FERNANDEZ: Encouraging high school grads to find a home in your parish

June 11, 2024

Congratulations to the graduating high school class of 2024! As they step off the stage with their diplomas in hand, what lies ahead? How will they navigate this transition from high school? Will the self-centered culture around them sway them, or will they choose to shine brightly for Jesus and positively impact the world? 

A report from the Springtide Research Institute titled “The State of Religion & Young People 2021-Catholic Edition” shows a concerning trend among surveyed Catholics aged 13 to 25. It found that 52% attend Mass once a year or less, with 27% never attending. Only 23% attend Mass weekly or more, while 19% go monthly.  

Despite these challenges, there are many ways to involve recent high school grads in parish life and help them go out and make disciples. Many grads, facing the complexities of adulthood, might not see the parish as a source of guidance and support. However, these youths are vital to the livelihood of a parish because they bring new energy and fresh ideas to the table. 

It is crucial to understand the many challenges that recent high school grads face as they become adults. They wrestle with big questions about life and faith, trying to stay true to their Catholic beliefs while being independent and figuring out right from wrong. It is essential to offer them opportunities to explore who they are and grow closer to God in a supportive community.

Programs like Alpha or small groups for young people give them a place to talk about their questions of faith and life’s challenges, helping them on their journey to Heaven. 
If we want to see recent high school graduates in church every week, we need to make them feel at home and regularly connect them to people from the parish. They need guidance and support from older adults. Parish mentorship and internship programs can help with that. In my parish, high school and college students can serve as interns in our communications ministry and have helped create social media content, worked with our preschool marketing, and giving feedback on our new church website. 

When parish leaders need volunteers, they should seek recent graduates. Instead of recruiting them just because they are there, they should be invited to serve in volunteer roles based on their gifts and talents.  

For example, encourage them by saying, “You would be great as a greeter at Mass because you’re always friendly. That could make people happy when they come to church.” By making these connections through engaging activities and events, recent graduates feel important and part of the parish. 

Encouraging recent graduates to lead and shape their communities spiritually is also important. Spiritual events should be created with them, not just for them. By intentionally including them in planning activities fostering spiritual growth, such as young adult retreats, and inviting them to leadership roles, like pastoral council members, we show them that what they do matters and that we want to hear what they have to say.   

Helping young people grow spiritually and personally means meeting all their needs. Classes, workshops and resources tailored to them could range from spiritual gifts workshops to personal finance classes to help them on their journey. Celebrating their achievements makes them feel valued and keeps them engaged. 

In Pope Francis’s exhortation, Christus Vivit, addressed to young people, he urges us to “find ways of keeping close to the voices and concerns of young people” and “appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people.” Imagine the profound impact on the Church if we truly embraced this call with our recent high school graduates.  

We are called to build relationships, provide mentorship, and foster spiritual growth among our young people. This week, try connecting with your parish youth minister or a parish leader who works regularly with high schoolers to see how you can support recent graduates. By listening to their needs and offering guidance, we create an environment where they feel valued and empowered to grow.  

Let us build vibrant parish communities where recent Catholic high school graduates don’t just fade away from the Church and become another unfortunate statistic but become leaders who take up space at our Sunday Masses and parish events, eager to make disciples and set the world on fire! †

Norson Fernandez is the coordinator of communications at Prince of Peace Parish in Houston.