Back in 2017, Siobhan O’Connor, a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi, was finishing up a four-and-a-half-year stint as the high school campus minister at Pinecrest Academy, a preK-12 Regnum Christi school in Cumming, Georgia. Throughout those years as campus minister, one thing was becoming increasingly apparent to Siobhan – recent Catholic school graduates were having a hard time transitioning to increasingly secular college life. With many of her former students sharing their difficulties, Siobhan felt a clear call from the Holy Spirit to spiritually reach out to those struggling graduates. What started out as casually visiting with students on various college campuses, offering spiritual direction, or meeting for long chats over coffee, quickly turned into an outreach that spanned eight colleges across four states. By the fall of 2020, Siobhan had met with about 200 Catholic college students who, like her Pinecrest graduates, were seeking guidance on how to live a life of faith on the secular college campus.
“While giving children a firm foundation is extremely important, it is critical to not leave them hanging when they enter college or the workforce, because everything is changing for them,” says Siobhan, who believes that the continued formation, accompaniment, and spiritual mentorship of Catholic young adults, especially once they leave school, is a crucial role of the Church today. “This is where we as a Church and as a spiritual family need to focus our efforts of evangelization and continuing formation.”
And Siobhan has not taken on this mission of mentorship all on her own. “A huge part of this ministry is all the networking and partnering with those who already serve Catholic students on each campus,” she observes. Over the past three years, Siobhan has met with the campus ministers, chaplains, and FOCUS missionaries at colleges across Georgia, and in Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina, coordinating with them to help provide retreats, spiritual guidance, and activities for Catholic students seeking formation and fellowship with like-minded young adults. “It ended up being great teamwork and a beautiful experience of the Church.”
One example of teamwork were the weekend retreats and spiritual exercises that Siobhan would host with Legionary priests, RC members and other consecrated women throughout the year. She also has preached spiritual exercises with a diocesan priest from the University of Georgia. “Those weekends, hosting between 15-20 women or mixed audiences, were powerful reminders that young people need and appreciate a time of silence to connect with the Lord. I will never forget their comments and observations about how fruitful the silence was, their need to disconnect from social media, and the way their prayer lives opened up in a short amount of time. I also have to say that I loved getting to know the priests and other lay ministers in these experiences. We can learn a lot from each other!”
The personal connections that Siobhan has made throughout her ministry with young adults has nurtured her own faith as well. “I think what surprised me the most was how important a personal connection is with someone you are hoping to lead closer to Christ, but also how God works in your own heart through each connection,” she says. “Many times, I perceive that those of us in some kind of ministry role think that we are the channels of God’s grace to the people we serve and reach out to, which is sometimes the case. But truthfully, it is the person who comes to us in some kind of need who ends up being the instrument of God for us, if we are humble and open enough to receive his grace through them.”
Although Siobhan recognizes that there is still much work to do in the mission of offering integral formation resources and opportunities to Catholic young adults, she is not discouraged. “The Lord has shown me very clearly that he is taking our smallest efforts and multiplying them exponentially. In that sense, no act or prayer or sacrifice is too small or ever wasted.”
Currently in Texas on a year-long sabbatical while she recovers from an illness, Siobhan continues her ministry by providing ongoing spiritual direction to several women who have requested it. She is also in the midst of finishing up a three-year certificate in Spiritual Direction with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Boston, a course which she feels has been incredibly fruitful and helpful, both in her ministry of mentoring young adults, and in her own faith life. In fact, she believes that one of the key instruments in the apostolic mission of forming and mentoring young adults is spiritual direction. “Spiritual direction is not to be taken lightly or for granted. It implies that the person seeking direction has a deepening prayer life, and it’s a very powerful tool in the hands of those who practice it and those who receive it regularly,” says Siobhan.
While Siobhan continues her sabbatical and recovery, and awaits the new mission to which she will be assigned next year, she looks back at her past ministry with young adults and campus evangelization with gratitude for the fruits it has borne over the years. “I learned so much from each encounter, mission, spiritual direction, vocation fair, talk, or presentation I ever gave,” says Siobhan. “My own faith and trust in God has grown stronger as a result of this incredible mission serving Catholic young adults.”
A great resource for those ministering to Catholic young adults can be found in the RC Formation Pathway Toolkit, which can be accessed for free at rcspirituality.org. (Click on the drop-down tab for Young Adults under Specialized Formation.) Here, you’ll find valuable resources on a variety of topics, including information on voting, pornography awareness, dating and marriage, and vocation discernment and links to great Catholic websites, book studies, retreats, podcasts, music, and much more.
Siobhan can be reached at [email protected].