Part Four: The Campus, the Diocese, and Catholic Organizations

Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults
November 12, 1996, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Campus Ministry Centers

Campus ministry is first and foremost ministry in and with the academic community—with those involved in teaching and learning. Few would disagree that the "college years are a very significant time" for young adults.43 As we said in our Letter to College Students, in these years students greatly expand both their knowledge and their skills. They also make some very important decisions about vocation, relationships, and career. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the Church seeks to be a partner with the college or university in the cognitive and moral development of young adults.

Campus ministry is essentially ministry in higher education. It has an important role in helping students to assess the knowledge they are acquiring through the eyes of faith and to discern how they will use that knowledge in their profession. Because these Catholics are in the process of occupying leadership roles in society, theological reflection and moral formation are key.

While similar in many respects, campus ministry centers differ from parishes in a number of ways. The vast majority of people involved in campus ministry are young adults, while parishes are typically intergenerational communities. Campus ministry centers usually do not have the large number of families with school-aged children that some parishes have. However, some ministries to higher education are organized as parishes whose parishioners may or may not be affiliated with the university or college.  

There are many specific ways that you can minister on campus to create a climate of hope and a community of welcome. Begin by inviting your friends and neighbors to join you at Sunday Mass...
Letter to College Students from the U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1995, p. 3

While campus ministry involves young adults, it is separate and distinct from young adult ministry. In the years since Empowered by the Spirit, our 1985 pastoral letter on campus ministry, many campus ministries have become creative centers of liturgy, community outreach, and spiritual development. In that pastoral letter, we identified "six ways in which the Church on campus can be a faithful witness to the message of the Gospel: forming the faith community, appropriating the faith, forming the Christian conscience, educating for justice, facilitating personal development, and developing leaders for the future."44 We have used these six actions as the basis for the objectives we have set forth in this plan of action.

Many students have participated in these creative and empowering campus ministry experiences. This environment has allowed them to use their talents and to develop leadership skills that have helped them appreciate not only their giftedness but also the role that they can play in building faith communities. A major transition occurs when these young adults leave campus and look to be welcomed into church life at the parish level. Many tell us of experiences where they were not encouraged or invited to participate. Sometimes, their initiative is discounted and they are ignored. They feel frustrated and left out, leading them, at times, to seek a more welcoming community.

Campus ministry centers can help with this transition. They can collaborate with dioceses and parishes to help college students return to parish life. An explicit strategy to assist with this move needs to be developed by each campus center and diocese. This strategy should include equipping young adults for the transition, providing suggestions for engaging parish leaders, and providing lists to students of young adult friendly parishes. Young adults and the leadership of the parish, both ordained and lay, can develop specific initiatives to welcome returning students and recent graduates.

One specific strategy is to conduct workshops, using graduates who have successfully transitioned to a parish. A typical workshop can include community building activities and opportunities to identify specific needs and discuss solutions. The personal witness of young adults is key. Active and successful young adult ministry programs can be promoted and profiled. Campuses also may wish to keep a list of diocesan young adult coordinators because on any one campus, Catholic students will be from many different dioceses.

Other strategies to assist young adults returning from campus life to parish life include the following:

  • Extend parish hospitality by including materials on young adult ministry activities in the welcome packets.

  • List the name of a young adult contact person in the parish bulletin.

  • Extend a special verbal invitation to young adults to participate in existing programs and ministries.

  • Identify young adults who move into the parish, and contact them about participation in parish ministries.

  • Allow young adults to have the same access to parish facilities that is extended to other parish groups.

When I returned home from college, I wanted to be part of something and to be around others who like me had a deep faith. Instead, I felt alone and isolated; nobody made me feel welcome...
Nariman Ayyad, North Bellmore, N.Y.

Diocesan Strategies

The diocese has a unique role to play in ministry with young adults. Our Church is more alive when all of our church agencies and institutions work together toward a common goal. In this way, we can give our people many opportunities to experience God's grace and the Church's care for them. Pastors, campus ministers, and leaders of organizations will look to the diocese for support and resources in developing ministry with young adults.

The diocese can be more effective than the parish or campus center in undertaking certain initiatives. The diocesan office can draw together young adults throughout the city or region for conferences, can provide worship experiences leading to a greater awareness of the universality of the Church, and can promote a young adult perspective within diocesan offices, parishes, campuses, and other diocesan-wide organizations.

Each diocese can assess its own needs regarding this ministry and can develop appropriate responses. No one model will be useful to every diocese in this country, but we can identify several proven approaches based on current practice and experience.

