by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven
Overland Park — Ten years ago, four recent college graduates were looking for a way to deepen their faith while connecting with other Catholics their own age.
But there was a problem. Little to nothing in the way of formal programs for Catholic young adults in the archdiocese existed at the time.
So, the four — Jason Osterhaus, Daniel Bilbrey, Steve Soupir, and Emily Rielley — started their own. A decade later, the group is flourishing under the name Kansas City Young Adults (KCYA), with more than 200 participants.
“There are about 200 people active in some activity at least once a month and 800 receive the weekly mailing,” said Osterhaus, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Overland Park and the organizer of many of the group’s activities.
KCYA’s offerings are expansive and meant to offer something for everyone. Bible and faith studies, social activities, eucharistic adoration, service activities, and prayer all take place regularly, as well as a weekly Mass specifically for the group.
“When the group was first starting, Father Brian Schieber recommended that we do something more formal. We started a weekly young adult Mass and it has become the cornerstone of all we do,” said Osterhaus.
Currently, the Mass is offered at 6 p.m. on Thursdays at Holy Spirit; starting in January, the time will be moved to 6:30 p.m. Those attending Mass go out for dinner at a nearby restaurant together following the liturgy.
But Osterhaus said many of the group’s activities are more spontaneous and planned by the members themselves.
“We really have very few set activities,” he said. “Lots of members meet in small men’s and women’s groups, to pray at the abortion clinic, and there are social events that come and go. Some people are really more comfortable with the social activities of the group; some are more interested in the spiritual activities and participate more with those. There’s something for everyone.”
The format works for the young adults who attend — some driving from as far away as Liberty, Mo., or Topeka.
“People find companionship and they like hanging out with others who are like-minded and close in age,” said Osterhaus. “They might not go out of their way to join the Knights of Columbus or the Altar Society at their parish, but they like the idea of hanging out with Catholics of their own age group.”
Osterhaus said he estimated the average age of participants was 24- 26 years old, with the youngest in the group being college-age and the oldest members in their 30s.
KCYA also serves a valuable need at Johnson County Community College, the state’s largest community college and the third-largest college overall, with an enrollment of more than 34,000 students. There is no specifically Catholic presence at the community college, so KCYA is able to fill in the gap for some Catholic students there, said Osterhaus.
It also helps meet the needs of young adults who are without their college or home faith community for the first time and are spending the majority of their time working and starting in a career.
“At the time, my faith in practice was not much more than regular attendance at Sunday Mass, but I began to desire more meaningful friendships that were rooted in Christ,” said Bilbrey, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City, Mo. “I personally found unprecedented spiritual fulfillment and growth in these God-first friendships.
“KCYA taught me that I could be in the world, but not of the world,” Bilbrey continued. “I also found that I could not be living my current vocation without ‘being on fire for the Lord,’ something KCYA was crucial in helping me develop.”
Bilbrey said there can be a strong pull to become primarily career-driven for young adults, but he found KCYA helpful in keeping him grounded in faith.
“For any young adult who has ever wondered whether their career should continue to be the focus of one’s life, I can say with certainty that it does not have to be, and even ought not to be,” he said. “I would submit that God is putting out the call to grow into a deeper relationship with him.”
Many young adults involved in the group are at an age where they are still discerning a vocation — whether to single life, religious life, or marriage. A Catholic young adult group can provide a community where faith is encouraged and discernment supported.
“We have had a number go into the seminary and convents, and 40 marriages among members over the past 10 years,” said Osterhaus.
Bilbrey was among those who found KCYA a helpful support in discerning a vocation.
“KCYA introduced me to the concept of discernment of vocation. I do believe in my heart that it was God’s will for me to discern the priesthood first,” said Bilbrey. “Very soon after I began that discernment, [God] introduced me to the woman who became my wife of five years and counting. She also became involved in KCYA during our courtship.”
Osterhaus said many of the group’s members naturally move on as they discover their true vocation, they get busy with starting and raising their own families, or their career takes them out of the area. But many of those who participate in KCYA find while it fills a need for a specific period of their lives, it also teaches them lifelong lessons.
“I learned that when you live for God, the rest of your life takes care of itself and flows from God in countless ways,” said Bilbrey.
To be added to the weekly e-mail list and get involved with KCYA, contact Osterhaus, via e-mail, at: kcyoungadults@ everestkc.net, or by phone at (913) 579- 7393.