“Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” Pope Francis spoke these words to more than 3 million young adult Catholics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the 14th International World Youth Day in 2013.

Yet, according to recent studies, many young adult Catholics are turning away from the Catholic Church.Pictured above are the Brew City missionaries, Jacinta VanHecke, top row, left to right, Shannon Ochoa, Dana Marrone and Micah Pfundstein. Bottom row: Asia Swinarska, left, and Caitlin Evans. (Submitted photo courtesy Peter Burds)

The Pew Research Study, in a survey released in May 2015, determined only 17 percent of practicing American Catholics are 18 to 29 years of age. The rise in  youth leaving the church partly contributes to this relatively low number.

According to Pew Research Center, 30 percent of Americans raised Catholic are no longer Catholic, and of that number, 80 percent of them left the Catholic Church before the age of 23.

The John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is attempting to combat this concern with its new missionary program, Brew City Catholic.

“We first came up with the idea of Brew City Catholic in January 2015,” said Peter Burds, director of college campus ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “We wanted to pull young adults together in one central hub through unity and communication.”

“There are many challenges of being a young adult in today’s society,” said Burds. “We are overwhelmed by a culture that robs the purpose and meaning of an individual. Young adults ask different questions. They ask: ‘Why do I care?’ The purpose of Brew City Catholic is to be the bridge that connects young adults to Catholicism through authentic relationships.”

Brew City Catholic began its inaugural year at the UW Milwaukee campus in fall. Funded through the campus ministry office, the missionaries fully fundraise their salary for 10 months, according to Burds.

“There is a uniqueness to this city that made it the perfect choice to begin the Brew City missionary project,” said Burds.
“One thing I’ve come to realize quickly being in Milwaukee is that there is a great desire for things home-grown, whether that is coffee, beer, or missionary projects,” said the new missionary coordinator within the campus ministry office, Micah Pfundstein. “I have seen so much good in the community of Milwaukee already, and there is such an apparent yearning in the culture, such a hunger for goodness, beauty and truth. This project is a response to that need, that craving.”

The project consists of five recent college graduates who live at the Mother Teresa Center at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood.

“They definitely have the heart for it,” said Burds. “And the love for Jesus, of course.”

The missionaries work directly with UW-Milwaukee’s Newman Center and campus community to share the Gospel through example, peer mentorship and their presence on campus.

“We do not want a program or a model,” says Pfundstein when discussing why Brew City Catholic was called a project. “Project is raw; it is honest, and it captures the idea of what we are trying to do. We want a program that is alive, that never really settles in. We want to strive to be missionary disciples who live with abandonment to the will of the Father and let the Holy Spirit guide our project.”

“Our role as missionaries is to enhance the (UWM) ministry and equip the leaders to become true disciples that are able to reach more of their peers on campus,” said Brew City missionary and recent graduate of the UW-Madison, Dana Marrone.

The Brew City missionary effort is centered on its core idea: “Reach All People. Call Seekers. Form Disciples. Send Apostles.”

“We will be spending much of our time meeting up with students to spend one-on-one time to encourage their own spiritual growth,” said Marrone. “We will help lead some of their Bible studies on campus, assist with their large group outreach events as well as help train the leaders to be able to do much of the same work.”

The long-term impact of the Brew City missionary project is a stronger campus ministry program and, for the missionaries, preparation for an adult faith life.

“The missionary project not only helps the students at UWM but the missionaries as well,” said Burds. “It is our hope that the missionary projects will prepare them for an even stronger faith life.”

Marrone, who earned a degree in social work and a certificate in criminal justice from UW Madison, stressed the importance of consistent adult faith formation.

“I am looking forward to taking advantage of the formation I will be receiving this year from all the wonderful, holy people in Milwaukee.

My hope is to be able to have a faith life strong enough to endure grad school, a career, and, hopefully, a family someday.”

Burds has great aspirations for Brew City Catholic.

“It is our goal to eventually have four missionaries at every college in the southeastern Wisconsin area,” he said.

“We are working toward building active and vibrant campus ministries at the college campuses within the diocese,” says Marrone. “My hope for this year is to bring at least one student into a deeper relationship with Christ.”

The other four Brew City Catholic missionaries are Caitlin Evans, Shannon Ochoa, Asia Sinarska and Jacinta VanHecke.