One approach is to establish a young adult commission that mirrors the different cultural, ethnic, educational, vocational, social, and economic spiritual realities of the diocese or region. Members might include young adults from the various regions, vicariates, and ethnic groups; parish leaders and young adult contacts; and representatives from campuses within the diocese and from Catholic movements and organizations. One responsibility of the young adult commission can be to plan, coordinate, and implement the diocesan or regional activities.

Functions of a Diocesan-wide Ministry with Young Adults

Dioceses can assist parish and campus leaders in several ways:

  • Provide parishes and campuses with resources on young adulthood and ministry with young adults, especially those that highlight the developmental tasks and different ethnic groups of the diocese.

  • Assist parishes and campuses with implementing this pastoral plan by developing guidelines and resources.

  • Provide parish and campus leadership and young adult team members with training and leadership development appropriate for each of the cultures that make up the local Church.

  • Support parish and campus efforts for ministry with young adults through personal presence.

  • Advocate for ministry with young adults, supporting parish and campus young adult contacts and other diocesan staff who work with young adults.

  • Advocate that young adults from all ethnic groups be invited to become members of  diocesan committees and commissions. Appoint several young adults to the diocesan pastoral council or young adult priests to the diocesan priests' council.

  • Sponsor activities that bring young adults together such as conferences, regional educational opportunities, yearly worship experiences, and social activities. In those dioceses with different ethnic populations, have conferences that promote a significant dialogue among young people from different cultures.

Collaboration Among Diocesan Offices

If a diocese wishes to undertake a comprehensive and effective ministry to and with young adults, collaboration and coordination among diocesan offices become important. Whether the diocese chooses to identify an office for young adults or identify a staff person as a contact or facilitator for this ministry, collaboration is essential. Together, diocesan offices can assist and connect parishes and campuses in ways that are otherwise not possible for a single parish, campus ministry center, or military chaplaincy. When diocesan offices collaborate, they have the ability to cross cultural and economic lines and manifest the universality and catholicity of the Church.

We know that ministry to and with young adults is now undertaken by several offices within the diocese including Religious Education and Lay Formation (adult catechesis and spritual formation); Family Life (marriage preparation, ministry to the newly married); offices for different ethnic ministries (African American, Asian American, and Hispanic); Social Action (Christian service and education for justice); Liturgy (RCIA, liturgical ministries); Campus Ministry (pastoral life on college/university campuses); Youth Ministry (many parish youth ministers are young adults); and the Tribunal and Chancery (many people seeking annulments and dispensations are young adults). Some dioceses have separate young adult offices while others have linked their outreach to young adults with the Youth Ministry office in recent years. Some dioceses have Pastoral Juvenil Hispana offices, which focus on single Hispanic young adults. However the local Church is organized, remember that ministry with young adults is separate and distinct from adolescent ministry and is primarily a ministry to and with adults.

Collaboration with the Military

The United States military contains the single largest group of young adult Catholics in this country. Because of this, we suggest that diocesan and parish leaders coordinate efforts and collaborate with the military chaplain's office at the local base, whenever appropriate. Both the diocese and the chaplain's office have access to resources that can be shared thereby enriching the faith lives of young adults.


Currently, regional young adult ministry is an effective and successful approach in many dioceses. Regionalization is particularly effective where there are many smaller parishes or campuses in the same area or where the geographic size or population of the diocese lends itself to smaller groupings. Collaborating parishes, campus ministry centers, and dioceses can pool and share resources that may be unavailable to a single parish, campus ministry center, or diocese.

Catholic Organizations and Movements

The Church is blessed with many Catholic organizations and movements. They provide a special ministry to young adults, furthering their spiritual growth and nurturing a willingness to be of service to humankind. Many of these organizations and movements were originally founded by young adults. Still today, they can benefit from the energy and vitality.

Catholic organizations and movements can provide young adults with a community, an association with a particular charism, and a sense of  service and mission. Thus, these organizations and movements bear the most fruit where they are integrated into the local Church under the leadership of the bishop and/or the universal Church under the leadership of the Holy Father.

We ask our Catholic organizations and movements to join us in connecting young adults with the Church. We ask that they welcome young adults and allow them adequate opportunities to participate and lead. As in the parish and on campus, organizations and movements will be effective in attracting young adults if they consider the pastoral, spiritual, and physical needs of these young men and women. An intergenerational membership is rich in wisdom and talent, especially when all members feel that their concerns are addressed.

I wish every Church would take into account what young adults say and give us a chance to show what we can do. 
Veronica Ortega, Texas

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