A Reflection on Youth, College and Young Adult Ministries, Part I

Animating the Xennial, Millennial and Post-Millennial Generations with the Spirit of Christ

Part I

Building, re-building and restoring youth, high school/college campus, or young adult ministries: this is what our work has been for the past decade. When someone first arrives in a new youth ministry, or is given the task of creating a youth, high school/college campus, or young adult ministry, the task can seem overwhelming, but I am here to tell you that it is very possible.

My goal for this reflection is to offer you what I do know, and have learned, through years of experience—the Youth, the Millennial, and post-Millennial generations and the challenges confronting them and us in “animating” them in a life of faith. This leads us to our present consideration—bringing mercy and renewal through our ministry-driven life to our communities: specifically, the young people.

To begin, I would like to share with you what I have learned from the Salesian approach to youth, college, and young adult ministry which is two-fold.

First, Friendship: I am speaking of the way that people are when they are truly friendly to one another, and not just in some “putting-on” friendliness. There is an authentic sense of friendship shared by everyone in the ministry. This clearly is a fruit of our friendship with Jesus, properly nourished by the ministry. Where Jesus’s Sacred Heart is known and loved, then so is friendship with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, reinforced by the gift of mercy and forgiveness that flows from His Sacred Heart. There needs to be authentic fraternity among the people we minister to. If someone does or says something against someone else, the devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist ought to impel us to seek forgiveness or to offer mercy. I have always found that where Eucharistic Adoration is strong, so is the frequent reception of healing and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, which doesn’t just reconcile and strengthen our relationship with God, but with the Church, the People of God, and our relationships with each other. I believe this type of friendship is, in part, what Pope Benedict addressed in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, when he discusses “Eucharistic Congruence.” If someone has placed his/her life in union with Jesus, in His Sacred Heart in the Eucharist, then there is a certain logical realization of how someone lives their life congruent with the reality of that relationship.1 Wherever a community is strongly Eucharistic, the Sacrament of Unity, nourishes authentic community.

Second, Energy and Enthusiasm: True energy in ministry means being dynamic. I see the Holy Spirit as the expression of the dynamism and gift of God’s love. Enthusiasm literally means, “to be inside or possessed by God.” Through friendship with Jesus, we can take this journey, along with our young people, into the interior life of the love and the energy of God.

So, how do you pique interest in starting a new ministry? You reach out to the “cool” kids, and get them to come. When you can attract some of the “cool” young men and ladies who express interest, you put them out front, and your meetings will soon be packed! Then you make sure that you work on friendship development, making sure that cliques do not have any place in the group. As was said above, to really nourish friendships, you need the Eucharist, but you also will need opportunities for the members of the ministry to get to know each other well—travel, pilgrimages/retreats, dinners, game nights—these types of social events build community, and are necessary for an effective ministry development. When your events can lead to the making of memories, then the memories your young people make together become reminders to them of the fun they have when gathered in the name of Christ.

Before we move along any further, it is necessary to explain, in general, the difference in goals between youth, college, and young adult ministries, and to provide a short definition of these terms.

Youth Ministry is for youth in eighth grade through senior year of high school. The goal of this period of faith formation is to energize the enthusiasm of young people for the Catholic faith, in developing their participation-in, and service activities-for, the life of the Church. Youth ministry is not a theology class, but it takes the principles of faith and morals, and animates them. A youth ministry brings the faith to life, making it transformative in the lives of our young students. It does have a necessary faith formation element, but once the teaching is expressed, a youth group is meant to put that faith into action. This can be done by celebrating Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, a retreat, a social justice ministry, pilgrimages or trips, or a creative activity done at one of its regular meetings.

College Campus Ministry builds on the youth ministry experience, but also begins to integrate college-aged students into a more adult faith life, participation-in and activities-for the life of the Church. For instance, a college campus ministry should have a strong emphasis on holistic integration of faith and morals, that will help them lead fruitful adult lives as Catholics. The types of topics and activities engaged-in need to not pander to the “cute” and “immature,” but seek to aid growth and maturity into adulthood. I always believed that, upon graduation from college, the young people coming from exposure to of college campus ministry could integrate easily into becoming contributors to the normative life of a parish community.

To aid that integration into a parish community, Young Adult Ministry assists the 21- to 35-year- old adult have a sense of belonging in a parish community, preparing the young adult to be involved in the manifold ministries of the parish: liturgical, service, social justice, catechetical, etc. Young adult ministry also provides opportunities for these young adults to form friendships and community with those who are practicing the faith in their parish. They can interact with others who are in the same stage in life, facing similar issues, such as: being new to the workforce, dating, getting engaged, recently married, or even being new parents. Young Adult groups greatly support young married couples in their embrace of their married vocation. Needless-to-say, vocational discernment needs to be present throughout all three stages of ministry to young people.

The Youth Minister
The participation of young people in the life of parishes is either excellent or absent. The future of the Church requires the fact that youth and young adult ministers capture the millennial, and post-millennial generations experience with their shared faith. Thus, the first to be evangelized and inspired by the Holy Spirit in any ministry serving young persons are the ministers themselves!

Leading up to the Second Vatican Council, Ven. Pope Pius XII wrote about the Church as the “Mystical Body of Christ.” Building upon this foundation, first expressed in the writings of St. Paul the Apostle, the Vatican Council added the title, the “People of God,” to describe the Church. This image of the Body of Christ, consisting of all the People of God, would remain motionless without a soul. Just as the soul is the animating principle of a human body, the Holy Spirit is the animating principle of the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ, and the People of God. Yet, how can this animation of the People of God, the Church, be effectuated if the people are not open and willing co-operants? Their cooperation will be inspired by the youth/college campus/young adult minister’s witness to the inspiration and animation of the Holy Spirit in their own lives.

As those focused on bringing young people to Jesus, we are meant to witness to these young Catholics a life in union with God, as one of God’s son’s or daughter’s in the family of God. We are all human, we are all sinners, and even as youth/college/young adult ministers we commit sins, and make mistakes. Yet, we are not our failures. And, it is only in failing, repenting, and persevering that we will ever succeed. Our renewal by the mercy of Christ’s Sacred Heart provides the rest of the Church, the People of God—and specifically the youths and young adults we serve—the opportunity of being re-energized through that mercy because of our own testimony and witness to its power. If we make good use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and live a life of prayer and mercy, the young people we serve will be inspired to do likewise. And, healing and deliverance is a hallmark of any successful youth, college campus, or young adult ministry effort.

As was already mentioned, enthusiasm is a necessary step in the building-up of any ministry. The Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church—the People of God— needs to be given the space to lead young followers along the path of enthusiasm through dynamic, creative, engaging, energetic ministry. Does this mean prayer that is centered on the Holy Spirit, and the gifts and charisms that the Holy Spirit gives us through charismatic prayer and renewal? Sure, but not only that. It means opening to these young people, through the experience of mercy, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We need to show them their friend, Jesus, in the Eucharist, who will never abandon them, but walks alongside them always. And, through the Holy Spirit, the nexus and gift of the love of God, which proceeds from the Father and the Son, will draw them into the interior life and love of the Trinity.

This interior life of the Trinity is dynamic, but at the same time—notwithstanding its ineffable energy—is peaceful and serene. The fruit of this interior life in God must be a sense of peace, harmony, union with God. This can only be had if we are prayerful, leading others into silent moments of prayer. If we are going to lead others to this inner-harmony and peace of God as youth/college/young adult ministers of our community—as cooperators and co-workers with the Holy Spirit who animates the whole Church—then we must have this peace and experience of love and holiness of God already within us. We can only offer what we already have, and have experienced. Frequent attendance at Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and other opportunities for liturgical and devotional prayer (especially the Rosary), need to be present in our own spiritual life.

So, how do you, a youth minister renew your commitment to holiness of life in service to young people through mercy and witness to it to renew the communities that you serve?

Here is the answer:

Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes, or never sinning. Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all, with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.2

Thus, the reality of mercy in your life—received and offered—becomes the impetus for others to see in you the earth-tilting reality of God’s presence in this world.

What do we mean by “earth tilting reality of God’s presence”? It is charitable work amongst the poor, work for the sick, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc… These are great works of love, friendship, care, and concern. But one does not necessarily have to believe in God, or have any consciousness of God, or relationship with God, in their life to exercise acts of kindness, charity, and good or humanitarian works for social justice. One can come from a philosophy of humanism, and still exercise these good deeds. Yet, to seek forgiveness, and to forgive, these acts are not in any way innate to our merely being good humanists. These are the “earth-tilting” acts that make one awaken to the reality of God, and His presence, in our life. Witness to this mercy— repentance and forgiveness—in your ministries as a youth/college/young adult minister, and you will set the world on fire, and specifically the young people, that will stir into action the somnolent and hurting you encounter.

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 82-83.
  2. Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 31 January 2007.
Father Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL About Father Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, STL

Fr. Philip-Michael Tangorra is a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. He was the co-founder and president of “Hands of Mary for Haiti,” an Association of the Christian Faithful aimed at helping, both materially and spiritually, the people of Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours parish in Fragneau-Ville, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake there in 2010. He served as the parochial vicar for the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Morristown, New Jersey, where he also served on the Board of Directors for the Neighborhood House in Morristown. He recently rebuilt and created an award-winning Catholic Campus Ministry at William Paterson University, serving as its chaplain. He has also served as the Assistant Coordinator for Evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson. He is the author of Holiness and Living the Sacramental Life, a part of the "Living Faith Series" published by Emmaus Road. In “Holiness and Living…” Fr. Philip-Michael lays out the mystical and invisible realities that are present during the celebration of the sacraments, and explains how they can lead us to living ever more in-tune with God. He has a Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology from the Angelicum in Rome, and is currently studying Canon Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.


  1. I’m finding this an interesting book:
    Andrew Root, ‘Faith Formation in a Secular Age : Volume 1 (Ministry in a Secular Age): Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness’, Baker Academic, 2017