June Feature: The Secret to Success, St. Cecilia Parish attracts Young Adults and Families
by Michelle Dushensky
If you have ever been to St. Cecilia Parish in Oakley, the church’s beautiful exterior and interior were probably the first things that caught your eye. But if you have attended Mass at St. Cecilia within the past three and a half years, you most likely noticed another element of its appeal: the large number of young adults – married and single – and young families who fill the pews, sing in the choir, serve as lectors and Eucharistic ministers and are involved in RCIA.
At a time when many young people are falling away from the Church, and parishes (both locally and across the country) are struggling to minister to young adults, what draws the 20- and 30 somethings who settle in Oakley and the surrounding neighborhoods to St. Cecilia? Really great liturgies.
What keeps them there? The relationships they build through the young adult ministry and the many opportunities they have to receive the sacraments and get involved in the life of the parish – and, of course, beautiful liturgies.
It all started in 2017 when Father Jamie Weber, pastor of St. Cecilia, recognized an influx of young adults at the parish. Committed to meeting the needs of the community, the pastoral leadership team hired Sarah Rose Bort, St. Cecilia’s young adult ministry coordinator, to lead the way in serving this growing and engaged demographic. Now, with more than 50-percent of parishioners under the age of 40, St. Cecilia’s main focus – and secret to its success – is ministering to its young adults and young families.
“Anytime we make a decision as a pastoral leadership team, one of our criteria is, does this apply to our young adult community?” said Cody Egner, director of religious education. “Everything we offer should be going through that filter.”
Bort, a young adult herself, started small, offering two monthly events for young adults. The first, Adoration/ MadTree, gave 20- and 30-year-olds the opportunity to come together on the third Wednesday of every month for praise, worship music and confession, followed by fellowship at MadTree Brewing. As this quickly grew, Bort added a second event, Mass & Brunch, on the first Sunday of every month, inviting young adults and families to the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Cecilia and then out for brunch.
Now, St. Cecilia’s young adult ministry – arguably the largest young adult ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – offers young adults a variety of events and groups to join throughout the year. In addition, the ministry has partnered with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Young Adult Evangelization and Discipleship Office to host monthly young adult candlelight Masses.
While getting young adults to attend events is one of the first steps in evangelization, Bort says her main focus is inspiring these college grads, young professionals and parents to get involved in the life of the parish. Currently, young adults are part of every ministry. In fact, they make up a majority of the choir and the liturgical ministers.
Which brings us back to the liturgy. Having a great liturgy is another one of St. Cecilia’s focuses. Father Weber says good liturgies attract people. So, what makes a great liturgy?
“When I think liturgy at St. Cecilia, I think of reverence,” says Egner. “Kneeling during the Consecration, the bells, the smells, the music… it all comes down to reverence. [Our liturgies]
are done well because of the reverence toward the Eucharist.”
Bort says that young adults are seeking a beautiful encounter during the sacrament of the Eucharist. And St. Cecilia delivers.
“I absolutely love the liturgy there,” says 30-year-old parishioner Jordan Adams. “They do a very good liturgy. It’s very beautiful. The choir is phenomenal. I truly love the liturgy.”
This article appeared in the June edition of The Catholic Telegraph. To receive a complimentary subscription at home, click here