartography institute on a trial basis.

There was just one problem: It came with no staff and a very modest budget.

So Molly declined the offer.

She has since submitted a new proposal.

All the while, Molly continues to receive awards and offers from some of the most prestigious environmental groups in the world.

Career paths for lay vocations are not obvious.

The default view tends to include only a) academia, b) youth and young adult ministry, or, c) uh, I don’t know, here’s the password to our social media account. Go crazy, kid.

Unless we figure out how to incorporate young, lay Catholics and their talents and passions more fully into the formal structures of the church, the church is going to experience “brain drain” of people like Molly Burhans and so many others.

“I would have no self-respect, honestly, if I had stayed working for the Catholic Church as long as I had with the amount of resources I’ve had.”

Young people are leaving the church—but it is not for the reasons you think.
A bunch of people with gray hair sit in the parish hall listening to a speaker.

Inevitably, someone raises their hand during the Q. and A. session and bemoans the fact that young people just are not interested in church anymore, that their adult child has drifted away, and they do not know what to do about it.

Luckily, the Springtide Research Institute, whose executive director, Josh Packard, spoke with us, is looking for the answers.

The institute is devoted to studying young people’s feelings toward religion.

They found that a young adult who had five adults who cared about them was far less likely to engage in high-risk behaviour.

The same principal could help to connect young people to the church.

“[Millennials are] not leaving the church.

They were not raised in it to begin with.

They don’t have anything to leave, but instead, they’re going to be building things. And they’re going to be doing that with the bits and pieces and fragments of the institutional lives that have been left behind for them.” – Josh Packard, Episode 172, March 12, 2021

Stop putting young adult Catholics at the “kids table.”
In 2018, over 300 young people from all over the world went to the Vatican to help prepare the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on young people.

One of those delegates, Katie Prejean McGrady, had spent a lot of time working with young people in the church as a speaker, writer, youth minister and high school theology teacher. (Katie now hosts a daily radio show on Sirius XM).

We talked to Katie about what it was like to dialogue with bishops about youth and young adult ministry, and what changes she wanted to see in how the church welcomes young people.

“A lot of times young people are relegated to the cheap seats, when it comes to Catholicism.

“They’re either the problem to be solved, they’re the kids that made a mess in the parish hall or they’re the ones that can clean up after the adult gathering….

“They’re just kind of put into this separate category rather than [being recognized as] an active part of the life of the church.

“I hate the term ‘youth Mass.’

“It’s Mass—and young people just happen to be engaged more in the work of the liturgy. But why can’t that happen at the 9 a.m. Mass?” – Katie Prejean McGrady, Episode 75, Sept. 14, 2018 Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , ,