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Youth movement

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Religious education attracts a new demographic

IREPM students (from left) Caroline Kondrat, Megan Pryor, and JoAnne Harbert, with director Thomas Groome. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

IREPM students (from left) Caroline Kondrat, Megan Pryor, and JoAnne Harbert, with director Thomas Groome. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

BC's Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (IREPM) is seeing a growing influx of young adults to its graduate programs. Twenty- to 29-year-olds now constitute the largest age group among IREPM degree students. Theology Professor Thomas Groome, the institute's director, calls the younger students "modern-day tentmakers": Like the Apostle Paul, who preached the gospel while making tents for a living, they are serious about participating in the formal ministries of the Catholic community while supporting themselves in other professions. According to Groome, IREPM has had to find new ways to accommodate their experiences, backgrounds, interests, and needs.

A decade ago, individuals in their twenties accounted for only 17 percent of IREPM degree students; the largest age group was the 40- to 49-year-olds, who made up nearly one-third. Now, the demographics have flipped; twenty-somethings make up 30 percent of enrollment, and forty-somethings, 24 percent. During this period, the total number of IREPM degree students has grown by more than half, from 110 to 169.

Most of the younger students, says Groome, come to IREPM after going through a defining volunteer or service experience during or just after college that sparked their faith. "Theirs is a Dorothy Day kind of Catholicism," he says.

Caroline Kondrat, who at 25 is working toward dual master's degrees in pastoral ministry and social work, graduated from John Carroll University, then served as a Peace Corp volunteer in Kenya. The experience "affirmed my desire to pursue social work," she says. At the same time, Kondrat recalls, the clergy sexual abuse scandals led her to see "the Church as being my work."

According to Groome, IREPM's joint degree programs in particular have drawn the younger students to the institute, notably the joint master's in pastoral ministry and social work, introduced in 1989. Glynn Forkey, 24, spent two years as a Franciscan Volunteer in Philadelphia after graduating from St. Bonaventure University. "I'm getting an MSW," she says, to "be able to provide in a pastoral way for . . . people who otherwise slip through the cracks."

IREPM also offers dual master's programs combining pastoral ministry with counseling psychology (since 1997), nursing (2000), and education administration (2002).


IREPM was begun in 1971 to educate priests and nuns, primarily, on changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. Eighty percent of the 20- to 29-year-olds who attended were on their way to becoming vowed religious. By contrast, what today's younger students need most, Groome says, "is spiritual formation, deepening of their ecclesial identity, and knowledge of the whole tradition of Catholic faith" gained through retreats and workshops.

IREPM is preparing to launch four new programs in September: Hispanic ministry, parish religious education, high-school religious teaching, and hospital chaplaincy.

Sean Smith


Sean Smith is editor of the BC Chronicle.

 


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