Ivy League Catholic: The Church’s Future Now

Students in the ESTEEM Program

Fr. Peter Walsh, C.S.C., our Holy Cross priest working in Campus Ministry at Yale, has sent in his monthly blog post, sharing about a dynamic new program to educate in the faith the next generation of leaders for the Church.

Last weekend, spring finally came to New Haven – still a bit cool but after the pounding we got this winter, the bright sunshine and 60-degree temperatures were a welcome relief. I spent most of the time indoors, however, at a conference we were hosting. The energy and enthusiasm of the conference was well worth losing some time in the sun. The conference brought together 75 students from campuses across the country who are participating in a new program called ESTEEM, which is designed to empower and train the next generation of leaders for our Church. The program is a collaboration between the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management and Saint Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale University.

Every year, Catholic students graduate from colleges and universities and move into the next phase of their lives, either beginning their careers or continuing their graduate or professional education. As they join parishes and interact with other Catholic institutions, the challenge for them is to translate the profound spiritual and faith formation they have experienced at vibrant campus ministries to parish life that often focuses on young families or aging members. They enter the mainstream of the Church with great enthusiasm and proven leadership skills. Studies have shown that many don’t often make that transition well and retention of young adult Catholics needs to be a major priority for the Church. The mission of ESTEEM is to equip graduating students with the skills and confidence needed to offer their time and talents to the Church.

This was just the pilot year for ESTEEM, but the initial experience was overwhelmingly positive. The program focused on six campuses: Yale, Sacred Heart University, Ohio State, Michigan State, Stanford and UCLA. Throughout the past year, students have received a solid foundation in Catholic theology and ecclesiology, been mentored by Catholic leaders from their chosen fields in law, medicine and business, and explored opportunities for service in the Church through various diocesan ministries, boards of trustees, and parish pastoral and finance councils. They have been reminded that they are not the future of the Church; they are the present of the Church. They are “the Church’s future–now” and they have much to contribute. They will soon come knocking on doors of parishes near you!

Yale students in the ESTEEM Program

As you look at that list of campuses, you will notice that most of the pilot programs are at non-Catholic institutions. Ninety percent of Catholic students attend non-Catholic colleges and universities. As a Holy Cross priest, I’m proud of what our community has accomplished as “educators in the faith” in our colleges and universities. As a man of hope, I have great confidence in ESTEEM and what it is aiming to accomplish for the ninety percent who don’t go to a Notre Dame, a St. Edward’s, a Portland, a Stonehill or a King’s. I think Blessed Basil Moreau, who labored in post-revolutionary France with the aim to reinvigorate the Church of his day, would call this initiative providential!

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