DSC_0006Young adult women pray in the UW-Milwaukee Newman Center dining room on Tuesday, Aug. 21, before eating their home-cooked meal outside. The meal was part of Cor Jesu community nights, a new outreach for 18-35-year-olds providing a regular opportunity to gather with other young people for community and a meal, followed by eucharistic adoration, confession and Mass. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy RuschHe never told anyone he’d been considering a vocation to the priesthood since he was 12 – he’s a young adult now. He hadn’t told anyone until he attended Cor Jesu community nights during the summer. The casual setting of the new, weekly, young adult outreach gave him the support he needed to share this possibility.

The outreach, for ages 18 through 35, offers young adults a consistent opportunity to gather with other young people for community with a meal, and prayer through eucharistic adoration, confession and Mass, said Fr. Luke Strand, vocations director at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis, and spiritual director at the UW-Milwaukee Newman Center.

“It’s young people getting together in an environment that’s comfortable and spending time in prayer,” said Fr. Strand, who started the group with Fr. John Burns, associate pastor of Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa.

“Young adults want to feel a part of something, you know – you want to feel a part of something bigger,” he said of Cor Jesu, whose name comes from a holy hour, adoration held at St. Paul Seminary in Minneapolis.

“We started it through the vocations office,” Fr. Strand said of the group, “because I think that men and women who are discerning vocations are looking to find that within the context of a community, and so when you bring young people together that are looking for God and searching for faith in their life, a lot of questions will naturally surface that maybe wouldn’t if they tried to do the journey on their own.”

Fr. Strand estimated that about half of the usual number of 80 attendees would show up for a recent session, Aug. 21, since students were returning to their college and university campuses. The men started arriving at about 5:30 p.m. at the St. Robert Parish rectory in Shorewood for dinner, while the women gathered at the UW-Milwaukee Newman Center, Milwaukee, for theirs.

If you want to go:

A night of fellowship and prayer open to young adult students and community members will be held Wednesday nights during the
academic year in the UW-
Milwaukee Newman Center
Chapel, 3001 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee.

Holy hour and Benediction begin at 8 p.m., with confession available until Mass begins at 9 p.m.

Email Fr. Luke Strand for information on men’s discernment dinner/discussions.

Fr. Strand’s group asked different sponsors for donations each week to help fund meals, whether it meant ordering pizza or grilling burgers. The women enjoyed taking turns making more elaborate meals – pasta, gourmet salads, make-your-own pizzas, Mexican food and tacos.

Cor Jesu mealtimes offer more than good food; they create an environment where talking about vocations is normal for the young men, Fr. Strand said.

“You’re in an environment where other people are thinking about priesthood or seriously discerning marriage, and they’re open to sharing that,” he said. “You feel supported, I think, in the vocation.”

One young man, who attended every Tuesday session until he returned to school, told Fr. Strand he felt held accountable for his actions when facing the group of men each week, and wanted to ensure he was living the life he was called to live.

“I recently spoke with him and he is very serious about entering next year a college seminary program,” Fr. Strand said, “So, I think guys just need that support.”

Dan McCool, 25, a parishioner at St. Charles Parish, Hartland, is supported by Cor Jesu as he considers a vocation to the priesthood. Aug. 21 marked the fifth time he’s made the 45-minute drive to Milwaukee. McCool, who began considering the priesthood after Holy Week, contacted Fr. Strand, who told him to attend. McCool even arranged his work week to be able to go.

“The greatest thing about Catholicism is the community and the support you have behind you,” said McCool, a psychiatric nurse in Oconomowoc. “It’s not just God and you in this world…. God exists in the other people that are in the faith.”

A few minutes away, Mary Burns, Fr. Burns’ 21-year-old sister, welcomed women to the Newman Center where the aroma of breaded chicken and stir-fried vegetables filled the house.

Mary, home for the summer from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., was asked by her brother and Fr. Strand to help with Cor Jesu. Mary said the outreach is unique because it doesn’t separate fellowship and prayer, and reminds people that there are other young adults also striving for faith.

“The source and summit of the evening is adoration and Mass, and we come together as a community so that we can enter into the Eucharist as a community as well….” she said.  “The sake of it is not to just make friends, but that’s always a beautiful benefit when you’re pursuing Christ.”

Mary said the meaning of Cor Jesu is “heart of Christ,” which she said is the outreach’s main pitch.

“It’s called heart of Christ so that everything that we do we learn through the formation and through the prayer that we have to be the pulsations of his heart, and we get that formation in his heart and then he just pours us out to work, but everything comes back to the heart of Christ,” Mary said, describing the group as “spoiled” because they get everything – adoration, confession, Mass – all at once.

“And so it’s beautiful to have the community and to just pray so beautifully and to watch others pray,” she said.      

The women ate at a table in front of the Newman Center, talking about a YouTube video of Salesian sisters doing a flash mob in their habits, the upcoming Fiesta Mexicana and bands they liked, and bad work days that improved with chocolate.

Marianne Giovingo, a 26-year-old teacher who moved from Illinois to Milwaukee two weeks earlier, encouraged everyone to eat the cookies, brownies and apple dessert she brought.

“You’ve got to feed your body and then the Lord will feed your soul,” she said laughing. She and Adaire Ranstrom, 23, of Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa, strummed a little on a guitar.

At 7:30 p.m., the men arrived in two cars, honking their horns as they passed. They joined the women out front until they all went into the chapel at 8 p.m. for adoration – with guitar-playing and singing by Ranstrom – confession, and Mass at 9 p.m.

Fr. Strand said four or five priests usually attend the Mass, and one is invited ahead of time to give a 10-15-minute formational homily.

“I think that some of the priests have just found it very renewing for them to be with other priests for that opportunity of prayer,” he said, adding that they try to enhance the liturgy with singing and music.

His goal is to help young adults encounter the Lord.

“To help them realize that there’s really good things happening here in Milwaukee,” Fr. Strand said, “that they want to stay here and be involved in the church here and really develop roots here.”