NEW HAVEN – A group of young adults gathered on a June Sunday evening at the Stony Creek Brewery in Branford to raise a glass and build community with their peers around something they have in common.
“I came to network with 20- and 30-year-olds who share the Catholic faith,” said Jeff Zugates, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, who works for a Hamden pharmaceutical company.
“It’s one area that the Catholic Church is not reaching out to,” he said. “The church needs to understand that and find new ways of evangelization. This is one way with friends who share the same struggles in the faith as I do.”
They are members of Frassati New Haven, a newly formed group for Catholic young adults in their 20’s and 30’s, married or single, students or working or both, who want to grow in holiness together through prayer, service to those in need and social opportunities.
On the evening of June 19, about 30 young adults gathered for a Theology on Tap-type program (renamed Frassati on Tap) – a Sunday summer series of three discussions about faith that include upcoming get-togethers from 6-8 p.m. July 17 and Aug. 21.
Ed and Peg Crowley, members of St. Mary Parish in Branford and founders of the Stony Creek Brewery, provide their Branford River waterfront setting for the Frassati on Tap evenings.
The speaker on that June night was Dominican Father John Paul Walker, pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Haven, who spoke on “Discerning the Little (and Big!) Decisions in Life.” Well-acquainted with Frassati USA, Father Walker was instrumental in starting a Frassati fellowship while assigned to a Dominican parish in Baltimore, Md.
“This feels natural talking about God in a bar,” quipped Father Walker, as he related the story of how Saint Dominic converted an innkeeper to Christ after an all-night discussion at an inn.
The Frassati fellowship of young adults seeks to imitate the example of Blessed Pier Georgi Frassati, a young, handsome, fun-loving, athletic, courageous and devout Catholic who fell in love with Christ and service to the poor in his native Italy.
Born to wealthy parents, he contracted polio and died on July 4, 1925, at the age of 24, but not before he inspired other young laypeople to seek holiness and the joys of service.
“There’s a sense of community here with people my age,” said Bobby Rauch, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who works for the Knights of Columbus. “We’re all dealing with the same things … balancing a career, family life or exploring relationships.
“It’s easier to make good decisions when we’re with people who share the same faith and values,” he noted, as he recalled memories of high school retreats called CHRISTpower offered in his Jefferson City, Mo., diocese.
Emily Naylor, one of the core organizers of the group and parish secretary at St. Mary in Branford, said that Frassati New Haven also meets at 7 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month at St. Mary Parish in New Haven.
“We do a Holy Hour called Frassati Nights once a month” that includes prayer followed by a social gathering,” she said.
The group also plans to host a series of outdoor hikes combined with prayer to reflect the life of Pier Georgi, who was a mountaineer.
“The key is to give it to the Lord for the right people to come,” said Mrs. Naylor, a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She noted that she missed the community she found in the Catholic university setting and wanted to get involved with forming a group that could “share that blessing.”
Already, the need for connecting and community is catching on among 20- and 30-somethings in the area.
“Now that I’m back after college, I was looking for the same type of group for young adults with which I could share my faith,” said Jennifer Walker, a graduate of Seton Hall University in New Jersey and physical therapist at the West Haven Veteran’s Hospital.