SAN DIEGO — Devin and Brittany Reilly were one of the few young adults at their parish.
So, they visited another local parish, one known diocese-wide for its vibrant young adult community.
But even that parish’s young adult events didn’t feel “very welcoming” to married couples like them, Devin Reilly said.
It’s not that the young adults were unfriendly, he was quick to explain. It was simply that the majority of them — mostly single; some recent college graduates, others just beginning careers — didn’t have the same life experience.
“I think a lot of couples just recognize that they are in a different stage of life than their single friends,” Brittany, 34, told The Southern Cross.
“They want to meet other people that share their Catholic faith and are at a similar stage in life,” added Devin, 38.
The Reillys met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and married in 2008 at Mission San Diego de Alcala. They asked Carrie O’Loughlin, director of young adult ministry at St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach, to introduce them to other young Catholic married couples in the community. After doing so, O’Loughlin asked for their help in launching a new ministry for such couples.
That was how San Diego Young Catholic Married Couples, a diocese-wide ministry that is not affiliated with any particular parish, came into being. It began in 2011 with the Reillys as one of the founding couples.
Patrick Rivera, director of the diocesan Office for Young Adult Ministry, believes the group fills a serious need in the diocese. He meets quarterly with the Reillys to help them with the planning of their upcoming events, and recently began providing financial support through his office budget. Meanwhile, he said, he has come to see the Reillys themselves as invaluable collaborators in his own ministry. For instance, he said, they recently served at his request on a young adult task force that advised his office, and he considers them part of the core team that assists him with diocesan outreach to young couples.
Some might worry that such a diocese-wide ministry might detract from community life at individual parishes, but that has not been the case, said Rivera, who noted that participating couples are often actively engaged parishioners.
Geared toward married Catholics in their 20s and 30s, Young Catholic Married Couples hosts about three events every month. These activities, which can be social, spiritual or service-oriented, have included hikes, picnics, family-friendly movie nights, men’s poker nights, a women’s book club and more.
“A lot of our events have both a spiritual aspect and a social aspect,” Brittany Reilly said. “Even when we’re having just a social event, we try to incorporate some sort of spiritual aspect into it.”
Devin added that, even at men’s poker nights, the host will often prepare a spiritual reflection, choose a discussion topic, or lead attendees in praying the rosary before moving on to the evening’s main activity.
A typical event hosted by Young Catholic Married Couples attracts about four to six couples, with some drawing 10 or more. When children are counted, that means that about 30 people might be in attendance at those larger events.
One of the ministry’s largest events so far, A Night of Living Matrimony, was held April 29 at Mission San Diego de Alcala. Co-sponsored by the Office for Young Adult Ministry, the event was a special evening for young married couples that included Mass, a catered dinner, and a presentation by guest speakers John and Lisa Leyendecker. About 50 couples, along with their children, were in attendance. Rivera said that Paulist Father John Hurley, who celebrated the Mass and served as coordinator for the diocesan synod on marriage and family last fall, subsequently praised the event as a model program.
Brittany said many couples new to the San Diego area have learned about Young Catholic Married Couples through the Internet and have found it to be a good way to make new friends in a new town. Devin said military families have also been well-represented at Young Catholic Married Couples’ events.
Brian and Kelly Triggs moved to San Diego shortly after getting married four years ago.
“We were looking for a community,” recalled Kelly, 30. “Being Catholic is an important part of who we are, so we looked for Church groups and feel very blessed to have found this group.”
Brian, 31, added, “Most of my close friends in San Diego are from this group. It wasn’t the way I was expecting to make friends when we moved here. I thought we’d make friends through our parish, but it’s been great being in a group that’s across the diocese.”
Having been welcomed themselves, Brian and Kelly Triggs are now in a position to welcome others as part of the leadership team of Young Catholic Married Couples.
“It was scary moving to a new place where we didn’t know anyone and the group really provided a welcoming community for us,” Kelly said. “It’s nice to try and do that for other couples.”
In an e-mail to The Southern Cross, Nathan Martin and Katie Valleau acknowledged that many Catholic young adult groups seem geared toward singles. Feeling like “the odd ones out” at such events, they would often separate for the evening and attempt to make new friends independently.
But their experience with Young Catholic Married Couples has been different. It has allowed them to meet Catholic peers while socializing as a couple.
“At every event, we feel like we are able to spend quality time together, but also enjoy time with our friends,” said Martin and Valleau, 30 and 29, respectively, who met at the Newman Center during their years at the University of Illinois. “Now that we have a toddler, she is included in this dynamic. We are able to socialize with other young adults at events, but we’re also spending time with each other and our daughter.”
Martin and Valleau consider the people they have met through the group to be “some of our closest friends” and “our second family.”
“The couples in this group have spent holidays with us, blessed us with the role of godparents to their children, were the first to meet our daughter when she was born, and provide a great deal of support for our family,” Martin and Valleau said.
While Brittany Reilly believes that single and married Catholics are looking for many of the same things in a young adult community, she noted that many young adult events aren’t “children-friendly.” Young Catholic Married Couples has always kept that in mind, she said, even in its early days, when none of the couples on the leadership team had children of their own.
For the Reillys, involvement in the ministry has been a rewarding experience. Among other things, Brittany said, it was helpful observing other couples’ child-rearing techniques before she and Devin had their 2-year-old daughter, Clare.
The Reillys are also stronger Catholics today, thanks to the group.
“We ourselves have grown so much in our faith just by connecting with some of these other people,” she said.
For more information about Young Catholic Married Couples, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested couples can also join the group’s e-mail list at SDYCMCemail@example.com, or its Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SDYCMC.