Good things are happening somewhere in Middle America:
Vocations are booming in Lincoln, Nebraska (and Wichita, KS). It’s not a secret in the American Catholic world, though it is somewhat perplexing that more bishops have not looked to imitate certain successful practices long in place in these dioceses.
An intentional focus on college students & young adults is one big reason for the thriving Catholic culture in Nebraska. What does that ‘intentional focus’ look like? For one thing, it has entailed taking off the kid-gloves and encouraging Millennials to ask and seek after the deeper questions of life – indeed, the timeless questions – that their hearts have always longed to ask. It’s meant exposing them to the grown-up beauty of Catholicism rather than hiding it under a bushel (or in disorienting, beige, shapeless chapels with no discernable Tabernacle, under decades-old banners and carpeting, or veiled by the banal ugliness of 1980s church hymns).
In a 2016 interview, Bishop of Lincoln, James Conley had this to say: “We have 43 seminarians this year, including 10 new ones. We go back and forth with the Diocese of Wichita as having the highest number of priests-per-lay-Catholics in the country. Seven out of 10 of our priests are graduates of our [diocesan Catholic] high schools. The secret of a successful vocations program, I believe, begins with prayer. Vocations come from God. We have two cloistered communities of religious women in our diocese, our Carmelite Sisters and our Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, whom we call “pink sisters” because of the color of their habits. [Both communities] pray for vocations constantly.”
But in addition to cloistered communities praying round the clock for vocations and young priests on staff and on site in Catholic schools, an intentional focus on college students and young adults is also a huge reason for a thriving Catholic culture.
Check out the vocation story of one young man, David Tines, who despite an aptitude for computers (and the secure career track that would entail), has found himself called to make a more radical gift of his life. He is just one of many young men and women who’ve felt the call to live for something much more, much deeper, than what the world has told them, as Millennials, that they ought to aim for in order to be happy.
From the Daily Nebraskan article about Tines:
The winter of his freshman year, Tines went to a conference for Catholic college students. At one point, he said he had an experience where he felt the need to be a spiritual father to everyone in the room.
“There are so many people who are in so much pain, who are so alone, and I just wanted to be there for them,” Tines said. “It’s so silly that there is so much pain in the world just because nobody will stop and listen to someone.”
Read the full story here.
The Diocese of Lincoln initiated a $25 million capital campaign to rebuild and expand the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including the construction of a gorgeous new church, St. Thomas Aquinas, Catholic fraternity and sorority houses (yes, really!), and a Catholic student center.
As part of this awesome initiative, Bishop Conley has launched the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, a sort of cross-pollination between the University of Nebraska and the diocesan St. Gregory the Great Seminary. This hub of the Humanities, designed especially with college students in mind, is meant to help young people ask and answer the perennial questions – What is the ‘good life’? What am I doing here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
Arguably, one of the biggest reasons so many young people are suffering existentially has been the absence in their lives of this kind of meaningful discourse and vocabulary, so rushed has their generation been through hoops of material achievement and measurement and comparison to “norms and standards” – even from the womb!
We applaud Bishop Conley and the Diocese of Lincoln for their intentional investment in the Catholic imaginations of their youth and young adults! Enjoy these little tidbits below, and to find out more, follow HuskerCatholic on Facebook!
Feast your eyes and ears on this highlight reel of the dedication and opening of St. Thomas Aquinas Church:
One student’s testimony:
Meanwhile, here’s a Millennial conversion story from another UNL student who – on the surface, as a star Div-I football player – one might have argued had no particular reason to turn to the higher things in the midst of the fun and distractions of big-time college athletics: